No doubt that if you ask Sixers star Joel Embiid about the NBA’s MVP race, he will look no further than the mirror—he feels he should be crowned as the league’s best, despite having missed 18 games this season with a variety of injuries, most recently a knee problem that cost him nine games.
“I mean, you can look at it,” Embiid said, “first seed in the East, the numbers speak for themselves.”
But it will be a hotly contested race to MVP honors down the stretch of the NBA season, with Embiid in the mix though significantly behind Denver big man Nikola Jokic. Embiid is averaging 29.8 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.1 assists this season to 26.0 points, 10.9 rebounds and 8.8 assists for Jokic.
Joel Embiid has a 123 ORtg, a 103 DRtg, and a 35.1% usage rate
No player since 1973, the first year we can calculate possessions, has hit all three of those numbers in a season pic.twitter.com/a0Vur5DB2g
— Basketball Reference (@bball_ref) April 15, 2021
The dark horse, though, is Nets star James Harden, who (when healthy) has put Brooklyn onto another level since arriving to join forces with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving following a controversial trade in January.
But a lingering question is whether Harden’s poor play and approach—he was disgruntled and badly out of shape to start the year—in Houston in December and January should count against him in the MVP balloting. Embiid has a strong thought on that.
Embiid on Harden: ‘He Has Been Dominant’
Speaking with ESPN’s Zach Lowe on the Lowe Post podcast, Embiid put forth his thoughts on Harden:
He’s had a big impact. I don’t think you can take away—the way things ended in Houston obviously it was unfortunate but I see that he has been dominant, carrying that Brooklyn team, being a point guard, and doing what’s needed to do, especially considering he has had to change his game in a lot of ways. Going from taking all of 25-30 shots a game to just being a playmaker and actually being OK with it and actually doing a great job at it, I think he is doing a good job.
I don’t think you can use whatever happened in Houston against him. It should have been resolved before the season and it is not his fault that the team decided to drag on to find the best deal available to send him wherever they want to send him. So I don’t think you can use that against him.
Again, Harden does bear significant blame for what happened in Houston to start the season. He made clear to the team he wanted out and there were opportunities to trade Harden well before the season started. The Rockets declined, hoping to bolster Harden’s value. But the move backfired.
Sixers-Nets was Missing Some Star Power
As for the Nets, the Sixers took control of the top seed in the East this week with their win over Brooklyn on Wednesday, a game that lost some of its luster when both Harden and Durant were unavailable. Still, the Sixer sit 38-17, while the Nets are 37-18, and it increasingly appears that the two teams are on a collision course for the East finals.
"When the playoffs start, it's a whole new beast. We'll be ready for them, and I'm sure they'll be ready for us." -Doc Rivers
— Noah Levick (@NoahLevick) April 15, 2021
Embiid, for one, is looking forward to building a rivalry with the Nets, and wishes the Sixers ad faced a full Brooklyn squad:
For me, I like the challenge. We been playing well all season and those are the type of matchups that kind of tell you where your team is, if you are actually that good. It would have been great to go against them healthy, with KD and James healthy. I wanted the challenge and I actually want to see how good we are. If we’re in those situations and let’s say we lose the game, we know what we got to work on, what works and what doesn’t. It was still a great matchup. Obviously, they’re missing two of the best players but I think, yeah, it would be better if everybody was healthy, but at the end of the day, you can’t control it.