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March 30, 2023

Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic might be in closest MVP race ever

Can Joel Embiid hang on to win his first most valuable player honors?

Every second of every hour of every day, someone is arguing about Joel Embiid vs. Nikola Jokic for MVP (with due respect to the Giannis Antetokounmpo contingent, which is smaller but mighty). As it turns out, we may be in for the closest MVP finish in the history of the NBA, if a recent straw poll at ESPN is an indicator of how the vote will turn out.

ESPN's Tim Bontemps turned in his final edition of the MVP straw poll he conducts throughout the regular season, and Embiid is on top by the thinnest of margins, ahead of Jokic by just two points in this (unofficial) poll of NBA luminaries. What's interesting is how Embiid got there, with Philadelphia's star center receiving the most second-place votes among the 100 voters to overcome a deficit in first-place votes.

Here's a look at the top five, with a hat tip to Bontemps for doing the leg work:

Player Point total 1st/2nd/3rd votes 
 Joel Embiid79040/45/15
 Nikola Jokic788 42/39/19
 Giannis Antetokounmpo612 18/15/64
 Jayson Tatum 292 0/1/2
 Luka Doncic37 0/0/0

While Antetokounmpo is not that far behind the other two, it seems clear this his role will be as a spoiler for whoever misses out on the award along with him. An interesting subplot will be monitoring whether Giannis voters see a late-season poll like this — it has been a good indicator of MVP results in the past — and game their vote in order to move players up or down depending on their preferred order.

As Bontemps points out in his article, this would be the smallest margin of victory in the modern history of the MVP award, surpassing the closest point gap (22) that separated Magic Johnson from then Sixers forward Charles Barkley in 1989-90. Rarely has an awards race been this tight with just a week-and-a-half left in the season, and this could very well come down to the marquee games each player has left on the schedule, most notably a showdown between Embiid's Sixers and Giannis' Bucks on Sunday night.

In light of this development, we recorded a new podcast episode on Thursday morning, discussing a historic race, the factors that might tilt the awards battle in either player's favor, Philadelphia's current injury situation, and more:

So make sure to get your final arguments in for Embiid if you're pulling for the big man to emerge victorious, as we only have a couple of weeks left before we put this nonsense behind us and watch playoff basketball.

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