Joel Embiid should be at the center of the NBA MVP conversation
Excuse the pun in the title, but Sixers center Joel Embiid should be the literal center of the NBA’s MVP conversation this season.
Anyone who has watched the Sixers this season has seen how dominant Embiid is on both ends of the floor using the good, ol’ eye test, but here are some cold, hard numbers:
On the season, Embiid is seventh in the NBA in points per game (27.1), fourth in rebounds per game (13.2), and seven in blocks per game (2.0). He leads the league in double-doubles (39), and 30-10 games (20), and is second in total free throws attempted.
Embiid’s season averages of 27.1 points, 13.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 2 blocks per game compare favorably with Shaquille O’Neal’s numbers from his ’99-00 MVP season on a per-36 basis (h/t Basketball Reference).
Additionally, the Sixers are noticeably better when Embiid is on the floor. With Embiid on the court, the Sixers have a net rating of 7.8, which is good for second in the entire NBA behind only the Milwaukee Bucks. However, when Embiid is sidelined, that net rating drops to a -3.4, which is good for 25th league-wide. That swing in overall net rating neatly sums up how important Embiid is to the Sixers.
The man self-dubbed as The Process has come quite a long way. A few short years ago, after he missed the entirety of the first two seasons after he was drafted due to injury issues, his goal was simply to get onto a court for an NBA game. Heading into this season, his goal was to earn the league’s most prestigious individual award.
“My goal going into the offseason was to get better. I want to win the MVP,” Embiid said over the offseason, via Yahoo Sports. “I feel like at the end of the day it might be an individual award, but when I play better, the team also does. I feel like if I’m an MVP candidate or if I win the MVP that means we are on another level.
“I feel like I have everything. I just need to be more consistent. This is the first summer where I’m actually healthy and able to play basketball. I was pretty excited. I’ve already gotten so much better. It’s just about working on everything, perfecting everything. Like when it comes to my 3-point shot or the ball-handling, which was a problem. I feel like I can do it. You can also say I’m kind of new to the game. I’m still learning a lot. I feel like I still have a lot of potential, a lot of stuff to show.”
Plenty of players are deserving of MVP consideration this season. Giannis Antetokounmpo has taken his game to another level and propelled the Bucks to true-contender status in the process. James Harden, the league’s reigning MVP, has scored the ball at a historical rate throughout the season and has kept the Rockets afloat amid a myriad of injury issues virtually singlehandedly.
Paul George is having the best season of his career on a legitimate contender in Oklahoma City. Anthony Davis is Anthony Davis. Stellar play from both Steph Curry and Kevin Durant have kept the defending-champion Warriors looking as dominant as ever, and LeBron James was making his usual [strong] case for the award before going down with a groin injury on Christmas Day.
But Embiid belongs right in the thick of the pack with the growth that he has displayed on the floor this season. The fact that he could also contend for the Defensive Player of the Year award should bolster his case, as should his development as a leader.
"All you really have to do is look what happens when we don't have him,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said on Monday night of how Embiid should be evaluated in the MVP conversation (h/t Philly Voice for the transcription). “Look at some of the first halves that he has produced that have forced opposing coaches to make incredible adjustments in the second half. In my eyes, it's not even close, he should be in these types of conversations.
"More importantly, his leadership and his sort of growth recognizing the responsibility he has with this city, with this program, and professional disposition, professional approach to practice and shootaround and film session, has been the best it has ever been for me in 2019. You take all of that, and then you say and he's doing this on the court? So the MVP thing expands in my eyes to many different areas that he's getting better."
There is no shortage of top-tier talent playing at a high level this season, but when the conversation turns to the league's Most Valuable Player, don't forget about the big man from Philadelphia.
Follow Michael Kaskey-Blomain on Twitter @therealmikekb.