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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(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

NBA 3/4-season award picks: Most Valuable Player

  1. Nikola Jokic, DEN
  2. Joel Embiid, PHI
  3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, MIL
  4. Luka Doncic, DAL
  5. Jayson Tatum, BOS

The last two seasons have ended with Jokic-Embiid at 1-2 in the MVP voting. And we could be on track for the third consecutive round of the exact same outcome. While Embiid’s case is undeniably strong — career-best scoring and career-best efficiency — he is once again bumping up against historic all-around dominance from Jokic, whose scoring efficiency and uncommon playmaking wizardry has elevated Denver to the one-seed in the West.

Jokic does not influence the game defensively like Embiid, but he elevates teammates with rapid-fire, unselfish decision-making and a penchant for the small things: screen-setting, cutting, and so forth. He doesn’t score quite so prolifically, but even Embiid’s mid-range wizardry can’t touch Jokic’s remarkable efficiency from the field (combined with the significant amount of points he creates with his passing).

It’s a tight race and it would be fairly demoralizing to see three historic seasons from Embiid end with zero MVP wins. But it’s hard not to acknowledge Jokic’s special performance on an objective level, and he gets the nod for now. We also can’t ignore Giannis. The Bucks have won 11-straight and he still is broadly recognized as the NBA’s best player in a vacuum.

In a normal season, Luka Doncic would be firmly in the mix — maybe even the favorite, as he’s leading the NBA in scoring and carrying an uncommon playmaking load for the Mavs who, until recently, did not offer him much support offensively. The same can be said for Jayson Tatum, who’s the best player on the best team. But it’s not a normal year, and the Jokic-Embiid-Giannis triumvirate once again figures to top ballots.