The 2022 NBA MVP race has coalesced around the three best big men in basketball: reigning MVP Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets, two-time MVP and reigning Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks and Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Embiid is the only one of that bunch who does not have an MVP, and he set out to change that this season — not only with his play, but with his comments in the media. While Jokic and Giannis have generally shrugged off questions about the award, Embiid has made it clear, especially over the past week or so, that he wants to win.
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“If [winning MVP] happens, great,” Embiid said. “If it doesn’t, I don’t know what I have to do. I’ll feel like they hate me. I feel like the standard for guys in Philly or for me is different than everyone else.”
Late last month, Embiid also received the backing of his new star teammate, James Harden, who said the big man “deserves” to win MVP.
“I’ve only been here for a few weeks, but I already see his mindset,” Harden said. “He wants to win. Some guys just want numbers, but he has both. He has the mentality of winning, and he scores the ball at a high level. I think he’s prepared himself, especially coming off last year, for this year to be one of his best years.”
There’s no question that Embiid has played at an MVP level this season. He’s averaging a career-high 30.2 points, 11.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.5 blocks per game. Heading into the final week of games he ranks second in scoring, sixth in rebounding and ninth in blocks; the only other player in the top 10 in all such categories is Giannis.
Furthermore, Embiid now has 11 40-point, 10-rebound games this season. The only two players who have ever recorded more of those games in a single season are Moses Malone (1982) and Russell Westbrook (2017), who each had 12. Both of those players were named MVP in those respective seasons.
Beyond the stats, there’s the fact that Embiid single-handedly carried the Sixers for most of the season. He was a steadying force through all of the Ben Simmons drama, and made sure the Sixers never got off track — on or off the court. As a result of his leadership, the Sixers are 48-30 with four games to play, and are still right in the mix for a top-two seed in the Eastern Conference.
The only problem for Embiid is that the other guys in the race have been just as good, if not better. Giannis, for example, has identical scoring and rebounding numbers with more assists and better efficiency, and is an elite defender, too. The Sixers and Bucks also have identical records. Jokic, meanwhile, is the only player in the top 10 in points, rebounds and assists and currently has the Nuggets in fifth place in the West despite playing all season without Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray.
For what it’s worth, Jokic is currently the betting favorite at -300 on Caesars Sportsbook. Embiid has the second-best odds at +270, while Giannis checks in at +600.