This article is part of our NBA Roundtable series.
The NBA Finals are set to tip off Tuesday night in Phoenix. Suns-Bucks may not have been the pairing most predicted when the season tipped off back in December, but after both teams survived six-game series in the Conference Finals, we're left with an intriguing series filled with first-time Finals participants.
Of course, the cloud hanging over the series is the status of Giannis Antetokounmpo, who's officially questionable (up from doubtful earlier Tuesday) for Game 1. He appears to be moving in the right direction, but it remains very much unclear if he'll be available for Games 1 or 2, in particular.
Factoring in the unknowns surrounding Antetokounmpo, here's how the RotoWire NBA staff sees The Finals playing out:
Phoenix Suns vs. Milwaukee Bucks
Jacob Lebowitz: Suns in 5
Even though both of their regular-season matchups were only one-point wins for the Suns, I'm confident that the Suns will be able to take control of one more series against a depleted Bucks team. Giannis Antetokounmpo led both of those games in points, and with his status in question for at least the first two games of the NBA Finals, it's likely the Suns will jump out to an early 2-0 series lead.
Even if Antetokounmpo can play, I think he'll receive limited minutes and the Suns should be able to slow him down. The deciding factor for me in this series is Chris Paul. Paul has been dominant in crucial games for the Suns throughout the playoffs and I think he'll continue to do so en route to his first-ever championship.
Alex Rikleen: Suns in 6
It's impossible to pick this series with so much still unknown about Giannis Antetokounmpo's status. If he is fully healthy the entire series, I think the Bucks win in six. But even if Antetokounmpo is active for Game 1 or 2, it's hard to imagine he's anywhere near 100%.
Even ignoring the injured knee on the two-time MVP, I'd expect depth and rest to play a big role in this series. As of tip-off for Game 1, the Suns will have played six games in 23 days and will be coming off five rest days. Meanwhile, the Bucks will have played nine games in that span and will be coming off just two days off. Even if they'd played the same number of games and had the same days off, the Suns will still have the fresher legs.
Milwaukee's big three are averaging at least 37 minutes, and they've effectively ignored all but their first two bench options. Though Devin Booker's workload has been massive, the other Phoenix starters are playing closer to 31 minutes per game, and they've used more of their bench. Lastly, and I hope this doesn't make me seem like a conspiracy theorist, but Scott Foster is reffing Game 5, so, this series is going six, especially if the Chris Paul-led team has a 3-1 lead going in.
Mike Barner: Suns in 6
If Giannis Antetokounmpo was healthy, I still think I'd pick the Suns to win the series, but maybe in seven games. Even if he takes the floor in Game 1, I expect him to be limited. He could even be limited throughout the entire series. Beating the Hawks in two games without him is very different than trying to defeat this more dangerous Suns squad over the course of seven games. Look for Chris Paul to finally earn his first NBA championship.
Alex Barutha: Suns in 7
Unfortunately, with Giannis Antetokounmpo's status very much in question for the series – he's questionable for Game 1 – I don't have the confidence I need to pick the Bucks to win the series. Chris Paul and the Suns are good enough to take advantage of a Giannis-less Bucks team. While it seems reasonable to expect him to be back for Game 3 and beyond, who knows how close to 100 percent he'll be. Plus, it would take some excellent coaching and efficient play by Giannis to be effective if he's 50-75 percent healthy, as he's a non-shooter who is reliant on his athleticism for the vast majority of his points.
James Anderson: Suns in 7
In the end, I trust Chris Paul and Devin Booker to score efficiently against the Bucks defense more than I trust Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday to score efficiently against the Suns. Mikal Bridges is a great option to put on Middleton – ditto with Paul on Holiday.
Meanwhile, the shots Paul and Booker are best at (mid-range jumpers) are the shots that the Bucks defense is designed to give up. If the Bucks win this series, they will need excellent three-point shooting from Brook Lopez, Bobby Portis, Pat Connaughton P.J. Tucker and Bryn Forbes. They could get it, but that doesn't sound like something we should bank on in the NBA Finals. I'm picking this series under the assumption that even if we see Giannis Antetokounmpo, he won't be close to 100% and therefore won't be a net positive when factoring in how he damages their spacing and his free-throw shooting.
Nick Whalen: Suns in 6
With a healthy Giannis, this series would essentially be a 50/50 toss-up for me. Take him away – even for a game or two – and I lean toward Phoenix. I do think we see Giannis at some point, but the Bucks will have an extremely difficult time winning any games without him, and it's fair to question what he'll even look like when he does come back. If he's 100 percent healthy, then the Bucks can absolutely win the series. If he's not, then I think Phoenix is too deep, too consistent and too smart to not take advantage.
Giannis aside, the Bucks' shooting continues to be extremely worrisome. There's virtually no precedent for a team shooting this poorly (31% for the playoffs) to make it this far into the postseason. The Hawks couldn't make Milwaukee pay for clanking open looks, but the Suns will.
Jeff Edgerton: Suns in 6
I still think the Bucks lucked their way into the ECF, but you have to hand it to them for knocking out a Cinderella squad without their marquee player. The resurgent play of Bobby Portis and Brook Lopez were a godsend for Milwaukee, and if Giannis is back by Game 2, we could see some games fall in the Bucks' favor. Although I lost one end of my pre-playoffs pick, I am still sticking with the Suns on the other side. They present a more balanced offensive presence and a better handle of the interior on defense. A lot depends on how Deandre Ayton fares inside but if he can hold his own, it will be the difference-maker in this series.
Ken Crites: Suns in 7
Point guard play will be the key to this series, especially if Giannis is hobbled. Chris Paul has earned the nod over Jrue Holiday. And the Suns had a tougher road to The Finals. Keep an eye for Mikal Bridges to have one or two hot games from behind the arc.
Kirien Sprecher: Suns in 7
Everyone has been talking about Chris Paul and Devin Booker – and rightfully so – but what has been overlooked is the consistently strong play of Deandre Ayton throughout the playoffs. Ayton can, and will, make life difficult for Milwaukee's bigs both offensively and defensively. I don't see Ayton completely dominating the paint, but I see him doing just enough to limit the Bucks' biggest strength.
With Ayton neutralizing the paint, this series will come down to three-point shooting and right now the Suns have proven to be more reliable from distance. Phoenix is shooting 37.3 percent from three in the playoffs while the Bucks are shooting just 31.1 percent.
With that said, I still see this one going the distance, even if the two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is unable to play or is playing at less than 100 percent. The Bucks showed their grit by winning Games 5 and 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals without their best player and won't go down easily. I envision each game of this series going down to the wire, with Paul and Booker hitting just one more clutch shot than the Bucks trio of Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday.