Joel Embiid makes up ground in 2021 NBA MVP odds

Profile Picture: Ryan Murphy

Ryan Murphy

February 22nd, 2021

LeBron James’ quest for a fifth NBA MVP Award may not be a done deal after all.

The Los Angeles Lakers star has seen his vice-like grip on the award loosen over the past three weeks thanks to the phenomenal play of Joel Embiid, whose MVP odds have improved from +550 on Feb. 1 to +300 on Feb. 21.

MVP Winner 2020/2021

Thu, April 1 2021, 10:00 AM

James, LeBron


Embiid, Joel


Jokic, Nikola


Curry, Stephen


Doncic, Luka


Antetokounmpo, Giannis


Durant, Kevin


Lillard, Damian


Leonard, Kawhi


Harden, James


That spike coincides with the finest offensive outing of Embiid’s career, as the three-time All-Star exploded for 50 points, 17 rebounds, five assists, and four blocks in a 112-105 win over the Chicago Bulls on Friday night.

It was just another dominant performance for Embiid, who has increased his scoring average every month since the 2020-21 season tipped off.

Joel Embiid 2020-201 Season Splits


Embiid came close in 2019

This isn’t the first time Embiid has made a run at the league’s top individual honor. The Cameroonian center finished 12th in MVP Award Shares in 2018 and seventh in 2019.

As good as Embiid was in 2019, he’s been even better this year. The 26-year-old pivot is posting career highs in points (30.3), steals (1.3), free throw percentage (85.3%), three-point percentage (39.7%), and effective field goal percentage (56.8%). In short, he’s scoring from everywhere on the court, and doing so with impressive efficiency.

Embiid’s breakout campaign has the Sixers atop the Eastern Conference standings, a half game ahead of the Brooklyn Nets.

Recent history is against Embiid

If Embiid does win the award, he’ll be bucking a major trend in recent years. A center hasn’t won MVP honors since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000, and only three other centers (Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson) have won the award since 1982. That’s less an indictment on Embiid, and more of a reflection of the game's evolution from post-heavy sets to free-flowing space-and-pace offenses.

What makes Embiid so unique, however, is that he can play both styles. He has an effective back-to-the-basket game for when Philly slows things down in the half court, and can pick and pop and nail threes when defenses pack the paint. Embiid’s improved range has done wonders for Philadelphia’s offense, and has helped to hide Ben Simmons’ shortcomings at that end of the court.

Embiid’s versatility has even surprised his own coach, Doc Rivers. "He's just more talented than even I knew," Rivers said following a win against the Boston Celtics. "I knew he was extremely talented, but he has so many more gifts. You know, off the dribble, he can make his spots. One of his weak points I guess was post passing and he's been phenomenal in that this year."

Embiid can’t topple King James

Embiid has been remarkable this season, but James is the favorite for a reason. The 16-time All-Star is averaging 25.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 7.9 assists per game, and he’s doing it in his 18th season in the league. The MVP is by no-means a lifetime achievement award, but LeBron deserves recognition for his ability to dominate at age 36, particularly after being unfairly passed over for the award in recent years by voters who have taken his greatness for granted.

Embiid deserves kudos, but LeBron deserves the MVP.