After Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid battled for the correct to be named the NBA’s Most Worthwhile Participant all final season, it seems this 12 months’s chase for the award might as soon as once more come right down to the 2 All-Star large males.
Embiid, after coming in second to Jokic in final 12 months’s voting, holds a 35-point lead over the Denver Nuggets’ reigning MVP within the second version of ESPN’s NBA MVP Straw Ballot for the 2021-22 season. Embiid’s razor-thin edge is the closest the highest two spots have been over the 9 iterations of this ballot over the previous six seasons.
The Philadelphia 76ers heart, who had 45 first-place votes and completed with 789 whole factors, was the one participant chosen to all 100 ballots submitted. Jokic, in the meantime, completed with 43 first-place votes and had 754 factors — whereas being left off of 5 ballots utterly.
Had Jokic merely been in second place on every of these 5 ballots, the 2 celebrity facilities would’ve been in a tie.
To gauge the place the race stands with lower than two months remaining within the common season, ESPN requested 100 media members to take part in an off-the-cuff ballot that mimics the postseason awards voting. To make the balloting as lifelike as potential, there have been a minimum of two voters from every of the league’s 28 markets, in addition to a cross-section of nationwide and worldwide reporters. Votes have been collected between Sunday and Tuesday.
As with the NBA’s official vote on the finish of season, voters have been requested to submit a five-player poll, and outcomes have been tabulated utilizing the league’s scoring system: 10 factors for every first-place vote, adopted by seven factors for second, 5 factors for third, three factors for fourth and one level for fifth.
Embiid and Jokic have been adopted by Milwaukee Bucks ahead Giannis Antetokounmpo (512 factors, 9 first-place votes) in third, Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (one first-place vote, 211 factors) in fourth and Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (two first-place votes, 157 factors) in fifth.
Others receiving votes: Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (sixth); Chicago Bulls ahead DeMar DeRozan (seventh); Brooklyn Nets ahead Kevin Durant (eighth); Dallas Mavericks ahead Luka Doncic (ninth); and Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker and Miami Warmth ahead Jimmy Butler, who tied for tenth with a single fifth-place vote every.
Probably the most hanging distinction between the primary version of the straw ballot in December and this one is the reversal in fortunes for each Embiid and Curry. After lacking a bit of video games due to COVID-19, and Philadelphia being in the course of a tumble down the standings in consequence, Embiid acquired a single fifth-place vote in that first spherical of voting.
Curry, in the meantime, set a file for probably the most first-place votes, and the best level whole, in any iteration of the ballot so far, accumulating 94 first-place votes and 978 out of a potential 1,000 factors.
So what modified?
For Embiid, he has missed solely two video games since and has been one of many league’s most dominant gamers. He is second — simply behind Antetokounmpo — in scoring with 29.3 factors per recreation, placing him inside hanging distance of being the primary heart to steer the league in scoring since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000, the 12 months the Corridor of Famer received his solely MVP award.
Embiid has additionally saved Philadelphia firmly within the combine for home-court benefit within the Jap Convention playoffs regardless of the tumult brought on by the continued drama surrounding Ben Simmons, which ended with the blockbuster commerce that introduced James Harden to the 76ers simply earlier than final week’s commerce deadline.
Curry, alternatively, has slipped since his blazing-hot begin to the season. After Golden State raced out to the NBA’s greatest file, the Warriors have been surpassed by the Suns, slumping in latest weeks with Draymond Inexperienced sidelined by again and calf points. Curry went right into a dismal droop in January, capturing 38.5% from the sphere and 32.9% from 3-point vary.
Jokic — like Embiid — has saved Denver’s season afloat with Jamal Murray recovering from a torn ACL he suffered final season, and Michael Porter Jr. taking part in in solely 9 video games earlier than present process again surgical procedure. All Jokic has performed with out them is put up the best participant effectivity score — 32.63 getting into Wednesday evening’s motion — in NBA historical past up to now within the season. He has averaged 26.0 factors, 13.8 rebounds and seven.9 assists per recreation whereas capturing 57.0% from the sphere and 37.2% from 3-point vary.
Whereas each Embiid and Jokic might get vital reinforcements within the coming weeks — Embiid within the type of Harden debuting for the Sixers, with Jokic doubtlessly getting Murray and/or Porter again on the courtroom — one thing else that might play a task is their respective strengths of schedule down the stretch. Philadelphia, per ESPN’s Stats & Info analysis, has the league’s seventh-toughest schedule in March, together with high-profile showdowns with Phoenix, Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Chicago and Denver.
Against this, Denver is projected to have the league’s best schedule in March, permitting the Nuggets a chance to rack up wins and doubtlessly transfer up the Western Convention standings.
Antetokounmpo, who posted a monster 50-point recreation after straw ballot voting had closed Tuesday evening, is having one other statistical season in keeping with his MVP-winning campaigns in 2019 and 2020, averaging a league-leading 29.4 factors per recreation to associate with 11.3 rebounds and 6.0 assists.
For the second straight ballot, it was notable that Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James didn’t obtain a single vote. Previous to being left off the poll utterly within the first spherical of voting in December, James had appeared on every of the 9 iterations of the ballot, one thing now solely Antetokounmpo can declare.
Somebody who seemingly will probably be a mainstay on the poll for years to come back, nevertheless, is Morant, who jumped into sixth place after not receiving a vote in December. Morant, who will begin in Sunday’s All-Star Sport — his first look within the NBA’s annual midseason showcase — is the face of the league’s most fun younger staff, one which has reeled off a 32-9 file since starting the season 9-10.
The opposite vital change from the primary model of the ballot is Durant dropping from second to eighth place, because the MCL sprain that has saved him out of motion for the previous month has seemingly ended his candidacy.