Sixers: And just like that, Joel Embiid looks like the MVP

Joel Embiid, Sixers (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Joel Embiid, Sixers (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers are 7-7. Not exactly the rollicking, world-beating start to the season many fans expected after an eventful offseason that saw the team re-sign James Harden, trade for De’Anthony Melton, and land P.J. Tucker in free agency. In fact, after his brilliant individual start to the season, Harden is slated to miss extended time to a foot injury. It’s far from ideal.

And yet, the Sixers appear to be finding their groove — slowly, but surely. They’ve won three of their last four, featuring victories over Phoenix, Atlanta, and Utah. All three profile as real contenders right now. Even more impressive is that Philadelphia won those games without Harden, who was the team’s most reliable source of offensive stability through the season’s first couple weeks.

Why have the Sixers been so much better lately? Well, you need not look further than the face of the franchise. Joel Embiid is back like he never left, and he’d like to remind you of how unbelievably good he is.

Sixers All-Star Joel Embiid is starting to look like the MVP again

In four games since the calendar flipped to November, Embiid is averaging 40.0 points, 11.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 2.8 blocks on 54.3 percent shooting. He played the game of his life on Sunday, putting up 59 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, and seven blocks in Philadelphia’s narrow victory over Utah. Embiid scored over half the team’s points. Odds are we won’t see another player this season carry their team to victory like Embiid did on Sunday. It felt like 1-on-5, and while the Jazz were close the whole way through, it never felt like the final outcome was truly in doubt. That was Embiid’s game all the way.

Embiid opened the season with two of his worst performances in recent memory. Since then, however, he has swiftly returned to MVP form. Without Harden’s stabilizing presence, it is once again Embiid’s job to captain Philadelphia’s offense. Everything good starts with him. Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris are solid complementary “stars,” but neither is prepared to carry the offense. Were it not for Embiid’s unique capacity to bend and break the opposing defense, the Sixers’ offense would fall into complete disarray. Even with Embiid’s recent heroic efforts, the offense around him has stumbled frequently. The takeaway is two-fold: the Sixers miss James Harden a lot, and the team would be absolutely dead in the water without Embiid there to elevate a pedestrian supporting cast.

Unfortunately for Embiid, his window for MVP contention is not wide open. The NBA has been treated to several otherworldly performances to open the season: chief among them Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic, both of whom feel like distant frontrunners for the award right now.

But, it’s also November. This time last year, Embiid was nowhere close to the MVP discussion. In fact, his early-season slump lasted much longer than his most recent slump did. Embiid has another 68 games to bolster his case and remind voters of his greatness. He’s averaging better numbers than last season already (32.3 points, 10.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists on .537/.237/.831 splits) and the Sixers will be without Harden for at least a month. If Embiid can turn the Sixers’ record around without Harden, the win percentage should only improve further once Harden eventually returns. If Philly can rejoin the créme de la créme atop the East, it will be hard to ignore the two-time runner-up’s case for MVP.

Next. 15 greatest seasons in franchise history. dark