The NBA MVP race has boiled down to Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers), Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks). Though all three players have compelling cases, has Embiid done enough to separate himself from the pack?
Dan Favale of Bleacher Report justified Embiid hoisting the Michael Jordan trophy at the end of the year, saying in part:
“Force-of-nature declarations verge on cliche, but this is very much a his-will-be-done experience. Embiid’s outside-in operations have always flirted with unstoppability. They are married to inevitability now. Even the defenses most suited to derailing him (Boston, Miami, Milwaukee) fail to poke holes in his armor now,” Favale said.
“Like I mentioned before, Embiid’s case is far from impugnable. He remains perhaps the NBA’s most dominant defender, but there is, at times, a hair less deterrence to the way he protects the basket. Philly is allowing more points per 100 possessions with him on the court since the All-Star break.”
Embiid is leading the NBA in scoring for the second consecutive season at 33.6 points per game. He's doing so on 54.6 percent shooting from the field and 85.5 percent shooting from the free throw line. He has scored more than 50 percent of his points outside of the paint.
Further, Embiid is No. 6 in the NBA in blocks, recording 1.8 rejections per game and has dominated on both ends of the floor year round.
Embiid and Jokic have been the two favorites for the league’s top honor for the last three seasons. Jokic has bested the Sixers All-Star in 2021 and 2022 and is looking for his third consecutive MVP behind a near-triple-double season.
Should he win, Jokic would join Bill Russell (1961-1963), Wilt Chamberlain (1966-1968) and Larry Bird (1984-1986) as the only players to win the MVP in three consecutive seasons. All three antecedents captured at least one championship within their three-year reigns and did so before receiving their third MVP trophy. As much as the award may disregard postseason success, this caveat may dissuade voters from anointing Jokic again.
Antetokounmpo is as deserving as Embiid and Jokic. The Bucks are 51-20 and the No. 1 overall seed in the association. They are on pace for a 58-win season. The Greek Freak is among the league leaders in several categories, ranking No. 5 in scoring (31.3 PPG) and No. 3 in rebounding (11.9 RPG).
Among Jokic and Embiid, Antetokounmpo is the only one without a teammate averaging 20 or more points per contest, and has led the league’s best team without his second-best player Khris Middleton being healthy all year long.