Two months ago, the NBA MVP race looked more competitive than it has in a long time.
But injuries plagued the large number of opponents, leaving Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic far above the rest of the field.
Jokic, who has yet to miss a game this season, received 90 of the 101 first-place votes in the latest ESPN poll last weekend. If successful next month, Jokic will become the first center to win the MVP award since Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal in 2000.
To determine where the game stands a month before the start of the season, ESPN asked 101 members of the media to participate in an unofficial poll that mimics the postseason poll. To make the voting as realistic as possible, there were at least two voters from each of the competition’s 28 markets, as well as representatives from national and international journalists.
As with the official NBA postseason, voters were asked to vote for five players, and the results were counted according to the league’s point system: 10 points for each first-place finisher, then seven points for second, five points for third, three points for fourth and one point for fifth.
The votes were counted from Friday until Monday night, when the Nuggets got their own devastating news. Star guard Jamal Murray, who is coming off his best NBA season, tore his ACL in the final minute of Denver’s loss against the Golden State Warriors and will miss the rest of the season. In Denver’s first game since Murray’s injury, Jokic scored his 15th point of his career with 17 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. Triple-double in 123-116 victory over the Miami Heat.
Jokic has been spectacular this season, with his highest scores of 26.0 points, 10.9 rebounds and 8.8 assists, while shooting 41.8 percent from 3-point range and 85.3 percent from the free throw line. He was third behind LeBron James and Joel Embiid in the final poll in mid-February, with just 164 points between the three. However, James and Embiid have missed a lot of time since then, leaving Jokic on the winning side.
Jokic finished with 964 points and was the only player on the 101 ballot. Embiid (82) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (81) are the only two players named above 70.
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Since the league adopted the current voting format prior to the 2016-17 season, no MVP winner has been more than 224 points ahead of the other (when James Harden won in 2018). For comparison: Jokic has a lead of 568 points over Embiid, who is now second by a wide margin.
While this advantage is a nod to Jokic’s incredible season, it is also clearly a product of the injury chaos that virtually every other title contender has faced this season. James has been out for a few weeks with a sprained upper ankle. Embiid has missed 18 of Philadelphia’s 54 games, including 10 recently with a knee contusion.
Kevin Durant finished fourth in the previous poll, but he’s only played four games since then and didn’t get any MVP votes this time around. Antetokounmpo has been on the scene since the 2nd. April due to a recurring knee problem. Harden had played better than any other player in the league since arriving in Brooklyn before suffering a hamstring injury last month that has recently worsened, playing just four minutes in April.
Jokic is miles off the field, but his point total is in line with where the winners have been in each of the last few seasons. The other thing is, there is no clear second place. Since the league adopted the current ballot in 2017, the runner-up has received at least 738 points. Embiid, who received five of the other 11 first-place votes, finished second with 401 points, just over half the usual number. Antetokounmpo (no first votes, 375 points), the two-time defensive MVP, is third, Damian Lillard (two first votes, 67 total, 283 points) is fourth, and Harden (one first vote, 62 total, 231 points) is fifth.
James got more than half of the first votes in the previous poll and none this time. He fell far short of two-thirds of the vote, receiving only 37 votes and 105 points. He is just ahead of Chris Paul, who received two first-place votes and a total of 98 points, followed by Kawhi Leonard (80 points, including one first-place vote) in eighth place, Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (28 points) in ninth place and Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (26 points) in 10th place.
Other players receiving votes were Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (11th with 14 points), Stephen Curry (12th with 13 points) and Suns guard Devin Booker (13th with 3 points).
NBA MVP Straw Man Poll Media Results
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