One of the hottest topics of discussion this year has been the NBA MVP race. Outside of the Phoenix Suns, the parity in the NBA this season has been crazy. There are a ton of different teams who could end up making noise in the playoffs, and in turn, the race for MVP is as tight as ever.
While there are numerous potential candidates, such as Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, Suns guard Devin Booker, and Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant, three frontrunners have separated themselves from the pack. Those three players are Giannis Antetokounpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets, and Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers.
On a March 30 episode of The Bill Simmons Podcast, Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix told a funny story about an interaction between Embiid and Tatum regarding the MVP race. Tatum told Embiid that he needs to win it this year, because next season, he plans on winning the award himself.
“He called Drew [Hanlen] one day when Drew was with Embiid, he didn’t know it,” Mannix said. “But before he got off the phone, he made Drew put it on speakerphone and say to Embiid, ‘you better win MVP this year because it’s mine next year.’ Like, his confidence is next level at this point.”
Drew Hanlen is an NBA skills coach who works with both Tatum and Embiid. He’s constantly going to battle for his guys on Twitter, and recently, he’s pushed the agenda for both Tatum and Embiid to win MVP awards very soon.
Joel Embiid’s MVP Case This Season
As mentioned, the MVP race is extremely close this year. Embiid’s case is as clear as day, but so is the case for both Antetokounmpo and Jokic. And with there being no set criteria for the award, anything could happen.
Before the Sixers traded for James Harden, Embiid was leading them to a top seed in the East without much help. But a similar argument can be made for Jokic, who’s led the Nuggets to a top-six seed in the West without their second or third options. As for Antetokounmpo, he’s led the Bucks to a top-three seed (as of now) and is putting up a career-high in points per game, all while having a Defensive Player of the Year-caliber season.
Embiid’s dominance in the post is undeniable, and it’s that brute force that could end up swaying a lot of voters. The NBA hasn’t seen a center as dominant as Embiid since Shaquille O’Neal, and if he wins the scoring title this year, he’ll become the first big man to do so since Diesel.
Plus, if he averages 30 points per game (which he is currently doing), he’d be the first center to do it since the NBA-ABA merger. Hanlen made sure to retweet StatMuse’s tweet which pointed out those facts.
Jayson Tatum’s Path to MVP Next Season
While Tatum is only 24 years old, the three leading MVP candidates this year are all in the prime of their careers as well. Embiid is 28 years old and both Jokic and Antetokounmpo are 27. And that’s without even mentioning guys like Booker (25) and Morant (22) who will be in the running as long as they’re healthy.
But Tatum’s pathway to winning the MVP is as clear as day – be the best player on the best team. Doing that doesn’t necessarily guarantee a player the award anymore, though. (Sorry, Booker.) The key for Tatum will be to accomplish that feat while simultaneously putting up crazy stats.
Tatum is averaging 27.0 points this season. With the pace at which he’s improved thus far in his career, it’s not unreasonable to think he could bump that number up to around 30. And if he averages 30 points as the best player on the best team (sort of like what Embiid and Antetokounmpo are doing this year), his MVP candidacy will be hard to ignore.
So, while it may seem like Tatum was just poking fun at Embiid, he’ll most certainly be gunning for the MVP award next season. And if he can improve his stats while leading the Celtics to a top seed in the East, he could be adding some new bling to his trophy case very soon.