ESPN Straw Survey Gives Jokic Lead Over Embiid

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A recent ESPN straw poll shows Nikola Jokić widening ahead of Joel Embiid in the MVP race.

A recent ESPN straw poll shows Nikola Jokić widening ahead of Joel Embiid in the MVP race.
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This year’s NBA MVP Award has several contenders: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ja Morant, Devin Booker, Luka Dončić, etc. However, most fans and analysts agree that the award is in reality a two-horse race between Joel Embiid from Philadelphia and the reigning MVP, Nikola Jokić of Denver. That’s been the case for a few months now. The Greek Freak is here, but he is way behind his competitors.

On February 17, ESPN released a straw poll stating their unofficial picks for the MVP. As expected, Embiid and Jokić led the way with 45 and 43 votes each in first place. That’s a very close race. In fact, the article itself claims it’s been the “closest to the top two places in the nine iterations of this poll over the past six seasons.”

From a strict basketball standpoint (more on what I mean in a moment), the story hasn’t changed much. Most fans would tell you that the MVP Award is still a toss-up between Embiid and Jokić, maybe Embiid has a small advantage, but nothing huge. ESPN disagrees. in their last straw poll — released yesterday — Jokić received 62 out of 100 votes in first place, a huge jump from where he was a month and a half ago.

But why? What has Jokić done since February 17 that Embiid has not done? Since that date, here are each player’s numbers:

Jokić: 27.2 PPG, 8.3 APG, 12.8 RPG, 1.6 STL, 1.2 BLK, .599 FG%, .224 3PT%, .818 FT%, 11-6 record in games played

Embiid: 31.4 PPG, 3.6 APG, 12.2 RPG, 1.5 STL, 1.4 BLK, .485 FG%, .373 3PT%, .823 FT%, 11-6 record in games played

BBased on those numbers, you could give Jokić a slight edge, just in terms of field goals and assist numbers. However, these aren’t far from the numbers each of these players has posted all season. If anything, each of them has upped their game over the past five weeks. In short, although you may look at these numbers and think that one player has a small advantage, but certainly not as big as ESPN’s latest straw poll would have you think.

The advanced analytics also favor Embiid. Since February 17, the Nuggets have posted a net score difference of +2.5 per 100 possessions with Jokić on the floor. That’s pretty good. However, without Jokić on the floor, the Nuggets have recorded a +5.9 difference, meaning the team is more than three points better per 100 possession without Jokić on the floor since the previous straw poll. Embiid, on the other hand, made the Sixers much better during that period. With him on the floor, the team has a net score difference of +6.9. Without him, it drops to +0.8. Embiid has made it to the Sixers for the past five weeks. The same cannot be said for Jokić and the Nuggets.

This is where we get to the non-basketball part of this. Even though Jokić’s numbers may be slightly better than Embiid’s, Jokić’s hit on Marchief Morris in November that Morris was forced to miss four months of the season should be enough to send everyone away to the player with slightly worse grades, right? Pricing Joki in this way only promotes that horrible outburst from Jokić that seriously hurts another player. Watch the video if you haven’t seen it yet. It doesn’t take much from Morris to drive Joki crazy. But in the eyes of MVP voters, that’s apparently okay. “It happened in November anyway. That was so long ago. Give him a rest.” How about no?

Perhaps voters are giving Joki a head start because, unlike Embiid, Jokić doesn’t have a superstar teammate like James Harden to lighten the load. That’s true, but in case you haven’t been watching lately, Harden doesn’t exactly play well. In his last ten games, Harden shoots no less than 37.7 percent on 14.6 field goals per game. He still scores more than 20 points per game, but his efficiency is in a huge dip, forcing Embiid to get more of the score lately.

Then of course there is the team success, in which, as I mentioned earlier, Jokić and Embiid have been equal since February 17. That said, Philadelphia has a better record for the season (AKA including the part before Harden became a Sixer) and is fourth in the Eastern Conference standings compared to Denver’s sixth in the West. I understand the West is deeper and more competitive, but it’s not Embiid’s fault that his conference isn’t that hard. If that’s a determinant for voters, why are Embiid and Antetokounmpo even considered?

This isn’t a shot at Jokić as a basketball player, but for two players who have been neck and neck in the MVP race all season, I find it shocking that Jokić would jump to such a huge lead, given what Embiid did in the same span of time , and that doesn’t even account for the huge offense Jokić committed on Morris at the start of the season. Embiid may not be the MVP, but it should be much closer than ESPN’s straw survey indicates. It may sound crazy, but Embiid deserves more respect than he gets.

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