Joel Embiid’s MVP hopes were narrow as it was heading into last night, and after a fourth quarter characterized by undisciplined defense, lazy passing, and ugly shot-selection, it’s time to admit his MVP case is dead (perhaps for the best).
Despite a somewhat misleading narrative within Philadelphia, Nikola Jokic is firmly leading the MVP discussion, and last week’s straw poll of media/voters suggests that his margin is comfortable.
I made this argument last week but it’s worth repeating—in NBA history only one MVP winner has missed more than 11 games in a season (Bill Walton missed 24 in 1978) and Embiid is already up to 18 in what’s only a 72-game schedule. For him to win the award his play would need to be head and shoulders above of the rest of pack from an impact/output standpoint, and while Joel’s been spectacular this season, the idea that he’s separated himself from Jokic is pure fiction.
Andrew Unternberger of The Rights to Ricky Sanchez recently argued the following:
“Jokic has been historically great this season. Like Embiid, he is putting up numbers no other big man has done before—a preposterous 26-11-9 on 57/42/86 shooting splits—and some advanced stats don’t just say he’s having a better season than Embiid (or anyone else), but a significantly superior one.”
That’s the hard truth. Embiid has been spectacular this season, but Jokic has been historic in many ways. To be clear, there’s no shame in being the second “most valuable player” in a given season.
The more important point that Unterberger goes on to spell out are the negative ramifications that accompany a drawn-out and undue MVP debate:
“Fact is, MVP hope is a dangerous thing for a player like Embiid to have at this point. If he gets fed enough media hogwash about how the trophy is still close, so close! if only he continues to play at a high-enough level and he doesn’t miss any more games from here, he could end up playing too many minutes in too many games where he’s really not required at this point… We don’t need MVP Joel every night to secure the top seed, and him pushing for it every night is how he ends up tweaking, spraining or breaking some random body part on some fluke play and getting re-evaluated in three weeks. There’s just no way it’s worth it, for him or for the Sixers.”
Embiid continues to repeat the company line that he’s focused on winning The Finals and doesn’t prioritize the MVP race, but he’s clearly bought into the debate, and the more the fan base feeds into that the more he’ll push for it. If you think Joel has matured beyond that point you haven’t been paying close enough attention.
If the discourse you expose yourself to doesn’t venture beyond Sixers fandom then you could be forgiven for thinking the MVP award is still a race and that Joel is in the thick of it—but that doesn’t reflect reality. The sooner we come to grips with the fact that he won’t win MVP this season, the sooner we can pivot to resting Embiid, and he can begin focusing on what really matters.
The idea that large portions of the fan base are spending mental energy pushing for an ultimately meaningless piece of hardware earned through regular season success is mind-numbing to me. We’re talking about a player who as a byproduct of health/longevity concerns probably shouldn’t ever be in the MVP discussion (if the franchise knows what’s good for them); and in the midst of a Process that’s so much bigger than some silly MVP award, it’s disheartening to see fans/pundits and even Joel himself take his eye off the ball.
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