While Curry is firmly planted in the MVP spotlight, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, another mainstay in the poll discussion, did not receive a vote for the first time across eight straw polls conducted since the 2016-17 season.
To gauge where the race stands roughly 30% into the season, ESPN asked 100 media members to participate in an informal poll that mimics the postseason award voting. 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.
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As with the NBA’s official vote 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 each first-place vote, seven points for second, five points for third, three points for fourth and one point for fifth.
Curry (978 points) was followed by Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (610 points, two first-place votes) and Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (471 points, three first-place votes). Last year’s MVP, Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (256 points), got the other first-place vote and came in fourth overall.
Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (160 points) rounded out the top five.
Others receiving votes: Chicago Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan (sixth); Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler and Suns guard Devin Booker tied for seventh; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (ninth); Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (10th); and LA Clippers guard Paul George (11th). Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell and Bulls guard Zach LaVine each got one vote to tie for 12th.
Curry’s 94 first-place votes creates the highest percentage of first-place votes received in any of the straw polls, surpassing the 91 votes James Harden received in the spring of 2018, the season he would win his lone MVP award while with the Houston Rockets.
Both Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry have their teams atop their conferences. Nathaniel S. Butler/NBA/Getty Images
Curry, Durant and Antetokounmpo were named to all 100 ballots — the first time as many as three players were unanimous selections in any iteration of the straw poll, and a sign of the separation between them and the rest of the pack.
In fact, there is far more separation across the board at this point in the season than last year, when James, Embiid and Jokic were separated by only 164 points, and combined to get 94 first-place votes. Curry, on the other hand, received that many by himself, and there are 368 points separating him and second-place Durant, the NBA’s current scoring leader. That is more than double the gap between first and third in the first edition of last season’s poll.
There is clear stratification between each of the top-six finishers.
Curry has led Golden State’s return to the top of the NBA standings after the team missed the playoffs each of the past two seasons — following five straight trips to the NBA Finals. He is averaging 27.5 points and is on pace to make 445 3-pointers, which would shatter his single-season record of 402 set in 2016 when he became the only unanimous MVP in league history.
Durant is off to a stellar start for Brooklyn, which is in first place in the Eastern Conference. He leads the league in scoring at 28.4 points and is shooting over 50% from the field for a ninth consecutive season. Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.0 points, 11.6 rebounds and 5.7 assists for the Bucks, who have surged back toward the top of the East standings after an injury-filled first month.
Jokic has picked up where he left off for an even more injury-plagued Nuggets team, one without guard Jamal Murray because of a torn ACL suffered in April, and now without forward Michael Porter Jr. for an indefinite period following back surgery on Dec. 1. Jokic is averaging 26.1 points, 13.4 rebounds and 7.2 assists, and his Player Efficiency Rating of 34.07 would easily be the highest in NBA history for a full season.
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Paul, whose 10.1 assists per game leads the NBA, and Booker both received credit for Phoenix’s perch atop the NBA standings after the Suns’ 18-game winning streak. They are the third set of teammates to finish within the top seven in voting in the straw polls, joining Curry and Durant, who did so in both polls taken during the 2017-18 season, as well as James and Anthony Davis, who did it in both polls taken during the 2019-20 season.
Who didn’t receive votes is just as