Joel Embiid’s Long Awaited MVP Season

Joel Embiids Long Awaited MVP Season

Blake Koehler, Staff Writer

For the last 2 seasons, Joel Embiid finished as a runner-up to the NBA MVP Nikola Jokic. Embiid had a strong hold on the MVP in 2020-21, but a hyperextended knee injury suffered on March 12, 2021, against the Washington Wizards held him out for 3 weeks. Jokic took the lead and did not look back. Embiid finished 2nd in the MVP race, ahead of Stephen Curry and behind the aforementioned Nikola Jokic. He averaged 28.5 PPG and 10.6 RPG as he lead the 76ers to the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Embiid then suffered another injury in the playoffs, a torn radial meniscus in his right knee again against the Wizards, which he battled through and still averaged 30.4 PPG during their playoff loss to the Hawks, mainly because of Ben Simmon’s inability to make a free throw. 

In the 2021-22 campaign, Embiid yet again finished as the runner-up. Despite winning the scoring title (30.6 PPG), and his ability to keep the team atop the Eastern Conference despite the Ben Simmons drama. He finished ahead of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Devin Booker. Embiid’s slow start, largely brought about by his meniscus tear in the previous playoffs and a battle with COVID-19 ended up being one of the main reasons why Embiid finished as the runner-up. In the playoffs, Embiid battled through a torn ligament in his thumb, then suffered an orbital fracture and a concussion late in the Sixers game 6 blowout victory in Toronto at the hands of a dirty play by Pascal Siakam. The injuries forced him to miss the Sixer’s first 2 games in Miami (both losses), he then came back for game 3 at home, where the Sixers won both game 3 and game 4. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, they could not overcome the first 2 losses and Embiid’s limitations, as they fell to Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat in 6 games.

The 2022-23 campaign has been different for Embiid. After a slow start, where the team underperformed to a 9-9 record throughout the first quarter of the season, the Sixers went 45-19 the rest of the way, enough to secure the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Embiid yet again won the scoring title, averaging 33.1 PPG. The MVP seemed like an afterthought to Embiid throughout the first half of the season, it looked like Jokic would run away with his 3rd in a row. Despite his 59-point near triple-double (11 rebounds 8 assists) explosion against Utah in Philadelphia on November 13, he was 6th on the MVP ladder. That held true until a January 28th matchup vs Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets in Philadelphia, where Embiid dropped 47 points and 18 rebounds along with the putaway step 3 pointer to sink the Nuggets. He completely outplayed Jokic, and this game gave him all the momentum he needed to take hold of the MVP award over the next few weeks. In March, Embiid made his biggest push, averaging 33.2 PPG throughout the month. His clutch shooting on the road in Milwaukee to sink the 2nd-seeded Bucks, and his buzzer-beating turnaround fadeaway against the Trail Blazers helped his case, along with a 42-point outburst in Indiana and a 46-point game in Golden State. However, at the end of March, it was Jokic who was favored to win the award after Embiid missed a rematch vs Jokic in Denver due to a calf injury. Many believed Embiid was “dodging” Jokic. With the odds now stacked against Embiid, he had very few chances left to prove his worthiness to the voters. The award was going to come down to an April 4th tilt against the 2nd-seeded Boston Celtics in Philadelphia on national TV. Embiid delivered, in a big way, he arguably had the best game of his career. He dropped 52 points (20/25 FG), 13 rebounds, 6 assists (only 3 TO), as the Sixers narrowly edged the Celtics 103-101. After the game, Embiid’s MVP odds shot up to -470. In the NBA’s MVP ladder following the game on April 7th, Embiid was once again in 1st ahead of Nikola Jokic. As of April 11th, 25% of the MVP vote has already been confirmed with Embiid taking 17/25 first-place votes (Harrison Grimm SB Nation). Quakertown student and NBA fan Jack James said this about the MVP race, “I personally have Joel Embiid as my MVP. I believe Jokic doesn’t compare to Joel’s defense which to me, places him in 3rd for the MVP rankings. Giannis is the only player that I think could steal the MVP from Joel, but Giannis didn’t have as many big moments as Joel.” This is true, Embiid had plenty of huge moments late in games for the Sixers this season, unlike some of the previous years. Joel was credited with 6 game winning shots in the 2022-23 season, including a fadeaway jump shot with 5 seconds left to beat the Jazz in Utah, his aforementioned late 3-pointer against the Bucks to win in Milwaukee, and his turnaround fadeaway over Jusuf Nurkic with 1.1 seconds left to cap off a 39 point effort and a 17 point comeback in Philly against the Trail Blazers. Baring something unprecedented from the other 75% of MVP voters, Joel Embiid will have claimed his will-deserved, long-awaited NBA MVP.