NBA MVP straw poll – Luka? Giannis? Tatum? 100 league insiders make their picks

There’s a close leader in the early race for the Michael Jordan Trophy.

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, who is averaging a career-high 30.2 points per game, received 47 first-place votes and was on 98 of 100 ballots cast in ESPN’s debut 2022-23 NBA MVP straw poll , which was carried out from Sunday to Tuesday.

Tatum would become the first Celtics player since Larry Bird to win the league’s top individual honor – now named after Jordan after the NBA announced its newly christened award list earlier this week. Bird is the youngest player to win it three times in a row (1984-86).

Tatum led with 759 total 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 place.

The 82-point gap between Tatum and Antetokounmpo is the second closest between first and second place in the 11 straw polls conducted since the 2016/17 season.

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, meanwhile, received a straw vote for the first time in his career, as did Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

To gauge where the race is about a third into the regular season, ESPN asked 100 members of the media to take part in an informal poll that mimics the NBA’s post-season voting process. To make voting as realistic as possible, at least two voters from each of the league’s 28 markets were present along with a cross-section of national and international reporters.

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

Rounding out the top 5 behind Tatum, Antetokounmpo and Doncic were Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (six first-place votes, 250 total points) and Denver Nuggets center (and reigning two-time NBA MVP) Nikola Jokic, who had a first. Place voting and 195 total points.

Tatum, Antetokounmpo, Doncic, Curry and Jokic were the only five players to receive a first seed pick.

Other votes received 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), Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell (11th), Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (12th), and Gilgeous-Alexander, who by a single vote in fifth place rounded out the poll in 13th place.

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

Last season, Curry accumulated 94 out of 100 first-place votes in the first round of the straw poll – the most ever awarded to a single player in 11 versions of that poll conducted since the 2016/17 season.

In 2020-21, LeBron James’ narrow early lead disappeared. He dropped to fifth place in the last round of the straw poll and ended up tied for 13th in the official MVP poll.

Both seasons, it was Jokic who rallied to win the award.

This is also the first time in any of the straw polls that no player has achieved a total of 100 votes.

That’s not to say Tatum isn’t in a strong position to remain at the top. The 24-year-old has had 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 22-7 league record without defensive anchor Robert Williams III, who has yet to play this season due to knee surgery.

As in the standings, where the Bucks are 1.5 games behind the Celtics in the East, Antetokounmpo looks up to Tatum in the straw poll. The two-time MVP has guided the Bucks through a challenging opening third of the season, averaging 30.6 points, 11.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists, with co-stars Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday losing big time to injuries.

Antetokounmpo is the only player to have at least one vote in all 11 straw polls conducted. In eight polls conducted over the past four seasons, he has only once finished outside the top three when voting.

Doncic, meanwhile, was brilliant in Dallas, averaging 33.0 points, 8.4 rebounds and 8.7 assists for the Mavericks, which leads in the Western Conference.

For both Doncic and Stephen Curry, their side’s struggles on the pitch are the biggest obstacle to their candidacy earlier in the season. While Boston and Milwaukee have the NBA’s top two records, Dallas and Golden State in the west rank ninth and tenth, respectively. That’s one of the main reasons Doncic was nominated for just 80 of the 100 ballots, and why Curry landed on 58 of them – both falling in the same row as Jokic (73) on the first ballot last year before he won the award.

Specifically, voters pointed to Golden State’s .500 record as the reason Curry either ranked lower on their ballot or quit entirely. But the superstar guard’s candidacy was likely dealt a fatal blow with news on Thursday, first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, that Curry would miss the next few weeks with a left shoulder injury sustained during the loss to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday.

Since Bill Walton won the honor while missing 24 games for the Portland Trail Blazers — a team that was 50-10 when he suffered a broken foot that ended his regular season — in 1977-78, only Allen Iverson has had more than 10 Missed games and won this season’s MVP. And Iverson, when he won East-leading 76ers honors in 2001, missed 11. Curry plays for a team that went 14-15 early in the season In spite of 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 another strong statistical season, averaging 24.6 points, 10.3 rebounds and 9.0 assists for Denver, which sits third in the West standings.

But having won the award over the past two seasons – the ninth time a player has won the award twice in a row since Bird has won it three in a row – it was always expected that Jokic would find it difficult to buck the trend to oppose .

At the bottom of the poll, Williamson is the most notable name to have 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 18-10 Pelicans.

Anthony Davis saw his recent surge in strong play earn him four votes in fifth place, marking his return to the poll for the first time since the 2019-20 season, while Gilgeous-Alexander’s stellar season for The Thunder – including spectacular performances in New York and Washington in victories – led to his straw poll debut. NBA MVP straw poll – Luka? Giannis? Tatum? 100 league insiders make their picks

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