The race for 2023 NBA MVP is heating up as the 2022-23 season closes. Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid is battling Denver Nuggets center (and two-time incumbent winner) Nikola Jokic for the honors. It’s become one of the hottest topics in NBA circles, so it’s no surprise that ESPN would trumpet their straw poll of analysts and experts on the subject today. They have Embiid first overall by a narrow margin, followed by Jokic, who received more first-place votes but finished second on weighed points due to Embiid’s better showing in the second-place category.
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum finishing third and fourth isn’t a surprise either. Nor is Dallas Mavericks point guard Luka Doncic at fifth. Of those, Antetokounmpo was the only player receiving first-place votes outright. He got 18 out of 100. Other than that, Embiid and Jokic owned them all.
After that, the list gets down to opinions and boutique selections...players that nobody would vote for as the legitimate MVP, but who had impressive seasons. Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander finished 6th overall. Domantas Sabonis, Donovan Mitchell, and Jimmy Butler occupied the 7th-10th spots.
At this point, Portland Trail Blazers fans can start getting itchy.
De’Aaron Fox, Jaylen Brown, and Steph Curry ranged from 10th-12th.
That itch can become a sweat.
Finishing out the Top 14: Devin Booker and Jaren Jackson, Jr.
And now, that sweat might be full-blown rage.
Despite finishing the season with a 32.2 ppg scoring average—second only to Embiid and Doncic—and posting career-highs in several categories, Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard was not included on the list. At all.
The only other omission that might be as significant would be Grizzlies guard Ja Morant. Morant has become embroiled in well-chronicled PR issues and public missteps which could lower his ranking in the estimation of voters. Lillard has been quite the opposite, drawing praise for loyalty, leadership, and public demeanor throughout his career, but especially this season.
Oh, and he posted a historical Top 10 performance against the Houston Rockets on February 26th, scoring 71 points. He scored 40 points or more 15 times during the year, more than a quarter of his games.
Clearly Lillard does not belong in the race for the Top 3 spots. Maybe even not the Top 5, given Portland’s 32-44 record. But omitting him entirely while including four point guards on the list above him seems like a stretch...politely.
The article includes a section on methodology for the poll. It reads:
To gauge where the MVP race stands with less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, ESPN asked 100 media members to participate in an informal poll that mimics the NBA’s postseason award voting process.
To make the balloting as realistic as possible, there were at least two voters from each of the league’s 28 markets, along with a cross section of national and international reporters.
As with the NBA’s official voting at the end of season, voters were asked to submit a five-player ballot, and results were tabulated using the league’s scoring system:
• 10 points for a first-place vote
• 7 points for second-place
• 5 points for third-place
• 3 points for fourth-place
• 1 point for fifth-place
If the poll is reflective of actual voting at season’s end, it looks like Lillard will get less credit for a magnificent season than he deserves.
Where do you think Lillard will, or should, end up in the MVP voting? Register your own vote below.