Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic locked in two-man race for MVP
While Ja Morant and DeMar DeRozan have firmly planted themselves in the MVP discussion, they’re a bit late to the party. This year’s MVP award has become a two-man race between last year's winner, Nikola Jokic, and the odds-on favorite, Joel Embiid.
MVP Winner 2021/2022
Sat, June 18 2022, 11:59 PM
Embiid creates separation from Jokic
Following a 27-point outing in a win over the New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers center Embiid is now the -118 favorite to collect the 2022 NBA MVP award, a week after he was listed at +125 odds.
The veteran big man averages 29.8 points per game, the most in the league, and 11.1 rebounds per contest, tied for eighth most. Embiid is also third in player efficiency rating, slightly behind the third choice to win MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo (32.56), and Jokic (32.35).
Embiid has his team positioned for a top seed in the Eastern Conference, as the Sixers sit just two games behind the first-place Miami Heat. While "The Process" has been the primary reason behind the 76ers' success this season, new teammate James Harden could cast a shadow over Embiid's production in the closing stretch of the regular season.
The 2018 MVP joined Philadelphia at the trade deadline and has averaged 27.3 points, 12.3 assists, and nine rebounds in three games with the Sixers, all of which were wins.
Two of those three games also saw Harden post a higher plus/minus than Embiid, but his production has seemingly helped improve Embiid's chances of hoisting the MVP trophy, for now.
Jokic still in contention for back-to-back MVPs
While Embiid has accounted for more scoring, on average, than any other player in the league, Jokic outpaces the Sixers star in rebounds and assists per game and field-goal percentage.
Jokic averages the second most boards per contest (13.8) behind Rudy Gobert, and the sixth most assists (7.9) in the league. His 56.7% field-goal percentage is also the ninth-best clip in the NBA and seven percentage points higher than Embiid's.
One knock against Jokic, however, is the Denver Nuggets' record in the West. They currently own the No. 6 seed with a 36-26 mark, and sit 14 games behind the first-place Phoenix Suns. Last season, when Jokic won his first MVP award, Denver finished with a 47-25 record and earned a top-three seed in the NBA Playoffs for the third straight season. The team's slide in the West, due in large part to injuries to Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., could ultimately turn voters away from Joker, despite yet another stellar season-long performance.
MVP trends to consider
Winning the MVP award in back-to-back seasons hasn't been all that uncommon over the past two decades. Since 2002, five players have earned consecutive MVP honors, including Tim Duncan (2002, 2003), Steve Nash (2005, 2006), LeBron James (2009, 2010 and 2012, 2013), Steph Curry (2015, 2016), and Antetokounmpo (2019, 2020).
Jokic could become the 13th player to receive the NBA MVP award back-to-back and the fifth center to do so.
While his team's record doesn't help his résumé, the fact Denver is still in the playoff hunt without two of its top offensive playmakers in the lineup makes Jokic's contribution all the more noteworthy.
Opinion | "No Jamal Murray. Crumbs from Michael Porter Jr. That the Nuggets are on a pace for 48 wins says a lot about Nikola Jokic, the reigning NBA MVP. It says something about the coach, too." (via @seankeeler) #MileHighBasketball https://t.co/cRNeQldsu7— Denver Post Nuggets (@nuggetsnews) March 1, 2022
His 32.35 PER is more than half that of the next closest player on his team, Aaron Gordon (15.39), while Embiid's 32.10 PER is now second best on his team, behind Harden (36.41).
Jokic's value to Denver is undeniable. He nearly averages a triple-double, and that's while drawing double-teams on nearly every possession. Embiid may be the flashier player and has done plenty to merit MVP status, but the way Jokic is playing with a shorthanded squad, he could easily seal his second straight win.
At +250 odds, he's worth backing over Embiid, who may find Harden stealing some of his spotlight as the Sixers head down the final stretch of the regular season. If Denver can make a push for a top-four seed over the final 20 games, Jokic will be the man most responsible for making it happen, and thus deserves the title of league MVP.