Joel Embiid, the world’s best regular season player, is nearing his second consecutive MVP if he remains healthy. When active, Embiid is a force of nature that directs the defense at will and simultaneously exerts excessive influence on Philadelphia’s defense.
MVP has never been a presence-based reward. However, Adam Silver’s new guidelines for award eligibility face a precarious moment. Most metrics indicate that Embiid is the clear favorite for the NBA MVP title. His player efficiency rating significantly surpasses Nikola Jokic. If the season were to end today, his 35.33 PER would be the highest in league history. With 36 points per game, Embiid leads the league and has a historic pace per minute. His 70-point performance in a win against San Antonio last week was the highest achievement by a player in the last ten years, until Luka Dončić surpassed it four nights later with 73 points.
Embiid’s only limitations are those imposed by his body. On Monday night, Embiid missed the second consecutive game due to left knee pain. The Sixers would have needed to remain calm in the second half of an away game on the West Coast considering their opponent was the stumbling Portland TrailBlazers.
In Embiid’s absence, the Sixers not only suffered a loss to the Blazers, but also endured a 26-point defeat. Granted, Tyrese Maxey was also out, but there’s a track record of the Sixers faltering when Embiid sits this season.
The most significant number supporting Embiid’s MVP case is the 12 games he’s missed. In those dozen games, the Sixers have won 3-9. It’s one thing to be the best player on the best team, but Embiid is the driving force behind a playoff contender. He’s a post-up kaiju in a finesse league. He can go toe-to-toe with Tim Duncan, but his range extends beyond 24 feet. He even completed James Harden’s training in the dark arts of foul-baiting.
The argument against him is that he has missed some crucial matches. Last season, they could rely on Harden and Maxey when Embiid took a break. Without Harden, it’s up to Maxey and a disappointing supporting cast to fill the gap.
The Sixers lineup with De’Anthony Melton, Tobias Harris, Nicholas Batum, Maxey, and Embiid forms a group that, when healthy, boasts one of the best advantages and disadvantages in the league. In those minutes without Embiid, the Sixers‘ best lineup crumbled. When that same lineup is on the court without Embiid, they are outscored by 71 points.
In 219 minutes, they outscored opposing teams by 163 points per 100 possessions. Only the Bucks and the Nuggets are more reliable in crunch time. Remember the aforementioned five-man Nuggets lineup with Jokic, Jamal Murray, Aaron Gordon, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Michael Porter Jr.
Embiid’s only flaw is his aversion to facing Jokic in his home palace. Embiid is currently publicly paying a fine after missing another colossal showdown with Jokic. At this point, the sample size is large enough that these coincidences could take the form of a coordinated conspiracy.
Last season, Embiid had to sit out against Denver after playing 13 games in a row, then played the next five games before preparing for the postseason. However, this is not enough to diminish his place behind Jokic in the MVP prediction hierarchy. In the 1,127 minutes of play, Embiid has been by far the best player in the league, and in a strange way, the Sixers‘ loss to the Blazers strengthened his position in the long run.
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