will this be nba season field one of the closest MVP votes in league history?

If ESPN’s final MVP poll of 2022-23 is any indication, buckle up, because Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid has passed denver nuggets reigning center and two-time MVP Nicholas Jokic.

By two points.

Embiid not only surpassed Jokic in total points, 790 to 788, but Jokic actually had more first-place votes (42 for Jokic, 40 for Embiid). The difference: Embiid finished second on 45 votes, six more than Jokic, to give the Sixers big man a slight edge over his rival.

Meanwhile, milwaukee dollars forward Giannis Antetokounmpo — a two-time MVP in his own right — earned the remaining 18 first-place votes and looms close as the best player on the winningest team (55) in the league, making him a difficult decision. for voters even more difficult.

Add it all up, and with just a handful of days left in the regular season, many of those polled still aren’t sure how they’ll ultimately vote.

“These may not be my final answers,” said one voter.

Another asked: “Can’t you wait until the regular season is over?”

The most important finding of the survey, conducted over a 36-hour period from Monday afternoon to Tuesday night in the wake of Embiid will miss Monday’s highly anticipated showdown with Jokic in Denver due to a right calf injury, is that an already contentious MVP career will truly be in doubt until the league announces the winner during the early part of this year’s playoffs.

“Could they tie for MVP?” dallas Coach Jason Kidd said with a smile before Wednesday night’s game between his Mavericks and Embiid’s 76ers in Philadelphia.

“Let’s see if we can pull it off.”

A historically close race to the finish

Embiid’s two-point margin of victory, if carried over to actual MVP voting at the end of the season, would easily dwarf the closest race since media voting became the norm during the 1980-81 season.

After the 1989-90 season, he was a member of the Hall of Fame magical johnson, charles barkley and Michael Jordan closely matched, with Barkley getting the most first-place votes with 38.

But while Johnson finished with 27 first-place votes, what pushed him over the top to win the award was finishing second on 38 votes. Coupled with Jordan’s finish (he had 21 first-place votes, with more second- and third-place votes than Barkley), it allowed the final vote to go in Johnson’s favor.

History could repeat itself with the vote between Embiid, Jokic and Antetokounmpo. But the 2023 MVP race didn’t start out this way.

It was clear that this year’s race had a chance to be wide open when, in the first opinion poll of the season in December, boston celtics forward jayson tatum he led the way by just 92 total points. At the time, that margin was the second smallest of any of the previous 12 opinion polls conducted since the 2016-17 season. (The closest came midway through last season, when Embiid outscored Jokic by 35 total points.)

The vote leaned towards Jokic in the second survey, taken just before the All-Star break. Jokic claimed 77 of the 100 first-place votes, with Antetokounmpo (11 first-place votes) finishing second and Embiid (six first-place votes) third.

By this time, Jokic’s lead was apparently cemented and so was his attempt to claim the award for the third straight season, something only Larry Bird, wilt chamberlain and bill russell Have done.

But a number of factors have seen the race tighten dramatically.

There was a reversal of Jokic’s huge lead in MVP odds, as multiple poll voters expressed that there is a higher bar to cross for a third straight MVP. Denver lost four straight games and five of six earlier this month. Philadelphia, meanwhile, has won eight straight games against the league’s toughest post-All-Star schedule, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Milwaukee has won 26 of its last 30 games with Antetokounmpo in the lineup.

And one of the big final moments of the season, the Embiid-Jokic matchup, was lost when Embiid sat out with a sore calf.

“I think Joel’s body of work speaks for itself,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said when asked if he thought Embiid missing the game could affect his candidacy. “We did the right thing there, so I don’t think it’s fair. You’re not judged by a game, that I know of.”

“You’re judged all season long, by your team’s record and how you perform. And he’s been dominant.”

The case of the top three and why Giannis could play spoiler

Each star in the Embiid-Jokic-Antetokounmpo trio is more than deserving on their merits.

Jokic has led Denver to the best record in the Western Conference, averaging 24.9 points, 11.9 rebounds and 9.9 assists. He is within reach of becoming the third player in NBA history to average a triple-double in a season, and the only 7-footer to do so, matching the feats of Oscar Robertson and russell westbrook.

Embiid leads the league in scoring (33.2 points per game) for the second straight season along with averages of 10.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists. The 76ers are close to clinching the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Antetokounmpo is averaging 31.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 5.7 assists for the team with the best record in the league.



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And Antetokounmpo is close enough that it’s not inconceivable that he could pass both Jokic and Embiid in MVP voting, as Antetokounmpo finished the latest poll with 18 first-place votes, 15 second-place votes and 64 second-place votes. third place for a total of 612 points.

More likely, however, is that Antetokounmpo’s third-place presence in the race, like Jordan’s in 1990, could help swing the vote between Jokic and Embiid. Performances in the final stretch, like Wednesday night’s 38-point triple-doublecould cause Antetokounmpo’s first-place vote totals to rise.

But at the expense of which stellar center?

Best of the rest, what about the end of another Kings drought?

A Grand Canyon-sized chasm below the top three ended with Tatum in fourth; he received 90 of the 100 fourth-place votes and finished with 292 total points. Another significant drop followed, as the Mavericks guard luka doncic (37 points), oklahoma city thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (32 points), sacramento kings center Domantas Sabonis (20 points) and cleveland cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell (15 points) registered with large portions of fifth-place votes.

Voters struggled to choose which star to place fifth on the ballot, and some were unsure they could give an MVP vote to a player on a team currently under .500, like Dallas’ Doncic and Gilgeous-Alexander of oklahoma city.

Some voters wanted to reward Sabonis for the way the Kings have performed this season, posting a winning record and a playoff berth for the first time since the 2005-06 season.

And if Sabonis gets any MVP votes this season, it would snap a streak even longer than Sacramento’s playoff drought: Peja Stojakovic in 2003-04 he was the last King to receive an MVP vote, according to data from ESPN Stats & Info.

Rounding the field: Miami Heat forward jimmy butler (four points) at ninth, Kings guard De’Aaron Fox and the Celtics ahead jaylen brown (three points) in a tie for tenth, warriors of the golden state guard Stephen Curry (two points) in 12 and phoenix suns guard Devin Booker and memphis grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. tied for 13th with one point.

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