NBA predictions: MVP, Finals matchups and future stars

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Who is the favorite for MVP -- LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Luka Doncic or another contender?

Who is winning the Finals: One of the Los Angeles teams or the field?

We polled the ESPN Forecast panel of experts for their votes about a third of the way through the 2019-20 NBA season. The results include the most likely conference finals and NBA Finals matchups, the young players with the most superstar potential, the best franchises for the next three seasons and more.

Who is most likely to win MVP?

Note: Voters ranked their top three picks.

Last season, this two-player race came down to Antetokounmpo and Harden. Though there is a deep pool of contenders in 2019-20, Giannis and LeBron -- the leaders of the top two teams in the league -- are emerging as the front-runners, with Giannis in the lead at the moment.

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo | MIL (56.5% first-place votes): 178 points

  • LeBron James | LAL (28.3%): 128 points

  • James Harden | HOU (8.7%): 59 points

  • Luka Doncic | DAL (4.3%): 34 points

  • Anthony Davis | LAL (2.2%): 13 points

Others receiving votes: Kawhi Leonard

MORE: MVP straw poll -- is a Giannis repeat in the works?

Who is the NBA rookie or sophomore with the most long-term potential?

Note: Voters ranked their top three picks.

Last year's Rookie of the Year runs away with this one. In his second season, Doncic has already emerged as an MVP candidate for the surprising Mavericks (though he's currently recovering from an ankle injury that could have him out for a couple of weeks).

Others receiving votes: Deandre Ayton, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kendrick Nunn, Jaren Jackson Jr., Tyler Herro, Coby White, Jaxson Hayes, Cam Reddish, Mo Bamba

MORE: How Luka Doncic is making his NBA MVP leap so quickly Insider

What is the most likely Eastern Conference finals matchup?

Coming into the season, the Bucks and Sixers looked like the clear favorites in the East. Despite impressive starts by the Celtics and Heat, that hasn't changed.

  • Bucks vs. 76ers: 76.1%

  • Bucks vs. Celtics: 10.9%

  • Bucks vs. Heat: 6.5%

  • Bucks vs. Raptors: 4.3%

  • Celtics vs. Raptors: 2.2%

MORE: The evolution of 76ers rookie Matisse Thybulle has begun

What is the most likely Western Conference finals matchup?

The top of the West is still strong, but our panel doesn't see anyone touching the two Los Angeles teams at full strength. There were zero other selections for a WCF matchup besides Lakers-Clippers. ESPN's Basketball Power Index gives these teams a 42% chance of meeting at some point in the postseason.

  • Lakers vs. Clippers: 100%

MORE: NBA trade deadline -- what we're hearing about all 30 teams Insider

What is the most likely NBA Finals result?

Our panel sees a top tier of NBA title contention class that goes three deep -- Lakers and Clippers, followed by the Bucks. But it's worth noting that FiveThirtyEight's projection system is also high on the Rockets and 76ers as potential title teams who could end up breaking through.


  • Lakers: 37%

  • Clippers: 37%

  • Bucks: 26%


  • Bucks: 47.8%

  • 76ers: 19.6%

  • Clippers: 15.2%

  • Lakers: 10.9%

  • Celtics: 6.5%

MORE: Latest ESPN NBA Power Rankings

NBA champs: Los Angeles or the field?

FiveThirtyEight gives the Clippers (24%) and Lakers (13%) a less than 50% collective chance to win the title. BPI is even lower on the Los Angeles powerhouses as truly overwhelming favorites, with a collective 17.8% chance at a championship between the two teams.

Of course, one reason for that is the Lakers and Clippers probably have to go through each other in the West. Still, our panel is high on one of them getting it done.

  • Los Angeles: 69.6%

  • The field: 30.4%

MORE: How real plus-minus can reveal hidden NBA stars

Which West team will be the best over the next three seasons?

Note: This vote includes this season.

The Clippers enjoy the benefit of having most of their core (outside of Montrezl Harrell) under contract for this season and next season. It's assumed that upcoming free agent Anthony Davis will re-sign with the Lakers in the summer of 2020 barring some kind of disaster, but LeBron James turns 35 on Dec. 30. Our panel is putting more faith in the Clippers long term.

  • Clippers: 65.2%

  • Lakers: 30.4%

  • Nuggets: 2.2%

  • Mavericks: 2.2%

MORE: How deep, audacious 3-pointers are taking over the NBA

Which East team will be the best over the next three seasons?

Note: This vote includes this season.

No team has more at stake this season with a superstar player than the Bucks. Antetokounmpo will be eligible to sign a supermax contract in Milwaukee as soon as free agency begins next summer. That decision will swing the future of the Eastern Conference. If Giannis agrees to the deal, he'll be with the Bucks through most of prime, potentially competing for titles with regularity -- as our panel predicts here.

  • Bucks: 52.2%

  • 76ers: 32.6%

  • Celtics: 10.9%

  • Nets: 4.3%

MORE: 2020 NBA trade deadline -- latest news, grades and intel

Image credits: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images, Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images, Mitchell Leff/Getty Images, Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire, Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY, Kirby Lee/USA TODAY, Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire, AP Photo/Aaron Gash