While Jokic continues to break advanced metrics and Giannis lays claim to the best player in the world, Joel Embiid deserves to be MVP this year. Here’s why.
Joel Embiid is the betting favorite to win the 2023 NBA MVP award, and he should be.
Before I dive in, some caveats:
- I’m a Philly guy and a lifelong 76ers fan who has been a devout truster of The Process. I will support my bias, however, with facts.
- I fully understand how ridiculous Nikola Jokic is. He’s a one-of-a-kind player who is more than deserving of his back-to-back MVP awards for the Nuggets, and frankly, he is again for a potential third.
- For much of the season, this was a two-man race. That is no longer the case. Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, a back-to-back MVP himself, has ramped up his already impressive efforts to make a legitimate case.
Look, it sucks that we have three guys putting up MVP-caliber campaigns at the same time. The logical answer is that each one has a more-than-deserving case and to say one is head-and-shoulders above the others is simply ignorant.
No matter who wins the award, there will be fanbases and media pundits alike that disagree with the decision.
All that said, let me tell you why Joel “The Process” Embiid should be this year’s MVP.
Sure, voter fatigue will be a factor. As my guy Tony Jones of The Athletic points out, if that wasn’t an issue, then LeBron James would have more than four, the late Kobe Bryant more than one, and even Michael Jordan more than five in each of their respective careers. So, for that reason alone, it’s reasonable to surmise that Embiid has an advantage considering his main competition has collectively won the last four MVP awards.
But there’s no need to even throw that into the conversation when making Embiid’s case for MVP. Let me break it down for you.
By the Numbers
Before getting into any certain type of narrative, let’s simply look at the stats. We’ll start with the basic ones.
|Joel Embiid||Giannis Antetokounmpo||Nikola Jokic|
Embiid currently leads the league in scoring, holding a narrow lead over Luka Dončić. He also leads the league in 30-point games. He’s doing this all while holding down the paint for a stout Philadelphia defense as the league’s sixth-best shot-blocker.
Putting things into further context, the big man set a Sixers’ record by cracking the 30-point plateau in 10 consecutive contests, while also tying LeBron with seven straight such games while boasting 55%-plus shooting. Again, Jokic is setting efficiency records and breaking analytics (his 70.3% true shooting percentage is absurd), while Giannis continues to lay claim as the best player in the world, but Embiid is doing things that we haven’t seen from a player his size — or any size — ever.
Make no mistake: Embiid is plenty damn efficient in his own right with a 65.3% true shooting percentage. What makes it even more impressive is that he’s doing so on a ridiculous 37.1 usage rate. (Credit where it’s due: Giannis leads the league in usage rate at 37.4 while boasting a true shooting percentage of 60.45).
The way Embiid reaches these numbers is what really sticks out. When he has it going, he’s the most dominant player in the NBA. His bag in the post has defenders feeling like they’re on an island, and when teams decide to send the double-team at him, Embiid has improved as a passer, evident by his 4.2 assists per game, which ties his career-high from last season.
His free-throw jumper out of the pick & roll is nearly unstoppable. Combine that with his more-than-respectable three-point shot and Embiid’s threat as a shooter forces opponents to decide to either step up or chance him blowing by them for an easy conversion at the rim or a foul. His 11.9 free-throw attempts per game sit just behind Giannis (12.3) as a league-high. The difference? Embiid is hitting on 85.6% of those attempts, while Giannis converts on just 64.7%.
One last point here: Embiid has been clutch this season. Perhaps not by the official metrics the NBA tracks, but let me present the following game-winner from March 10 against the Trail Blazers as evidence.
And not for nothing, there is no one that rallies his city’s fanbase the way that Embiid does. As we all know, Philadelphia is a tough place to win over. And even with Embiid, the city’s pride and joy, there have been some rocky moments. But the big man gets it. He knows what the fans in his city want and he delivers on a near-nightly basis.
Mix & Match
As Bryan Toporek, one of the nation’s foremost Sixers experts, points out, Embiid also deserves some credit for the different lineups he’s been forced to work with throughout the season. Again, this argument can be made for Jokic and Giannis, but Embiid has been tasked with keeping Philadelphia afloat while dealing with lineup adversity.
First off, the team got off to a rocky start through the first 25 games as the roster got acclimated to new additions in De’Anthony Melton, PJ Tucker, and others. Shoot, even Embiid and last year’s prized acquisition James Harden were still figuring out the best way to gel (which they appeared to have figured out this season) after only having half a season to do so in 2021-22.
Then, Harden missed nearly a month with a foot injury, and Embiid has played the best basketball of his career with Harden by his side. It would have been really easy for the team to spiral out of contention and the season to get derailed during this time period, but thanks to Embiid’s brilliant play, the Sixers not only stayed afloat but gained ground in the standings by going 8-6 in November.
Furthermore, Tyrese Maxey — Philly’s other star — missed a month and a half, including the latter half of that November slate with his own foot injury, putting even more pressure on Embiid to perform. Maxey remained out through basically the end of December, and when he did return, Doc Rivers opted to bring him off the bench. This led to some interesting lineups and rotations, to say the least, but that didn’t matter for Embiid.
Since Dec. 1 and Harden’s return, the Sixers boast the NBA’s best win percentage (.712 ) with a 37-15 record. They also have the NBA’s second-best net rating behind the Memphis Grizzlies at +5.6. Focusing that search even more to the beginning of March — when Doc came to his senses and inserted Maxey back into the starting lineup — Philly has the best record at 10-4 and the best net rating at a staggering +8.9. Additionally, with Harden and Embiid clicking chemistry-wise, the team’s offensive rating (123.7) leads the NBA during that span. Oh, not to mention that Philly’s post-All-Star Break schedule is the toughest in the league.
This may seem nit-picky, but the context matters. All of this happened and Philadelphia still sits in the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference, just four games back of Giannis and the Bucks for the top seed.
The People’s Choice
Look, I’m not oblivious to thinking that my Philly is showing. So let’s have some current/former players do the talking for me.
Playing in different conferences, Embiid and Jokic square off just twice this season. One of those games has already taken place — a nationally televised game in which Embiid dominated to the tune of 47 points, 18 rebounds, and five assists in a Philadelphia win. Jokic certainly got his that game in typical fashion by putting up 24 points, eight rebounds, and nine assists, but the second-half comeback win for the Sixers saw Embiid overpower his counterpart in front of a national audience.
Of course, there shouldn’t be too much stock placed in one individual matchup in one regular-season game, but to say it meant nothing, either, would be dismissive. The other and final matchup between the two MVP candidates will take place on Monday in Denver, and similarly to how we shouldn’t pay too much attention to this one matchup, the same should be said for if Embiid or Jokic dominates the other in this one.
This is anyone’s race and an equal case could be made for both Jokic and Giannis. I don’t care about any team’s recent skid or any player’s dip in production — each player deserves to win and it sucks that only one can take home the coveted award.
But having been so close for the last two seasons and factoring in my Philly homerism, it’s an easy decision for why Embiid should be this year’s NBA MVP. The man who many called a bust so early in his career, the one who came so close the last two seasons only to fall short of Jokic’s brilliance, the guy who has seen so much in his life both professionally and personally, deserves it just as much as anyone, and I truly hope he gets it.
NBA MVP Odds
Odds are courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook as of March 27.
Joel Embiid: -145
Nikola Jokic: +195
Giannis Antetokounmpo: +500
Jayson Tatum: +12000
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