With the NBA’s regular season almost over, the headlines revolve around a very close-knit MVP race. Players sell out completely for a chance at the NBA’s crowning individual achievement, like Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers did yesterday.
The Sixers’ all-star and face of the franchise, Embiid spoke out publicly about his chances at the award, saying. “If it happens, great. If it doesn’t, I don’t know what I have to do.“
On one hand, anyone with two eyes can see that Embiid has had an incredible season, posting a career-best 30.2 points per game, 11.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.5 blocks, and more than 90 3-pointers! He’s carried the Sixers to a 48-30 record during one of the silliest seasons full of the Ben Simmons drama, trade rumors, changing lineups, public scrutiny, and nagging injuries – Embiid has been awesome! There’s an outside chance Embiid could win the scoring title, dominate the Eastern Conference, and bring Philadelphia a championship this season!
Embiid has made a strong case to actually win this year’s NBA Most Valuable Player award – indeed!
For whatever reason, he feels the need to campaign and complain. Joel thinks that he should be the obvious choice. Embiid sounds off as though the MVP is something a player can earn on his own, without comparison or awareness of other teams and other players. He feels the weight of his own burdens, carries the expectations of his own city, and is in the prime of his own career.
Actually, I can’t say I blame or fault the big Sixer for announcing his case and even admitting his feelings that the 76ers don’t usually see favor from league award voters.
But here’s the deal, and the road blocks on Joel Embiid’s MVP path. If you’re asking what you have to do, Joel… if you truly want to know… then here’s why the NBA didn’t go ahead and cancel the voting process and hand you the coveted #1 superstar award already…
Answer #1 – “Joel, you aren’t the only superstar we have.” – This isn’t rocket science, people. Embiid isn’t the only player to lead his team to the playoffs, post career-high numbers, and survive a tumultuous regular season. See, there’s this guy in Milwaukee who pretty much matches Joel’s totals in points, rebounds, steals, and wins – while notching more assists and more prime-time performances against other superstars. And there’s a dude in Dallas who is playing like he invented the triple-double. And a big fella in Denver who led his team to a strong playoff ranking without his superstar point guard (Jamal Murray) or his emerging star small forward (MPJ). The truth is that Embiid doesn’t stand alone atop this season’s MVP mountain. This year is like a Mt. Rushmore of the NBA, with stellar campaigns by Jokic, Giannis, Luka, and of course Embiid.
Answer #2 – “Joel, you didn’t even play in THIRTEEN games this season.” – Durability is a thing, and Embiid has never had it. Injuries happen, and that’s part of life and doesn’t tarnish our esteem for how a player dominated the games he did participate in. But thirteen games is more than 15% of the NBA season, Joel! Each of those 82 games is a chance to make an impression, build your case, post some YouTube highlights, pad your stats, and separate yourself from the others on Mt. Rushmore. To be fair, Giannis is right there with him, having missed FOURTEEN games himself.
Side note: Earlier this season, I went with some friends to an NBA game, only to learn at tipoff that the THREE BEST PLAYERS from each team were sitting out that game, for no apparent injurious reasons. We paid our money to see Ingram and Zion, and instead, we got a full night of Jaxson Hayes. I’m just saying – each game matters in the NBA. To the fans, to the team, to the standings and playoff races, and yes, to the MVP candidate. If the award went to the “Player who was most dominant in the games he showed up for,” then Embiid might have a strong case. But it’s an award for the entire season, a season where fans like me had thirteen nights like that without J.E.
Answer #3 – “Joel, you may be the Center of your team, but you’re not the center of your team.” HIs stats and power are impressive. But does Joel make the guys around him better? Does Embiid elevate an otherwise moribund band of average players toward playoff standings and success? Is Joel Embiid a leader in the locker room who draws the respect and admiration from others around the league in a way that sets him and his game apart? No, no, and no. For most of the season, Joel has had supporting cast member including Tobias Harris, Tyrese Maxey, James Harden, Andre Drummond, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Matisse Thybuille, and more. I know we aren’t talking about the Dream Team 4, but that supporting cast still looks better than the sidekicks around Luka, Nikola, and even Trae Young’s injury-riddled Hawks team. Does Embiid want everyone in Philadelphia to get better around him, or to feel sorry for him?
Answer #4 – “Joel, your team might finish EIGHTH in the overall league standings.” That’s right, there are currently six teams with more wins than Philly, and Milwaukee ties them at 48 wins right now. If you’re the best player on the eighth-best team, is it really your place to chirp about your stats, your achievements, and your feelings about MVP entitlement? If, somehow, the Sixers had won three more games at this point, they’d sit atop the Eastern Conference, but still be no higher than fourth overall in the NBA win column.
Answer #5 – “Joel, you’ve lost three of your last five games.” Is this really the time to raise your case? To point fingers at the NBA voters or powers that be? To, ironically, question the process of somehow selecting the “most valuable player” from more than 350+ players who have set foot on the hardwood this season? If he wanted to be MVP, maybe his team should have outscored Phoenix or Milwaukee last week. Instead, the “big” fella verbally makes his appeal after a narrow escape in Cleveland against a team without their two best centers.
Full disclosure here, I think Joel Embiid is still in the race for consideration as MVP. But I don’t think his reasons or his rants have anything to do with the discussion. The award considers a full NBA regular season and a player’s impact on his team’s performance, achievements, victories, teammates, and the overall game of basketball. When a guy misses thirteen games, I have a hard time seeing his contribution as an equal to what the Joker has done in Denver. When a guy puts individual achievements and accolades over his own team’s standings, I have a hard time placing his “value” above Giannis or Luka. And when a guy publicly airs his frustration after a disappointing week of losses to other contenders, it’s hard to place value on his leadership and focus.
At the end of the day, Joel, when you eventually realize that it’s not about numbers, dunks or awards, but about wins and durability and leadership.. maybe that’s what you have to do to finally win that MVP award.