According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Nuggets center Nikola Jokic has been voted NBA MVP for the second consecutive year. While the final votes are still undisclosed, it’s safe to assume Sixers center Joel Embiid finished in second place (though it wouldn’t be inconceivable for him to finish in third place behind Giannis Antetokounmpo).
On the surface, this is highly disappointing. Embiid’s season was entirely worthy of the MVP award, as he averaged 30.6 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 4.2 assists while supplying the shorthanded Sixers with elite interior defense. He impacts both sides of the floor in a way very few players can, and he will go down in history as one of the most dominant individual scorers we’ve ever seen.
That being said, Jokic — now winner of back-to-back MVPs — is also wholly deserving. He guided the decaying corpse of Denver’s 2021-22 roster to the NBA playoffs while Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. sat with injuries. He posted one of the most efficient offensive campaigns in NBA history despite being the only consistent threat on the floor, all while elevating a collection of below-average starters and mediocre reserves to unthinkable heights.
The Sixers’ Joel Embiid did not win MVP, but he’s the unfortunate victim of a stacked awards race
The simple fact is that Embiid would have won the award almost any other year. He was historically great on multiple fronts and helped guide Philadelphia through the circus around Ben Simmons’ trade demand and the mid-season acquisition of James Harden. He is unfathomably productive on a points per minute basis, and his sheer offensive gravity elevates those around him.
Here’s the thing about Jokic, though. He too would have won the award any other year, and he too was historically great on multiple fronts. I truly believe voters were splitting hairs here, and anyone telling you “Embiid was the obvious and only choice” or “Jokic was the obvious and only choice” is lying to you. There are a lot of bad faith arguments being levied on both sides of this debate, but it’s possible to simply appreciate greatness. Go watch Nikola Jokic play if you haven’t — he’s incredible. If you’re a Denver fan who doesn’t get around to many Sixer games, go watch the Embiid tape. We’re witnessing two all-time greats at the center position change how we view the role of big men. That’s awesome. Enjoy it.
There’s no need to tear down Jokic. There’s no reason to make baseless claims about his defense or criticize his lack of postseason success (Jokic has been to the conference finals, Embiid has not, so even that argument falls flat at the slightest hint of logical resistance). The Nuggets were bounced in the first round because Jokic’s two best teammates were out and he happened to be facing the second wave of a dynasty in Golden State. He’s not at fault for Denver’s early exit, nor is Embiid the inefficient points grifter some Denver fans would like you to believe.
They’re both great, and both of them had great seasons! We can look back on these past two years in wonderment and appreciation, or we can quibble and complain because Embiid didn’t take home the trophy. It’s unfortunate in a way, and Embiid does deserve the hardware at some point, but we’re all smart enough to comprehend a player’s legacy and achievements without tying it to subjective and narrative-driven trophies. Even if Embiid doesn’t win MVP, he should still go down as one of the greatest offensive centers the game has ever seen. That’s okay. That should be enough.
Philadelphia has its sights set on bigger and better things, of course. If Embiid can wrangle in a Finals MVP, a whole lot of people will forget about the regular season award entirely. It’s okay to move on. The MVP award doesn’t really matter that much. Just let Embiid’s greatness wash over you and appreciate this special moment in sports history.