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Joel Embiid shines in The Athletic’s anonymous NBA player poll & other fun results

Joel Embiid’s name pops up in a bunch of polls here, running away with the player’s MVP poll. Doc Rivers makes an appearance or two. Then Sixers fans make lists as well.

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Golden State Warriors v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

A new piece from The Athletic, published by Sam Amick and Josh Robbins, polled 108 NBA players and asked them a series of questions.

There were players representing all 30 teams, and participants were apparently asked who their MVP would be, who is the most overrated, who has the worst fans, and other questions. Let’s look at some of the results.

The poll, which The Athletic also did four years ago, but not since due to pandemic restraints, was anonymous to encourage honesty. Not every participant voted for each category.


Golden State Warriors v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

In a total landslide, the players picked Joel Embiid for league MVP. Joel earned 51 (50 percent) of the 102 players who offered an answer. The next closest was Nikola Jokic, who took 25 percent of the vote, followed by Giannis (16 percent). Jayson Tatum, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luka Doncic also received votes.

We would have guessed that Embiid would be the players’ MVP. It has seemed like more and more stars have come forward to support him. Kevin Durant famously offered his “vote” for Joel last year, and this season Embiid continued to hear star players voice support for the international star’s candidacy.

Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, Draymond Green, Zach LaVine are just a few of the big names who said The Process was their MVP.

And of course, we all remember LeBron James selecting Jo with his own first pick for the 2023 All-Star Game, while Nikola Jokic had to select himself to avoid being the last starter selected.

That was another clue about how LeBron and Giannis (the captains) felt.

Per the poll:

“There’s not many people in the league you may fear, but I think he’s one of those few people that you have appropriate fear for every time you go out,” one player said.

“Dominance,” another player said of Embiid. “He’s the hardest player to stop in the league, and his team is winning.”

Who’s the best defender?

For this one, Jrue Holiday won in a landslide, followed by Lu Dort.

It’s interesting that guards/wings took the top spots. Embiid earned 2 percent of the voting here.

But it was the Milwaukee Bucks point guard, whose strip on Devin Booker helped win the 2021 championship, will forever be etched in our memories, that got the top spot.

(Still, I have to think that if NBA GMs were drafting an All-Defensive team for the upcoming playoffs, that Joel Embiid would be one of the first five names called, ahead of Jrue.)

Building a roster from scratch

More to report involving Embiid, although he finishes way behind Giannis here. Giannis is nine months younger than Joel, and won’t turn 29 until next December. Joel is already 29. But Freak has less of an injury history. Interestingly, Steph Curry ranks pretty high, given his age. And a few players would even start a franchise with the 38-year-old LeBron James.

Most overrated?

Atlanta Hawks v Boston Celtics - Game One Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

It’s kind of funny that Trae Young was voted the most overrated player. This is an obviously subjective category, since it’s hard to ascertain what public opinion as an entity thinks of someone. But Young finishing so high is definitely a funny surprise.

I’m less surprised to see Julius Randle, who made the same All-NBA Second Team alongside two MVP candidates in Joel Embiid and LeBron James that 2021 season, and who made the 2023 All-Star team over the likes of James Harden and Jimmy Butler this season.

I get why perhaps the award, and the amount of media attention the New York market earns in general, may leave players feeling Jules is overrated. It’s Jalen Brunson who likely strikes more fear in an opposing defense and would hold more trade value on the open market too.

I’m lol’ing at Pascal Siakam being so weirdly high here too. Jimmy Butler, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Damian Lillard might well be underrated in my own opinion. Come on, anonymous NBA players. Do better.


Jrue Holiday won the most underrated player, followed by SGA, then Mikal Bridges. No Sixers here.

Best of all time

Best of all time was M.J. finishing with 58 percent to LeBron’s 33 percent. Kobe Bryant got 6.8 percent. Bill Russell and Tracy McGrady made the list.

Least like to fight

Players know that James Johnson was an exceptional MMA fighter before he turned to pro hoops. But it looks like Embiid made this list too.

Best fans

Philly finishes surprisingly high here, with the fifth-best fans. I wasn’t sure how opposing players might view the fans with a reputation for being hard on everyone, including their own players. But apparently they got plenty of much deserved recognition for being passionate, and fiercely loyal. The dreaded Celtics get the top spot. We saw in the NBA Finals a year ago, that both Boston’s and Golden State’s arenas can get very, very loud and that helps their squads.

And we’re witnessing what fans learned in the early 2000’s, that Sacramento’s fanbase is incredibly loud and passionate.

Worst fans

And how fitting it is for the Sixers and Celtics to rate highly on both lists here for best and worst fans. That’s pretty funny and makes too much sense.

Coach you’d most want to play for

Doc Rivers makes this list. We’ve heard some players like Patrick Beverley speak glowingly of Doc on ESPN last offseason. Pat Bev played for Doc in L.A. Maybe Doc got DeAndre Jordan’s vote too if he was included in the poll.

Which coach would you least like to play for?

Doc Rivers makes this list too, but his former lieutenant Tom Thibodeau wins in a hilarious landslide. I guess Thibs does have the reputation as a hard-ass who makes guys run difficult defensive drills, overworks his studs, and doesn’t play young guys. Knicks fans this season will remind you Thibs is playing the young core more now, and much of his reputation has changed, as he’s embraced analytics, and they’re not wrong. But clearly, Thibs still has a certain rep.

Who will win the title?

There’s at least one believer out there. I’m pretty surprised how few chose the Phoenix Suns. I’m also surprised players are sleeping so hard on the Boston Celtics. I wouldn’t have expected them to finish so far behind the Bucks.

Golden State gets a legacy bump here, let’s be real.

Best and worst officials

Philadelphia 76ers v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Best ref: Tony Brothers, presented without comment.

Worst ref: Scott Foster (with Brothers coming in second, so I guess players have a love-hate with the well-known official).

I find it funny and sort of disturbing that there is an actual NBA official who everyone knows used to have phone calls before and after games that disgraced official Tim Donaghy was gambling on and like...nothing ever happened to him. We’re just supposed to assume they were chatting about the halftime entertainment shows? And Foster also has this well-known beef with Chris Paul and James Harden? Obviously tons of fans don’t trust Foster for good reason, and apparently the players don’t either and he just keeps going and going.

He’s often used as the meme face for “what the NBA wants to happen:”

Who talks the most trash

Draymond Green ran away with this one, and that’s even before the incident in Sacramento. Joel Embiid made this list with a couple votes.

Bonus question

I gotta say, I’ve had issues with NBA officiating in the past. But this year feels weird. There was that Warriors game where they randomly decided to crack down on carries and travels. We heard they wanted to clean up non-basketball moves at the beginning of last year, but now they’re letting players run rampant with break-check and backwards or side-lunging shots to draw fouls. Harden is clearly on some imaginary bad-to-be-on referee list.

It just feels like there is so much in-game or between crew inconsistency it’s impossible to get a handle on how a particular game will be called. And then there are the rules people don’t love, which plays can or cannot be challenged and when, etc. It all feels so subjective sometimes and that makes it difficult to trust. It’s just not “all coming out in the wash” this season.

And load management is high there too. Another can of worms for another day. Most importantly, Embiid was voted MVP.

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