How could Joel Embiid win NBA Most Valuable Player?

Joel Embiid

Late in February, with the Philadelphia 76ers holding a 15-point second-half lead, Jayson Tatum made a game-winning 3-pointer for the Boston Celtics with 1.3 seconds remaining, sending the game into overtime.

As it turned out, the two-time MVP runner-up needed 1.5.

Embiid made a stunning three-quarter-court heave, but the ball was ruled to have left his hand after the buzzer rang and the edges of the backboards glowed neon red in replay.

“I wish I would’ve shot it sooner,” Embiid said to reporters after the loss. This is the sad tale of my life.

The big man may have been alluding to his dismal career record versus the Celtics (9-12 in the regular season and 1-8 in the playoffs), but he may have also been secretly pining away for the NBA’s most prestigious individual award.

Embiid commented, “I wonder what else I have to do to win it” when it was revealed that Nikola Joki had earned MVP for a second year in a row in May 2022.

Joki topped him (by wide margins) in rebounds, assists, steals per game, field-goal percentage, true shooting percentage, and almost every conceivable catch-all metric that season, despite averaging a league-leading 30.6 points while shooting 49.9 percent from the field and going 45-23 in his 68 appearances. Joki’s 46-28 record wasn’t too far behind Embiid’s, considering he was missing Jamal Murray for the whole season and Michael Porter Jr. for much of the year.

After almost a year, it’s possible that the two giants will finish first and second in MVP balloting for a third straight season. Embiid is in the position of underdog for the third consecutive season.

The Favorites Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic

Sports betting site OKBET presently has Jokic as a -360 favorite to take home the hardware. At +700, Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo share the second-best odds.

According to the MVP Tracker on Basketball Reference, the Denver Nuggets center has a 70.5% chance of winning three consecutive MVP awards (“based on a model created using historical vote results”). With 7.9 percent, Embiid is in second place.

The Sixers’ leading scorer is putting up 33.2 points per game for the Eastern Conference’s third-best team, but Joki’s 24-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist triple-double on the Western Conference’s best team has him scoring like Stephen Curry at his most efficient and giving his team the best plus-minus in the NBA by a wide margin.

As MVP-caliber as Embiid has been playing, it seems like every time he improves, Joki improves even more.

Even yet, an upset is still possible this year (however narrow it might be).

Whether or not it’s justified (for an honor based on the entire season), some voters will never forget the pain Embiid and the 76ers caused to Joki in late January. Embiid scored 12 of his game-high 47 points in the fourth quarter as Philadelphia rallied from a 15-point deficit to win, while Joki struggled in the second half against P.J. Tucker’s defense (a switch by Doc Rivers that kept his superstar out of foul trouble and freed him up to focus his energy on dominating offensively).

We need more performances like that one to assist

On Saturday, the Sixers rallied from behind to beat Giannis and the Milwaukee Bucks, ending the Bucks’ 16-game winning streak. This was another clutch performance from Simmons. Embiid finished with 31 points, 10 assists, and no turnovers. The next day, he scored 42 points on 11 of 16 shooting against the Indiana Pacers.

The next night, with James Harden resting on the second night of a back-to-back, Embiid crushed three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

He showed off his whole arsenal; Gobert was far from the only opponent he matched up with.

His mid-range jumpers were beating Rudy’s.

He even stepped back and gave him a three at one point.

Not to mention, he could drive to the basket like a guard, which the Wolves seemed to have forgotten.

During his career, Joel Embiid has placed a premium on scoring at all three levels and making officials blow the whistle.

Nine of his 39 points against the Timberwolves came from free throws. This season, he has made the most free throws of any player in the league. The safety net helps him to keep on cranking out work even when shots aren’t going in. Even shooting below 50% from the field, he still managed to score 26.5 points per game.

As he continues to rack up victories against weaker opponents, a rematch with the MVP winner is becoming increasingly likely.

Embiid will play the Nuggets again on March 27 in Denver

It appears that Embiid will need a second dominance to win the award, but he still has a chance if he puts up a few 40-point games before then. It’s possible that a road victory over Joki might be more significant than the January matchup.

Yet, that may not be sufficient on its own. The Nuggets hold a comfortable lead over the 76ers, and team record has always been a factor in the nebulous MVP equation. A victory on March 27 would cut the deficit, but the 76ers would still need to go on a rampage down the stretch to catch Denver and claim first place in the East.

And that distance ran is not impossible.

The 76ers are tied with the Nuggets for the fewest losses in the NBA since their 12-12 start.

Embiid has averaged 33.8 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.5 blocks, 1.1 steals, and 1.1 threes over that time.

Their figures may still fall short of Joki’s when compared head-to-head, but they will have a great deal of sway over MVP voters if they help provide the NBA’s best closing kick.

The people who rely more on personal opinion and the “eye test” have these methods to fall back on as well. In the previous season, Embiid received 26 first-place votes due in large part to the voters’ individual preferences, and such metrics are still quite important when judging defensive performance.

There is so much about defense that can’t be quantified

Despite the fact that Jokic is first in the NBA in defensive box plus/minus according to Basketball Reference and third in the NBA in defensive RAPTOR according to FiveThirtyEight, he still leads the league in steals per game. There aren’t many people who are going to disagree that Joki is better than Embiid at guarding the rim, switching onto smaller players on the perimeter, and intimidating other teams’ best players in general.

If you believe defense is just as essential as offense, Embiid’s defensive prowess might be enough to cancel out the difference in his total influence.

Yet in the end, Embiid may have to rely on voter apathy more than anything else. Yet it seems like every day, there’s a new social media fad that indicates that very thing will be important.

There are several reasons (contrived reasons, but reasons nevertheless) why a voter may go elsewhere, including: (1) not being deserving to join previous three-peat champions (Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Larry Bird), (2) suspected stat padding, (3) terrible defense, and (4) many more besides. When that happens, Embiid will be visible.

Not many people are likely to be willing to do that, though, so it’s possible that the 2022-23 season will merely be another part of the “story of Embiid’s life.”

This Is Not the End for Joel Embiid

For the third consecutive year, Embiid may look at the upcoming season as his best chance to unseat Joki as the league’s best player. If so, voter apathy will be on his side for another year (and against the Joker).

More importantly, Embiid will have the whole offseason to work on preventing another disappointing start to the season for his club. Probably, he needs to steer the 76ers to the conference’s outright best record. There’s no harm in trying to get by on less sleep. Moreover, having a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year would be a great addition.

The list is vast (and that one isn’t even comprehensive), but it’s likely that’s all that’s needed.

Embiid is already, without exaggeration, one of the best basketball players of all time. He ranks tops all-time in points scored for every 75 opportunities and is in the top 40 in MVP voting (with a bigger gap between himself and second-place Michael Jordan than MJ has between himself and third).

His moment of greatest success coincided with that of another great artist of his generation.

We should rejoice in their success in the NBA together as much as we argue about how they got there. Explore here at to learn the latest NBA news and updates for your favorite teams and players.

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