Pistons, Sixers Comment on ‘Tightest’ NBA MVP Race in Years

Doc Rivers, Joel Embiid

Getty Sixers center Joel Embiid has been averaging 34.7 points per game since Christmas.

Doc Rivers wasn’t about to stump for Joel Embiid on Sunday night. The Philadelphia 76ers head coach thinks his star center has done enough self-campaigning for MVP this year. But Rivers was more than happy to remind everyone why Embiid has been so dominant.

“I don’t think people realize how hard it is for a center to lead the NBA in scoring,” Rivers said 90 minutes prior to tip-off. “It’s so much easier for guards because they have the ball and they can shoot whenever they want to. Centers are incumbent not only on getting the ball, they’re the easiest guy to get trapped as well.

“And I don’t think that’s looked at a lot. Guards can get it, shoot it, plus they can bring it up. Centers can’t, they need someone to pass it to them and then they’re the easiest person to stop from scoring in some ways because you can trap them.”

The Sixers rested him in their regular-season finale against the Detroit Pistons. Embiid locked up the NBA scoring title after his 41-point performance on Saturday. He ended the 2021-22 campaign with 2,079 total points, or 30.6 points per game. Giannis Antetokounmpo was in second heading into Sunday’s action, with Luka Doncic in third. Doncic had a chance to add to his numbers since his Dallas Mavericks played at 9:30 p.m.

“Well, Luka can score 168 [points] and if he does, he deserves it,” Rivers joked. “It’s amazing.”

Nikola Jokic remained the front-runner for MVP, according to the latest KIA MVP Ladder posted on April 8. Antetokounmpo and Embiid rounded out the top-three for the award.

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Pistons Coach Comments on Tight MVP Race

Rivers wasn’t the only one hyping up Embiid and his quest for MVP. Pistons head coach Duane Casey shared his thoughts on the tightest MVP race in years without picking a winner. Casey thinks all three finalists – Embiid, Antetokuonmpo, Jokic – are worthy and deserving candidates.

“He’s right there,” Casey said of Embiid. “I’ll tell you what, this is one of the tightest MVP years I’ve seen in a long time and there are a lot of players deserving of it. All of them are very capable of winning and deserving to win the MVP the way they’ve played this year.”

The Pistons got off easy on Sunday since Embiid didn’t take the court. That was music to Casey’s ears because stopping the dominant 7-footer is never an easy task.

“I don’t think people know how big he is and he has the skills of a guard,” Casey said. “He has the shooting skills of a lot of wing players, and his touch around the basket, he’s developing that, with drawing fouls and that’s put him on an elite level because he’s one the top free throw shooters for attempts in the league. Just coming from where he was, in and out, injured and not injured, to being a ‘Steady Eddie’ as he’s been these last few years. I’m really happy for him. It’s good for him and it’s good for the league.”

Embiid Beats Double Teams, Trapping Defenders

It’s not unusual to see opposing teams throw double and triple teams at Embiid on a nightly basis. Teams trap the Sixers’ big man and he routinely goes for 30 points, sometimes scoring 40 or 50. That’s how dominant Embiid has been while playing in a career-high 68 games.

“We’ve had games where the guy has been trapped every possession and he gets 40. Explain that,” Rivers said. “It’s hard, it just tells you how dominant he’s been. And he’s done it the right way. He’s made the right passes, he’s passed the ball more this year than last year, yet he still leads us in scoring. It’s just a pretty cool thing and I’m very happy for him. I don’t know what it means, but I just know it means that he’s dominant.”

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