Joel Embiid, the world’s best regular-season player, is closing in on his second consecutive MVP if he remains upright. When active, Embiid is a force of nature, bending defenses to his whim and simultaneously wielding an unduly influence over the Philadelphia’s defensive
MVP isn’t and never has been an attendance-based reward. However, Adam Silver’s new awards eligibility policy faces a precarious moment. Most metrics point towards Embiid being the heavy favorite to be the NBA MVP. His Player Efficiency Rating outpaces Nikola Jokic by a significant margin. If the season ended today, his 35.33 PER would be the highest in league history. Embiid’s 36 points leads the league, and per minute, he’s on a historic pace. His 70 points in a win over San Antonio last week was the most a player had tallied in the past decade, until Luka Dončić outdid him with a 73 spot four nights later.
The only limits on Embiid are those which his body imposes. On Monday night, Embiid missed a second consecutive game due to left knee soreness. The Sixers should have been copacetic in the second half of a West Coast road swing considering their opponent was the sputtering Portland TrailBlazers.
In Embiid’s absence, the Sixers didn’t just get handed an L by the Blazers, they got socked in the mouth in a 26-point loss. Granted, Tyrese Maxey was also sitting, but there’s a track record of the Sixers collapsing when Embiid sits this season.
The most important number in support of Embiid’s MVP case is the 12 games he’s missed. In those dozen contests the Sixers have gone 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 face-up a la prime Tim Duncan, but his range extends beyond 24 feet. He even graduated from James Harden’s dark arts training in foul-baiting.
The argument against him is that he’s sat out some significant matchups. Last season, they could count on Harden and Maxey when Embiid rested. Sans Harden, it’s fallen on Maxey and an underwhelming supporting cast to pick up the slack.
The Sixers lineup of De’Anthony Melton, Tobias Harris, Nicholas Batum, Maxey and Embiid constitute a group that possesses one of the league’s best plus-minuses when healthy. In those Embiid-less minutes, the Sixers’ best lineup cratered. When that same lineup is on the floor without Embiid they get mopped by 71 points.
In 219 minutes, they’ve outscored opposing teams by 163 points per 100 possessions. Only the Bucks and the Nuggets are more reliable in crunch time. Remember the aforementioned Nuggets league-leading five-man lineup of Jokic, Jamal Murray, Aaron Gordon, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Michael Porter Jr.
Embiid’s only demerit is his aversion to matching up with Jokic in his home palace. Embiid is currently paying a penalty in the public sphere after missing another colossal showdown with Jokic. At first blush, Embiid appears to be dodging the man he’s jockeying with for the title of best player in the world for the fifth straight year. At this juncture, that’s a large enough sample size for these coincidences to take the form of a coordinated conspiracy.
Last season, Embiid sat out against Denver after playing 13 straight games and then proceeded to play the next five games before sitting to prepare for the postseason. However, that’s not enough to drop him below Jokic in the MVP forecasting hierarchy. In Embiid’s 1,127 minutes on the floor, he’s been the league’s best player by a mile, and in a weird way, the Sixers getting suplexed by the Blazers bolstered his case in the long run.
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