Where is the NBA MVP race headed? We surveyed 100 people in the league

There was a narrow lead in the early races for the Michael Jordan Trophy.

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, who is averaging a career-high 30.2 points per game, claimed 47 first-place votes and tied for 98 of 100 votes cast in debut ESPN’s 2022-23 NBA MVP poll, which took place today. Sunday to Tuesday.

Tatum will become the first Celtics player since Larry Bird to win the league’s top individual honor – now named Jordan after the NBA’s announcement of its newly christened honors roster earlier this week. Bird was the last player to win it three times in a row (1984-86).

Tatum led the way with a total of 759 points, followed by Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (36 first place votes, 687 total points) in second and Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (10 first place votes, 392 total points) in third.

The 82-point gap between Tatum and Antetokounmpo is the second closest between first and second place of the 11 polls that have been conducted since the 2016-17 season.

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, meanwhile, is getting the polls for the first time in his career, as is Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

To gauge where the race takes place roughly a third of the regular season, ESPN asked 100 members of the media to participate in an informal poll that mimicked the NBA’s postseason award voting process. To make voting as realistic as possible, there are at least two voters from each of the league’s 28 markets, along with national and international reporters.

Like the official NBA ballot at the end of the season, voters are asked to submit five players’ ballots, and the results are tabulated using the league’s scoring system: 10 points for each first-place vote, seven points for second, five points for third, three points for fourth. and one point for fifth.

Completing the top-five behind Tatum, Antetokounmpo and Doncic are Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (six first-place votes, 250 points total) and Denver Nuggets center (and two-time defending NBA MVP) Nikola Jokic, who has one first-place finish. votes and a total of 195 points.

Tatum, Antetokounmpo, Doncic, Curry and Jokic were the five players who received first place votes.

Other players who received votes include Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (sixth), Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (seventh), Williamson (eighth), Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (ninth), Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (10th), guard Cleveland Cavaliers Donovan Mitchell (11th), Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (12th), and Gilgeous-Alexander, who, with his lone fifth-place vote, completed the poll in 13th.

While Tatum, who finished sixth in last season’s MVP picks, sits atop this first poll, history shows that his lead may not be secure.

Last season, Curry garnered 94 of 100 first-place votes in the first round of the poll – the most awarded to a single player in the 11 versions of this poll conducted since the 2016-17 season.

In 2020-21, LeBron James’ slim advantage disappeared. He fell to fifth in the final round of the straw poll and ended up 13th in the official MVP voting.

In both seasons, it was Jokic who struggled to win the award.

It was also the first time in any of the polls that no player had tallied a total of 100 votes.

Not that Tatum isn’t in a strong position to stay on top. The 24-year-old is off to the best start of his career, averaging 30.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists while shooting 47% from the field. Tatum has led the Celtics to a league-leading 22-7 record without defensive anchor Robert Williams III, who has not played this season due to knee surgery.

As in the standings, where the Bucks trail the Celtics 1.5 games in the East, Antetokounmpo found himself eyeing Tatum in the polls. The two-time MVP has led the Bucks through a challenging season-opening third, averaging 30.6 points, 11.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists with co-stars Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday out injured.

Antetokounmpo is the only player to have at least one vote in all 11 polls that have been conducted. He has finished outside the top three in the polls only once in the eight polls conducted over the last four seasons.

Doncic, meanwhile, has been brilliant in Dallas, averaging the Western Conference lead with 33.0 points, 8.4 rebounds and 8.7 assists for the Mavericks.

For Doncic and Stephen Curry, the biggest obstacle to their early-season candidacy has been their team’s struggles on the court. While Boston and Milwaukee have two of the NBA’s best records, Dallas and Golden State sit ninth and 10th respectively in the West. It’s the main reason Doncic only got named on 80 out of 100 ballots, and why Curry got 58 ballots — both of which fell within the same range as Jokic (73) in the first round of voting last year before winning. Award.

Specifically, voters pointed to Golden State’s record . 500 as a reason why Curry was lower on their ballot or left out altogether. But the superstar guard’s candidacy is likely to be dealt a fatal blow with news Thursday, first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, that Curry will be out for the next few weeks with a left shoulder injury he sustained in a loss to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday.

Since Bill Walton won the award while out of action in 24 games for the 1977-78 Portland Trail Blazers – a team that was 5-10 when he broke his leg that ended his regular season – only Allen Iverson has missed more than 10 games and won MVP that season. Dan Iverson, when he won the award in 2001 for the 76ers who led the East, missed 11. Curry played for a team that started the season 14-15 though His 30.0 points, 6.6 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game while shooting 43.4% from 3 point range.

Then there’s Jokic, who is having a strong statistical season, averaging 24.6 points, 10.3 rebounds and 9.0 assists for Denver, who sits in third place in the West standings.

But having won the award in each of the last two seasons – the ninth time a player has won the award twice in a row since Bird won it three in a row – it was always expected that it would be difficult for Jokic to be the man to buck the trend. .

At the bottom of the poll, the most famous name to emerge is Williamson, who has helped lead the Pelicans to the top of the West. After missing all of last season with a foot injury, Williamson averaged 25.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists for the Pelicans 18-10.

Anthony Davis saw a spike in his strong game recently garnering him four votes in fifth place, marking his return to the polls for the first time since the 2019-20 season, while Gilgeous-Alexander’s stellar season for the Thunder — including a spectacular showing in New York. York and Washington are on the winning streak — leading to their poll debut.

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