Why 76ers fans should be worried about new MVP straw poll

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports /

Joel Embiid’s decision to miss Monday night’s game between the Philadelphia 76ers and Denver Nuggets was made with the playoffs in mind. It was the third game in four nights with multiple days of travel in between. That said, it could have unfortunate — and dare I say, unfair — implications on his MVP campaign.

The latest (and final) MVP straw poll from ESPN suggests that the race between Embiid and Nuggets center Nikola Jokic is razor-thin. Embiid finished in first place, with 790 total points. Jokic finished in second place with 788 points.

The takeaway? This award is still anybody’s to win.

Why 76ers fans should be concerned about MVP straw poll

Joel Embiid has finished second-place in MVP voting two years running, with Jokic finishing first both times. It’s only natural that they duke it out once more, even if both are perfectly happy focusing on the postseason (we can debate whether Embiid really doesn’t care another time).

That said, Embiid is at the peak of his powers right now. At 29 years old, it may not be long before his body starts to fail him. Dominance doesn’t last forever and Embiid’s injury history looms particularly large.

In the straw poll, Embiid received 40 of 100 potential first-place votes. Jokic received 42, actually edging out Embiid. But the MVP is a ranked-choice award, and Embiid received more second-place votes than Jokic. That was the deciding factor and it’s hard to say with any confidence that Embiid is the favorite right now. This is a true two-horse race with no clear leader. Giannis Antetokounmpo is lurking in the shadows with 18 first-place votes, and he could steal more from either Jokic or Embiid before season’s end.

It’s impossible to argue with Embiid’s production. He’s the most dominant scorer in the NBA right now, averaging 33.2 points on career-best 65.2 true shooting percentage. He simply cannot be stopped straight up, meaning the defense is always operating at a disadvantage.

Problem is, Jokic’s productivity has also been stark and undeniable. Nobody elevates teammates like Jokic and he’s still one of the most dominant, efficient scorers in the game (as J.J. Redick recently pointed out on ESPN’s First Take, the most efficient scoring possession in the NBA right now is a Jokic post-up).

It feels very possible that Jokic will edge out Embiid for a third straight season, potentially slamming the window on Embiid’s MVP contention in the process. There’s always the chance for Embiid to compete again in the future, but after three years of the same two-man battle, it wouldn’t be shocking to see new faces eventually enter the fold.