Nikola Jokic appears to be running away with the 2021 NBA MVP race based on an ESPN straw poll, via Tim Bontemps of ESPN.
The Denver Nuggets star earned 90 of 101 possible first-place votes in the latest poll, totaling 969 points in a runaway ahead of second-place Joel Embiid (401 total points). Embiid earned five first-place votes, while Damian Lillard, James Harden, Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard combined for the remaining six votes.
Two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo finished third in ESPN's voting despite getting zero first-place votes.
Jokic has finished in the top 10 of MVP voting in each of the last two years, but he has raised his game dramatically in 2020-21. He entered Thursday averaging 26.0 points, 10.9 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game while shooting 41.8 percent from three-point range, all of which would be career highs.
The center easily leads the NBA in win shares (12.0), value over replacement player (6.6) and box plus/minus (11.6), per Basketball Reference.
His production has helped the Nuggets sit fourth in the Western Conference with a 35-20 record.
The Nuggets' path got even tougher this week with Jamal Murray suffering a torn ACL, giving Jokic the opportunity to further showcase his value for the rest of the season.
Meanwhile, injuries to other top candidates have helped Jokic separate himself from the field. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Embiid have all missed time because of injuries after all three ranked in the top four of voting during the last ESPN straw poll in February.
It could create an easy decision for voters by the end of the season.