Monday, April 15 2024
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Entering Wednesday, Joel Embiid had averaged seven more points (40 per game!) than minutes (33) in the month of December. He posted 60-39-92 shooting splits across that seven-game stretch while averaging 13 rebounds, 4.6 assists, two blocks and 1.3 steals. The 76ers went 6-1 in those seven games, and under normal circumstances, a stretch like this would be the talk of the league. Yet Embiid’s dominance has flown under the radar for one simple reason: the schedule.

Forget about playoff-caliber opponents. Philadelphia played all seven of those games against opponents that are currently in the bottom-10 of the league-wide standings. They beat the Wizards twice by 50 combined points, the Pistons twice by 50 combined points, the Hornets by 53, the Hawks by 11 and lost to the Bulls by four. Those gaudy scoring margins were met with a collective yawn, given both Embiid’s history and his team’s.

Philadelphia has played the NBA’s fourth-easiest schedule so far this season. They’ve beaten only two opponents currently in the top six of either conference: the Celtics and Thunder by seven combined points. Embiid has famously failed to advance beyond the second round of the postseason. So when he rampaged through one of the easiest schedule stretches any star player will see this season, the consensus reaction was “call us when he beats someone worthwhile.” 

Well, do the NBA-best Minnesota Timberwolves suffice?

The Timberwolves entered Wednesday with the league’s best record (20-5) and defensive rating (106.8). Embiid still tore them to shreds. The final line: 51 points on 17-of-25 from the floor, 17-of-18 from the line, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block. 

Finally, it seems as though the wider basketball world is starting to take notice. Embiid entered Wednesday in the No. 3 slot in the MVP race at most books, going for odds in the +400 neighborhood. After Wednesday’s win over the Timberwolves, though, Embiid has taken over as the betting favorite at several books, including FanDuel (+250) and PointsBet (+230). He shares co-favorite status with Nikola Jokic at several other books, and these lines will only keep moving as Embiid continues to dominate.

It’s an unusual position that Embiid finds himself in. He won the MVP award a season ago, but after his playoff flameout, there was a belief among both fans and bettors that voters would hesitate to pick him again. The odds reflected that hesitation, but with two months of basketball in the books, it’s getting harder and harder to deny Embiid’s status as the clear favorite for the award.

Embiid isn’t just the NBA’s current leader in scoring. He’s currently on track to become just the seventh player in NBA history to average 35 points per game over a full season. Only two others, James Harden and Kobe Bryant, have done so this century, and Embiid has done all of this while holding his team together in the wake of Harden’s very public exit. He is currently the league leader in estimated plus-minus at plus-10.8, the metric that tends to most frequently correlate with MVP winners. He ranks sixth on the defensive end of that metric, and with the 76ers as a team ranking fifth on defense, Embiid will surely be in the running for an All-Defense selection this season.

We’re still only around one-third of the way through the season. The MVP race is never settled in December. But the longer Embiid keeps playing like this, the more obvious it becomes that this is his race to lose. If there was any question about it, Embiid’s 76ers proved that they can, in fact, beat good teams on Wednesday. They’re beating just about everyone in their way this season, and if he keeps this up, Embiid is going to earn some more hardware for making all of this possible.



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