NBA awards race: Can 76ers’ Joel Embiid come from behind to win MVP?

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports /
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Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

The All-Star break in the rearview mirror, the Philadelphia 76ers now face the final quarter-season stretch with one goal in mind: win the championship. Currently the No. 3 seed, just three games behind one-seed Boston at 39-18, the Sixers certainly feel like genuine contenders.

The reason for Philadelphia’s contender status, of course, starts with Joel Embiid. He has once again put together a season worthy of MVP consideration: 33.1 points, 10.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists on career-best 64.6 percent true shooting.

The question is, does Embiid actually have a chance to win the award? He again has stiff competition in the form of Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo, both of whom lead him in ESPN’s latest MVP straw poll.

So, let’s dive into the awards race to see where Embiid — and the rest of the Sixers — stand.

NBA 3/4-season award picks: Defensive Player of the Year

  1. Jaren Jackson Jr., MEM
  2. Bam Adebayo, MIA
  3. Brook Lopez, MIL

The Sixers have a legitimate candidate here in the form of — you guessed it — Joel Embiid. Despite his wavering intensity on the defensive end, correlating with his outsized offensive burden, few players change the calculus of opposing offenses like Embiid.

He’s an all-world rim protector with nimble feet and advanced instincts. He doesn’t get burned in space like your typical drop coverage big and he’s more than capable of stonewalling the league’s best interior scorers one-on-one.

That said, Embiid isn’t quite up to snuff compared with the frontrunners in this category. Jaren Jackson Jr. currently leads the NBA in blocks per game (3.3) and is fresh off his first All-Star appearance. Bam Adebayo’s versatility is the foundation of Miami’s impressive defense, while Brook Lopez’s hulking presence at the rim has allowed Milwaukee’s elite perimeter defenders to flourish around him.

Another strong candidate is Brooklyn’s Nic Claxton, but their inevitable fade away from relevance post-Durant trade could cause voters to unfairly ignore him.