The Philadelphia 76ers solved a huge roster problem this summer by inking free-agent center Montrezl Harrell to a two-year deal at the league’s veteran minimum.
But it wasn’t just the Sixers that had problems before the signing. On May 12, Harrell was given a citation by Kentucky State Troopers after they pulled him over and smelled marijuana coming from his car. Eventually, Harrell was charged with trafficking less than five pounds of marijuana, which is a felony in the Bluegrass State.
Fortunately, Harrell had the charges reduced to simple marijuana possession, a misdemeanor. It also means that Harrell would be available for the season. While teams waited and watched for the legal drama to play out, the Sixers swooped in first to bring the former Sixth Man of the Year to the City of Brotherly Love.
But this week, footage from his traffic stop made rounds on the internet. The officers, while waiting for the inspection of Harrell’s car to finish, couldn’t help but ask the big man questions about the NBA. One of the officers asked Harrell who the best center was that he played against.
His response? Might just get Sixers center and NBA superstar Joel Embiid’s blood burning.
Cop: Who is the best big guy you ever played against?
Harrell: [Nikola] Jokic.
Cop: Really? I guess I don’t watch too many Nuggests games. I was surprised he won MVP.
Harell: I’m not. For him to be that size, all the passing that he’s doing, all that s***, he’s legit.
For two years straight, Embiid has finished runner-up to Jokic in MVP voting. Pundits and voters alike believe in Jokic’s skill on the court and the feeling extends to players as well.
Fortunately, Embiid’s MVP window is far from closed.
Embiid to Miss out on MVP Award Once More?
Over the last two seasons, Joel Embiid has finished second in MVP voting. And it’s not hard to understand why.
In 2020-21, he averaged a double-double in scoring (28.5 points per night) and rebounds (10.6). But concerns over his health and an incredible campaign from Jokic saw the Sixers star fall just short.
In 2021-22, Embiid ratcheted things up yet another level. He became the first center since Shaquille O’Neal to win the NBA’s scoring title (30.6 points) and finished third in the league in win-shares. Yet once again, Jokic put up dazzling numbers and guided the otherwise mediocre Nuggets to the playoffs.
But according to the experts over at ESPN, Embiid is once again in contention to win his first MVP award this season. But he’s not the favorite; that honor belongs to Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.
“Antetokounmpo, meanwhile, has the inside track to win his third award but has some company near the top. Both Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic and Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid are right on his heels in the voting, and Curry comes in fourth with an outside chance to follow his 2022 Finals MVP with the third regular-season award of his Hall of Fame career,” wrote Tim Bontemps and Kevin Pelton of ESPN back in August.
If Embiid failed to seal the deal next season, it would be heartbreaking for him and Sixers fans. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that Embiid is a legit top-five player in the league right now.
Embiid Earns Spot Among Elite in Preseason Rankings
Last week, Andy Bailey of Bleacher Report compiled his list of the best players in the NBA heading into next season. Bailey organized the list into tiers, with the top tier being comprised of three “All-Time Great Big Men.”
Embiid unsurprisingly made the cut at No. 3, behind Jokic and Antetokounmpo, respectively.
“A bruising, 90s-style post scorer who can also shoot threes and moneyball his way to 30-plus points. What separates him from the guys in the next tier is the fact that you can build a defense around him, too,” wrote Bailey on September 5 for his personal blog Andy Bailey’s NBA (and other things) Newsletter.
If Embiid is going to compete for an MVP, he’ll have to once again take his game to new heights. It’s unlikely that Antetokounmpo or Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks will slow down, so the only way to finish ahead of them is to elevate Embiid’s game once more. In doing so, he should also elevate a Sixers team looking to get past the second round of the playoffs for the first time in over 20 years.