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Joel Embiid leads new ESPN NBA MVP straw poll

The Sixers’ MVP candidate is narrowly ahead of Nikola Jokic for first place in the new poll.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

The 2021-22 NBA MVP race is shaping up to be an exciting one. With the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic and the Sixers’ own Joel Embiid, there are several candidates playing at an incredibly high level.

Well, we’ve now received an early indication of what voting could look like. In a new MVP straw poll completed by ESPN, Embiid had 45 first-place votes and finished with 789 points, putting him in first place. He was the only player chosen on every ballot. Jokic came in second with 43 first-place votes and 754 points, while Giannis Antetokounmpo was a more distance third place with nine first-place votes and 512 points.

The poll tallied the votes of 100 media members, collected from Sunday to Tuesday. There were at least two voters from each of the NBA’s 28 markets, and to mimic the setup of the official MVP vote, voters submitted a five-player ballot with the league’s scoring system (first-place votes are worth 10 points, with seven points for second, five points for third, three points for fourth, and one point for fifth).

As Tim Bontemps noted in the article, Jokic was surprisingly left off five ballots completely. If Jokic had just been second place on those five ballots, he and Embiid would be tied for first place overall.

Bontemps also mentioned all the other players who received votes after the top three:

Embiid and Jokic were followed by Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (512 points, nine first-place votes) in third, Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (one first-place vote, 211 points) in fourth and Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (two first-place votes, 157 points) in fifth.

Others receiving votes: Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (sixth); Chicago Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan (seventh); Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (eighth); Dallas Mavericks forward Luka Doncic (ninth); and Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker and Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler, who tied for 10th with a single fifth-place vote each.

The often heated debate of who’s better between Embiid and Jokic generally gets in the way of some fans around the league simply enjoying both players for how brilliant they are without the need for comparison. They’re both MVP-level talents in their own unique ways, no matter who you prefer.

The fact that Giannis is averaging a league-high 29.4 points with a 63 true shooting percentage, 11.3 rebounds and six assists while playing at Defensive Player of the Year level and still feels under discussed in the MVP race speaks volumes about the absurd level the top candidates are at right now.

Nevertheless, Embiid climbing into first place is completely understandable. With the scoring surge he’s been on for months now, partnered with significantly improved passing and transition play with strong defense, there’s no doubt he’s carried the Sixers at an MVP level. The next question for his MVP chances is whether the arrival of James Harden reduces Embiid’s production somewhat and he loses a few votes as a result, or the chance to climb into a higher seed in the East with Harden’s help strengthens Embiid’s case. We’ll have to see what happens and what narrative sways more voters.

With 25 games or so left after the All-Star break there’s still a good amount of time for things to change, but it won’t be too long until we find out how the MVP race plays out.