Tuesday, May 17, 2022

NBA MVP race: Joel Embiid looks to make statement vs. Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo; Nikola Jokic gains ground

While many players claim not to care about individual honors, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid has taken the unusual position of lobbying for the MVP award. “This year, I’ve gone to a different level,” Embiid told NBA.com’s Mark Medina. “I’m healthy. I don’t know what else I have to do to be able to [win MVP].” The betting public tends to agree with him. Embiid has been the favorite for quite some time.

Yet reigning MVP Nikola Jokic is steadily gaining ground. He is having one of the greatest statistical seasons in NBA history despite the absence of star teammates Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., and with Denver hanging onto a playoff spot even without two of its three best players, Jokic has made a compelling case for himself as a repeat winner. 

The voters seemingly agree. ESPN’s Tim Bontemps conducts several straw polls each season of likely voters. The final poll was released Tuesday, and Jokic, not Embiid, has emerged as the frontrunner. Among the 100 voters, Jokic earned 62 first-place nods compared to 29 for Embiid and nine for Giannis Antetokounmpo. Overall, Jokic earned 860 points to Embiid’s 719. This is not an exact reading of this season’s pool of voters, but it is about as close as any pollster could get. At least two voters were used from every NBA market in addition to a number of national and international voices, many of whom have had votes in the past. The past four winners of the final straw poll have gone on to win the award.

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But Embiid still has chances to impress the voters before their decisions are made. He sits just 0.2 points behind LeBron James for the NBA’s scoring title. His 76ers are tied with the Heat and Bucks in the loss column for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, and on Tuesday, Embiid will face off with Antetokounmpo in a critical game between Philadelphia and Milwaukee. A marquee win that helps vault the 76ers to the No. 1 seed could be just the boost he needs to reclaim his status as the MVP favorite. 

That was a status he held last season… until getting injured. He believes that is what cost him the award a year ago. “The knock on me was last year that I wasn’t healthy enough,” Embiid told The Athletic’s Sam Amick. “So to come back, take another step, and then also stay on the floor, that was a big goal for me.” 

He’s done just that. Embiid has done practically everything he could feasibly do to win the award. If he doesn’t, it will be because Jokic simply had the better season in the eyes of the voters. They still have a few weeks to think things over, and what Embiid does in the coming games will go a long way in determining who wins the trophy.

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