Sixers Star to Fall Short of NBA Honor for 3rd Straight Season?

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Getty Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers

Over the last five seasons, the Philadelphia 76ers have trotted out one of the game’s elite players in Joel Embiid. Since 2016, the dominant center has seen his name on numerous All-NBA and All-Defensive teams.

But there’s one individual honor that eludes Embiid: league MVP.

And if the experts at ESPN are correct, Embiid’s quest for MVP next season will fall short yet again, this time to Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks.

In ESPN’s final tally, Antetokounmpo earned 43 points, or 33.3% of the first-place votes. If Antetokounmpo wins, he would join LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird as the only players to win MVP at least three times.

ESPN’s projections show Embiid getting 40 points, tying for second with Dallas Mavericks star Luka Dončić. The Sixers center did, however, receive 33.3% of first-place votes, compared with Doncic’s 22%.


Embiid: ‘Don’t Know What Else I Have to Do’

Finishing as runner-up would be all too familiar for Embiid.

In 2020, he was a distant second to Nikola Jokic, the runaway Denver Nuggets star who led the league in PER (31.3) and win-shares (15.6). And last season, Embiid was tantalizingly close to winning MVP, finishing second yet again to Jokic.

Even though he fell short of the ultimate prize, Embiid put together a historic campaign last season.

He led the league with 30.6 points per game, joining Shaquille O’Neal and David Robinson as the third center since 1980 to win the scoring title. On the other end of the court, his 105.3 defensive rating was seventh-best in the league.

And Embiid answered questions about his health as well. He played a career-high 68 games, with another career-high 33.8 minutes per game.

After falling just short for a second straight season, Embiid couldn’t help scratching his head.

“Last year, I campaigned about it,” Embiid said during a May 2022 press conference. “I wonder what else I have to do to win it, and to me, it’s like, at this point it’s like, it’s whatever. It’s all about focusing, not that I wasn’t focused on the bigger picture, but you know, it’s really time to really put all my energy into the bigger picture, which is to win the whole thing.”

But Embiid’s greatest impact last season likely wasn’t found on the box score.

Throughout the entire Ben Simmons trade saga, Embiid evolved into the Sixers’ undisputed leader. Not once did he bemoan Daryl Morey’s decision to wait for the right deal. By and large, Embiid bit his tongue during Simmons’ permanent absence from the team. In short, Embiid ensured that the players were publicly in lockstep with the front office.


Can Embiid Get Back to His Old Defensive Ways?

Last summer, Embiid and his trainer, Drew Hanlen, made some changes to his game in expectation of Simmons’ absence.

“We made some tweaks in his offseason workout so he could be a better creator and playmaker and be more efficient out of double- and triple-teams that we knew he would see,” Hanlen told Fox Sports in April. “And we even worked on him becoming the primary handler that you’ve seen at times this season.”

And while Embiid’s offense blossomed, his defensive numbers dipped ever so slightly. In fact, his 105.3 defensive rating was the worst of his career.

He’s still a dominant force in the paint, but if Embiid can marry his 2020-21 All-Defensive Second-Team form with the offensive production of 2021-22, watch out.

It might just be enough to get him over the MVP hump.

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