Joel Embiid is no stranger to injuries. Despite being drafted in 2014 by the Philadelphia 76ers, he has just four years of NBA experience, not including this year. Embiid has played in just 240 games since entering the league. However, Embiid is arguably the best player to come out of the 2014 draft class. Despite all the injuries and missed games, Embiid proved himself to be an elite-level player. This year, he’s making his case to be league MVP.
Joel Embiid MVP Bid
Up to the All-Star break of this year, Embiid showcased his incredible talent to the highest degree. During the year, he was in the MVP conversation. January and February were Embiid’s best months and his strongest case for MVP. Embiid played in 24 games with a 17-7 record, and averaged 30.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.3 blocks per game. In the games that Embiid missed, the Sixers went 1-4 with an average point differential of -6.2.
Going into the All-Star break, Embiid was the favorite to win MVP. His closest contenders at the time being LeBron James, Nikola Jokic, and Luka Doncic. However, less than a week after the All-Star game, Embiid went down with a left knee bone bruise with a timeline of 2-3 weeks to return. Embiid is resuming on-court activities and is returning this weekend for the Sixers homestand against the Minnesota Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies. While this is good news, a lot has happened in Embiid’s absence. Philadelphia has a good record with Embiid out and the other MVP candidates have strengthened their cases.
In Embiid’s Absence
The most recent odds have Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo tied for third, with LeBron just behind. Ahead of them is Jokic in first with James Harden in second. Furthermore, the 76ers play since Embiid went down weakens his case. Surprisingly, the Sixers have played well without Embiid. In the nine games he’s missed, the Sixers have a record of 7-3. Their losses coming in close games against the Denver Nuggets, the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Los Angeles Clippers, with the loss to the Clippers coming in OT. The team’s offense has not wavered too heavily in the absence of Embiid either. In the games he’s missed, the Sixers are still averaging over 110 points per game.
Jokic and Harden’s play while Embiid is out has been detrimental to his MVP chances. Since Embiid went out, Jokic and the Nuggets are 8-3. During this run, Jokic is averaging 24.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 8.1 assists per game. Jokic played every game for Denver thus far and is the reason for their strong performance. The Nuggets also brought in Aaron Gordon at the trade deadline. Another impactful player on an already formidable roster that will bolster the Nuggets record more. James Harden came out and let his thoughts be known.
After putting up 44 points, 14 rebounds, and eight assists against the Pistons, Harden said in the post-game press conference, “I feel like I am the MVP. It’s just that simple”.
Harden’s play has backed up that attitude. While Embiid has been out, Harden has played in eight of the Brooklyn Nets‘ nine games, posting an 8-1 record. Furthermore, Harden has kept the Nets dominant while Kevin Durant has been out since mid-February. If Harden and the Nets can continue their current form and hold onto the first seed in the Eastern Conference with Harden putting up similar stat lines, his MVP candidacy looks all the more enticing.
What Now for Joel Embiid?
Embiid is returning this weekend with 24 games remaining on the schedule. That is plenty of time to show why he deserves the MVP award. However, it is most likely in the best interest of Embiid and the team to rest him for some of the remaining games on the schedule. Jokic and Harden are more favored for the award, however, if the Sixers are winning and Embiid is the reason they are winning, it will be hard to cast that aside without consideration. The Sixers are the second-best team in the Eastern Conference and if Embiid can lead them to become the best team in the league, everyone will have to take a long, hard look at Embiid for MVP.
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