Nikola Jokic Running Away With NBA MVP: Latest ESPN Media Poll

Written By Mo Nuwwarah on February 16, 2023

ESPN released its second MVP straw poll of the 2022-23 season and the results have shift massively from the first. After the initial polling painted a close race for NBA MVP, the new one shows a clear frontrunner has distanced himself from the field. Two-time defending winner Nikola Jokic looks headed for an MVP three-peat.

A reminder: this poll reflects the opinions of actual MVP voters. Therefore, bettors can use this information to gain insight on where the award is headed and find potential value in NBA MVP odds. Let’s see how NBA MVP polling and odds compare and find out if anything stands out.

Jokic Claims Top Spot In Landslide

A clear-cut top five has emerged among the voters. That’s clearly reflected in MVP odds, which show a massive drop-off to Ja Morant, roughly No. 6 in the markets.

PlayerPolling PlacePolling PointsBest Betting OddsApprox. Betting Market Rank
Nikola Jokic19131
Giannis Antetokounmpo25523
Joel Embiid34902
Jayson Tatum44105
Luka Doncic52184

From our last article comparing the NBA MVP straw poll with the odds, the notes on Jokic:

He has also been tremendously efficient. If he keeps this up again, he may once again charge late and overcome voter fatigue. The Nuggets sit third in the West and are a real threat to grab the top seed. That would go a long way convincing voters.

Well, doesn’t that look prescient? Jokic indeed kept up his efficiency. So monstrously efficient has he been, that he has accrued almost as twice as much value as fellow MVP candidate Joel Embiid, by FiveThirtyEight’s player ratings. For the first time in his career, Jokic has averaged a triple-double — 24.7/11.5/10.1 — and done so on 63.2/39.1/82.2 shooting splits. If that holds, he will be just the third player to do so.

And perhaps most importantly, Jokic has added massive team success, something he lacked the past couple of seasons as the Nuggets struggled with injuries. Voters tend to overwhelmingly gravitate toward players on top-three seeds. The Nuggets have built a five-game cushion as of Feb. 16 in the West. With only around 20 games remaining for most teams, and only the Grizzlies having any real chance of closing that gap, the race for the No. 1 seed looks finished.

It’s just really hard to poke holes in Jokic’s resume at this point.

What’s interesting is that neither Jokic or the team seem to be pushing at all for him to win the award. Jokic looks on track to miss the most games of his career — he may finish below 70. He’s missed five of the team’s past 17 games with minor injuries. That may continue down the stretch with the Nuggets all but sealing the top seed. If there’s a worry about Jokic’s candidacy, lacking a strong finish might be it.

Other Players Of Note

One could hardly blame a bettor who just wants to follow the results of the poll and lay the roughly -200 on Jokic. Unless something drastic changes, that’s going to look like tremendous value in a few weeks when Jokic closes the season -500 or shorter. Indeed, while this article was being written, Jokic moved from -189 to -299 at PointsBet Sportsbook.

But if one wants to fire a longer shot, the other four in the big five represent the realistic options.

We’re just going to skip over the down-ballot players. Short of the Grizzlies miraculously wresting the top seed away (Ja Morant MVP odds: ), none of these players appear to have any real equity.

Joel Embiid

The markets like Embiid a bit more than the voters did. However, he does have a couple of key things going his way that could sway some late votes.

For one, he dominated Jokic in their head-to-head matchup on Jan. 28. Embiid posted an eye-popping 47-18-5 line on 18-for-31 shooting and led his team to a comeback victory down the stretch. He completely outshone the Serbian, who had 24-8-9 and some ugly turnovers late (7 total). If he does so again when they meet March 27, that could have pull with voters. ESPN’s Zach Lowe already said on his podcast the head-to-head domination moved the needle for him.

For another, the Sixers still have an outside shot to win the East’s top seed. Three back of the Celtics (and two back of Milwaukee), a hard charge to the finish would leave an impression in the minds of voters. While Embiid will very likely wind up with no more than 65 games played, recency bias may help there.

Winning the scoring title — he sits 0.2 PPG back of Luka Doncic — would also be a nice feather in his cap.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

The Bucks have had an odd season, muddling their way through stretches and only recently reintegrating former All-Star Khris Middleton.

But, they find themselves right on Boston’s tail with the break about to arrive. Catching the Celtics would effectively end Jayson Tatum’s candidacy and boost Antetokounmpo’s own.

And the Greek superstar seems to have a bit more pull with the voters than Embiid. His 11 first-place votes nearly doubled those of Embiid (six).

On the downside for Antetokounmpo, his efficiency has dipped from previous seasons. His 3-point shooting is the worst it’s been in five years, and his free-throw shooting is the second-worst. He also looks on course to fail to hit 70 games played, as he can only afford on more DNP.

Luka Doncic

Covered briefly here, in our article on the Kyrie Irving trade. The short of it: Doncic looks set to lose both some share of the offense, and the power of the narrative. Even if Dallas climbs in the standings, Irving may get a good chunk of the credit. But in any case, Dallas has not found its footing, losing three straight and slipping into the play-in.

Jayson Tatum

It has to count as somewhat of a surprise that Tatum has not put together a stronger case for the voters. He’s on pace to play more than 70 games for the league’s best team, averaging 30.6/8.6/4.5. His efficiency (1.23 points per shot) actually bests that of Antetokounmpo (1.19) even if both fall way behind the absurd 1.42 of Jokic.

Tatum actually has a pretty strong case given how dominant the Celtics have been. Unlike Jokic, he’s generally seen as a tremendous defender.

But, it seems the voters just won’t look past Jokic’s outrageous efficiency and Denver’s fantastic season.

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Mo Nuwwarah Avatar
Written by
Mo Nuwwarah

Mo Nuwwarah got his start in gambling early, making his first sports bet on his beloved Fab Five against the UNC Tar Heels in the 1993 NCAA tournament. He lost $5 to his dad and got back into sports betting years later during a 15-year run in the poker industry. A 2011 journalism graduate from Nebraska-Omaha, he combines those skills with his love of sports and statistics to help bettors make more informed decisions with a focus on pro football, baseball and basketball.

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