The Philadelphia 76ers seem to be flying under the radar a bit this season. After a turbulent start to the season in which the team lost four of their first five and was plagued by injuries over the next stretch, they have turned things around. At the heart of this has been the performance of Joel Embiid. The Sixers superstar is leading the NBA in scoring with 33.7 points per game while anchoring the second-rated team defense. Tied with Giannis Antetokounmpo with an NBA-best 37.6% usage rate and recently leading the Sixers on an eight-game winning streak, it feels weird the NBA buzz surrounding the back-to-back runner-up has been…silent?
One day after the latest MVP odds were released, SB Nation’s Dave Early took to Twitter to highlight the lack of MVP consideration Embiid has been garnering from the national media despite the five-time All-Star’s stacked resume.
“Embiid, (who is) leading the league in scoring and anchoring the league’s 2nd-rated defense, has had a tough time cracking the top-10 in MVP Ladders, Early tweeted on December 29.
Embiid’s Dominant Stretch
It seemed as if Embiid especially flipped the switch into the elite force he has proven to be following the injury to James Harden. After some struggles with plantar fasciitis, conditioning, and illness to start the year, the big man has gotten back on the right track. Harden went down with a right foot tendon strain during a November 2nd matchup with the Washington Wizards. He missed 14 games as he recovered from the issue.
During this stretch, Embiid averaged 34.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 2.1 blocks, and 1.4 steals per game. It should be noted he also missed five games during the stretch due to a foot injury of his own but seemed to personally take on the task of running the offense in a way that has not been consistently seen during his career.
Following Harden’s return to the lineup, Embiid has continued to put forth monstrous stat lines. In the 10 games since the duo have both been healthy, Embiid has averaged 37.2 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.5 blocks, and 1.4 steals. The Sixers have also won eight of these 10 matchups and begun their climb up the Eastern Conference standings. His blend of power, grace, and scoring touch makes him a nightmare for opposing defenses and the 28-year-old has not let them off the hook.
Where is the Narrative?
The unfortunate reality of the NBA MVP award is that the narrative behind each player matters. What was once purely based on which player produces at the highest level in a way that equates to team success, has shifted to a media-driven storyline award. Each voter seems to weigh different characteristics differently and this has come back to bite Embiid. Whether it be the dislike over his tendency to get to the free-throw line, his PR team not being as strong as other stars around the league, or the belief his window to win the award has passed- there has been very little push for Embiid to hear his name mentioned among the best players this season.
This is not to say he outright deserves it. The NBA is loaded with talent and it feels as if superstars are producing eye-popping stat lines on a nightly basis. Earlier this week it was Luka Doncic who broke Embiid’s record for most points in a game on the season with his 60 points, 21 rebounds, and 10 assist performance. Players like Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, and Jayson Tatum are playing at an elite level on a night-in and night-out basis. Nikola Jokic is also producing a career-high 9.4 assists per game which would set the record for most assists per game by a center, and voters have clearly been obsessed with his passing the past two seasons. However, Embiid’s dominance is right up there with each of these players and you can make an equally strong argument for him.
While it aids the Sixers’ chances of winning a championship (which is the ultimate goal) it also feels as if the arrival of Harden and the emergence of Tyrese Maxey have hurt Embiid’s MVP resume. The perception that the team is too talented for Embiid’s workload to be deserving of the individual award seems to be out there. However, I challenge those who believe that to watch the Sixers for an extended stretch and this theory would be debunked rapidly.
There is still plenty of time left in the season for Embiid’s play to catch the attention it deserves. He carries a heavier two-way burden than any of the players ahead of him on the MVP rankings and, while the roster around him has talent, the Sixers would be far from a contender without him. His ability to will the team to a victory has been shown in several cases this season. Hopefully, the whispers calling for his name to join the conversation continue to grow and the Sixers superstar gets recognized for the elite individual play he continually produces.