In late March, in the back of a black sprinter van racing through the streets of Los Angeles, I asked Joel Embiid about the importance of winning an MVP. Embiid was in the final stages of his best NBA season, playing more games (68), averaging more points (30.6 best in the NBA) and sharing more assists (4.2) than in any of the previous seasons. .
His answer: Victory is more important.
“You can’t win this kind of thing if you don’t win,” Embiid told me. “So it doesn’t matter. Let’s say if I have an average of 35 on a bad team, I can’t be the league’s MVP because I don’t win. So my whole thing, when you look at those awards, it all comes back to winning. So it was always my focus, winning, working hard to make my team better, attacking and defensive. Obviously, winning the championship is the biggest thing. And I’ll be honest, I never thought I’d be on this level. “
“Coming to the league, I always thought, ‘I need to get a defensive player of the year.’ My defense has always been in focus. I’m like, ‘defensive player of the year, defensive player of the year’ and then, over the years, I became offensive … but I feel like people also forget about [defensive] side of the field, where I’m still pretty good at it, especially when I’m locked up. But it all comes back to victory. It’s all about the winning games. “
Nikola Jokic will be named MVP, ESPN reported on Monday. And Jokic earned it. The achievement and jump of the current MVP were better compared to last season. His percentage of goals from the game (58.3%) was high in his career. He led the NBA in almost all advanced indicators and pushed the Nuggets – downgraded Michael Porter Jr. most of the season and Jamal Murray throughout – up to 48 wins and playoff appearances.
There will be disappointment at Embiid’s camp — Drew Hanlen, Embiid’s personal trainer, is a good companion for that—But Embiid’s achievements this season go beyond the award. Embiid has proven that he can stay healthy. Foot, knee, back — Embiid’s body has been a game of surgery since he became a professional in 2014. He was a regular player in Philadelphia‘s lineup this season, though, as Hanlen said Sports Illustrated recently, often playing through a staggering amount of pain. In the playoffs, Embiid, who deals with a torn ligament in his right arm, a broken bone in his face and a constant diet of double teams, averages 25 points and 11 rebounds and leads all players to double-double.
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He proved he could win. The Sixers were the best holders of the Eastern Conference in the ’20 -21 period, winning 49 games in a season shortened due to COVID-19. But that team had an All-Star rush hour in Ben Simmons. After Simmons came out, Embiid, forced to take on a bigger role, progressed in that, elevating teammates like Tyrese Maxey and Seth Curry in the (swallowing) process.
“Honestly, I think the Ben thing made Joel lock himself in even more because he wanted to prove to everyone that he and the Sixers can win, no matter the situation,” Hanlen told me recently. “When the whole situation with Ben collapsed, I think most of the basketball world thought Joel and the Sixers organization were preoccupied with what was happening to Ben. When the truth was, Joel saw it as an opportunity to show people that they could win without him. That was all. It was Joel [who] he had more freedom to really show the basketball world what he was capable of. The situation was obviously bad, let’s be realistic. It was bullshit. But for him it was just an opportunity. “
He has proven that he can lead. While we may never fully understand Simmons ’reasons for wanting to leave Philadelphia, we know it is, a decision that jeopardized the Sixers’ chances for the title. Embiid could have collapsed. He could have forced the head office into a hasty deal. Instead, he routinely expressed support for Simmons as he weaved most of the answers he believed, with or without Simmons, that Philadelphia had the parts needed to win.
“I can’t imagine the pressure he had individually because he was most connected to him,” Doc Rivers told me. “So I was very happy with how he solved it. He took it as a true professional. “
Seasons at the MVP level don’t happen often, and even at 28 Embiid may have missed his best chance to win it. Jokić and Giannis Antetokounmpo are in their prime, while Luka Dončić, Jayson Tatum and Ja Morant are on the rise. It is possible, perhaps likely, that Embiid’s career will end without that particular piece of hardware. But that doesn’t detract from Embiid’s success this season. He will not win the MVP. But there aren’t too many MVP candidates for the Sixers – or any team – to take over.
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