This season’s field of NBA Most Valuable Player award contenders is perhaps more wide open than any other season in recent memory. Consider this, over the last three voting cycles for the league’s most prestigious individual award, there have been only two players each year to get first-place votes, and the last time where more than two players earned 10% of the first-place votes was after the 2007-2008 campaign.
This year’s winner will certainly not be unanimous à la 2015-2016 when Stephen Curry pulled off the unprecedented feat.
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Despite the insanely vast array of worthy candidates still competing for the hardware, one NBA Hall-of-Famer seems to have already anointed Philadelphia 76ers star center Joel Embiid as the winner.
Shaquille O’Neal’s debate with fellow NBA on TNT analysts Kenny “The Jet” Smith and Charles Barkley, as well as host Ernie Johnson, started off calmly and innocently enough, but soon turned into a heated back-and-forth. Both Smith and Barkley stated their cases for Denver Nuggets do-it-all center Nikola Jokić to be the winner.
Things got personal towards the end of the argument, as Smith brought up the historically close 2005 NBA MVP race – which was a two-man race between O’Neal and eventual-winner Steve Nash. O’Neal closed the segment by calling Smith and Barkley “lil weaklings.”
While Smith put together a very solid 10-year NBA career, one thing he can’t claim that both O’Neal and Barkley can is to be an actual MVP winner himself.
Shaq, Sir Charles Both Know Something About Winning MVPs
While neither Embiid nor Jokić have ever won a league MVP, both O’Neal and Barkley have. “The Chuckster” took home the award following his departure from the Sixers organization and after his first season with the Phoenix Suns, in 1992-1993.
During that MVP race, Barkley beat out the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, and Patrick Ewing – who were the other three players to earn first-place votes. Ironically, this was also O’Neal’s rookie season, and remarkably at just 20 years old, he finished seventh in the voting.
“Diesel” secured his only regular season MVP award after the 1999-2000 season, which oddly enough, was Barkley’s final season before retiring. O’Neal was nearly the first unanimous winner, but Sixers’ legend Allen Iverson prevented that feat by taking one first-place vote on the ballot.
As it’s been noted many times, Jokić and Embiid are both looking to become the first MVP from the center position since O’Neal did it over 20 years ago.
Embiid, Jokić Highlight Crowded Field of MVP Candidates
Let’s take a deeper look at both Jokić and Embiid as MVP candidates and some of their best arguments for winning the award, plus some reasons why maybe they shouldn’t ultimately take the prize.
– Nikola Jokić (Denver Nuggets): 26.4 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 8.7 APG in 58 games
Possibly the favorite as we head towards the homestretch, “Joker” has put together his best season of what has already been a stellar six-year career. Jokić arguably has the best all-around numbers of any player, posting 15 triple-doubles and his durability has been incredible, as he’s played in all 58 of the Nuggets games.
Also helping his cause has been his consistency, scoring in double-figures in every game, playing at least 30 minutes in all but nine contests, and never fouling out in a game. Additionally, he’s racked up 51 double-doubles and has at least 10 rebounds 41 times and at least 10 assists a stunning 25 times.
When point guard Jamal Murray went down with a season-ending ACL tear earlier this month, many thought the Nuggets would fall down the standings, but Jokić hasn’t let that happen yet, as they’ve gone 4-0 since Murray’s injury.
– Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers): 30.1 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 3.1 APG in 41 games
Embiid has certainly been the Sixers’ Most Valuable Player, and through February, he may have had the edge over Jokić. Then, the big man went down with yet another injury, suffering a brutal knee bruise that sidelined number 21 for 10 straight games.
Not only did Embiid miss those 10 games, but he missed eight games aside from those as well. That’s 18 of the team’s 59 games, or 30% of the contests. Even if Embiid suits up for every one of the remaining 13 games – which is far from a given – that will still mean he will have missed 25% of the season.
Though the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, and a resurgent Chris Paul have all made chatter in the MVP race lately, it seems to have finally, come down to just two players – Jokic and Embiid. The MVP winner is typically announced during the NBA Finals, which are scheduled to begin in early July.