ESPN’s NBA MVP Straw Poll Has Nikola Jokic Winning Back-To-Back MVPs; Are The Voters Missing Something?

CLEVELAND, OHIO - MARCH 18: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets brings the ball up court during the second quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

ESPN conducted a straw poll of NBA MVP voters earlier this week, and the top three vote-getters shouldn’t be a surprise if you’ve been watching the league this season. The Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic, Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, and the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo are your top three finalists, in that order. If this poll holds up Jokic will be a back-to-back MVP winner. But do the voters in the straw poll have it right?

A statistical case can be made for each of these guys, and you can make a narrative case for each of them as well. Ultimately that’s what this award is. It’s some combination of stats and what story the voters like the best.

If you’re a frequent reader of my NBA coverage you know I lean towards the advanced stats more than the counting stats. Though I am not beholden to them. I watch a ton of NBA and speak to people in the league when formulating my opinions.

At the end of the day when you are discussing the best players in the world, you’re splitting hairs, and ultimately it comes down to personal preference.

Jokic is the MVP and has been this season. The straw poll got it right. He leads the league in EPM at +8.7, a full point plus ahead of Embiid. Jokic also leads the league in WS/48 at .300 a slim .010 lead over Antetokounmpo. League average WS/48 is .100.

The league leader in WS/48 has won nine of the last 10 MVPs. The only time it didn’t happen was the year basketball fans and media lost their collective minds and decided that Russell Westbrook averaging a triple double for a season warranted an MVP.

By the way the leader in WS/48 that year was Kevin Durant. Can’t imagine why he didn’t win it …

Back to Jokic. The Nuggets are 46-31, fifth in the Western Conference. They have been without their second- and third-best players, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., all season. The team is 10th in aNET rating, sixth in aORTG and 16th in aDRTG.

The next closest Nuggets player to Jokic in EPM is Aaron Gordon at +1.3. The fact that this team is above average and in fifth place is a testament to Jokic’s brilliance. Take him off this team and the Nuggets are a lottery team, the likes of the Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic.

Antetokounmpo has been sublime. But he’s had his running mates in Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton with him most of the season, and the Bucks are only a shade better than the Nuggets in aORTG and aDRTG.

Now in a playoff series if you had to choose between either Jokic or Antetokounmpo and you took Giannis you wouldn’t be wrong. We saw what he did in the 2021 postseason en route to his first championship and Finals MVP. But the MVP is a regular-season award.

Jokic has done more with less, and his team in terms of the advanced stats are right there with the Bucks.

Embiid is the tougher case. He’s second in EPM, fifth in WS/48 and has put up monster counting stats. He’s done so with no Ben Simmons, who was ultimately traded, and 15 games or so of a diminished James Harden.

Embiid’s narrative is pretty good too. His second-best teammate all year is a second-year player in Tyrese Maxey.

The 76ers are 46-29 and third in the East, two games back of first. They could still finish with the top spot, and that would be a tremendous accomplishment and Embiid would get the lion’s share of the credit, deservedly so. This is his most healthy season, and he has been dominant. An MVP win would be his first, and the first for the 76ers since Allen Iverson in 2001.

Did I just talk myself into Embiid as MVP?

That’s how close it is. Depending on the day it’s either Jokic or Embiid as the MVP, with Antetokounmpo finishing third.

The sprint towards the regular-season finish will decide it.