The 2022-2023 NBA Most Valuable Player award battle will and should be discussed in NBA circles for years to come. You have three players in Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who are all putting up historic numbers while putting their respective teams in position for a title run. Yet, that is different from the conversation that ever takes place during this MVP debate, especially between the two front runners, Embiid and Jokic. The MVP race has become a media war that some could describe as toxic. There are four-minute compilations of Jokic getting cooked in the high pick and roll, and Nuggets fans counter with Joel’s lengthy history of not playing road games versus the elite competition at his position while also calling him a baby. While some accounts speak the truth and others use fake stats, none are considered media. The actual media are those who vote on the award, and where the in the social media era that we are in, the award is won based on the stories these media members write/tweet. Embiid is losing this battle.
While an article just came out with the results of the 2023 NBA MVP Straw Poll 3.0, in an extremely narrow contest, Joel Embiid MVP edged out the victory 790-788 in total points. Yet, Jokic received more first-place votes, with 42 compared to Embiid’s 40. Now it’s not said when this vote was made, but it was most likely done before the highly anticipated matchup between the Nuggets and Sixers Monday night, the day Embiid might have lost the media battle.
On Monday, March 27th, The Athletic dropped a piece asking Joel Embiid about the season, and of course, it included the MVP race between him and Jokic. In the article, he states how he loves playing with James Harden, advised Tatum not to think about the MVP award, and has never been this healthy this late into the season. His mind is only on winning a championship for the city of Philadelphia. Yet, what quotes went viral? Embiid commented that he doesn’t need to fill the stat sheet as he says, “I could have easily stat-padded if I wanted to, but I don’t care.” While this might not have been a shot at Jokic, plenty of Sixers fans/media have highlighted that Jokic stat-pads and stays in games too long to make his numbers look better. The next quote was about analytics and defense: “You can talk about analytics all you want. When you get some guys in the league, the eye test tells you they’re not good defensively, but analytics tell you they’re the best defenders. That’s when analytics don’t make sense at all.” This seemed to be a direct shot at Jokic; Sixers fans have been calling him a traffic cone and dropping compilations of Jokic getting cooked in the high pick and roll. Yet, if you look at any analytical number, they have Jokic as not only good but an all-time great defender.
Comments were made, and strategically the article was dropped the same day Embiid and Jokic were supposed to go for round two on Monday night. Embiid gets ruled out due to a lingering calf issue, and the entire NBA media calls Joel out for being scared, including an MVP voter Sixers fan thought was on Embiid’s side in Kendrick Perkins, as he had these comments the same day:
"Joel Embiid is ducking that smoke… You cannot sit out this game… When it comes down to these matchups, I have a vote [for MVP]. I'm going to remember this moment."
Kendrick Perkins on Embiid not playing against Nikola Jokic tonight 🗣️pic.twitter.com/nJBypWtdSa
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) March 27, 2023
While I agree with most of what Embiid said, this is not a good look for Embiid as he could’ve sat out the second of the back-to-back vs. the Suns and played Monday if he was hurt. Yet, there is no reason Embiid should be punished for risking a potential title run for one game. The media doesn’t look at it this way, nor does Vegas. Embiid on Monday morning was as much as a -170 favorite to win the MVP, while Jokic was a +145. Once Embiid was ruled out and the game was concluded, Joel Embiid woke up the following day at +125 odds to win the award, now tied with Jokic. This, of course, made headlines, but the media wasn’t done slandering Embiid’s case; they then attacked how many games Embiid has missed this season.
Joel Embiid has missed 14 games this season.
Only ONE player has ever won MVP missing that many games (Bill Walton, 1977-78) 😳 pic.twitter.com/fKdPb8n3P5
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) March 28, 2023
While Giannis, who, by the way, got 18 first-place votes in the NBA Straw 3.0 vote, has missed 16 games, and not a single post ever came out about that when the Greek Freak missed his 14th game.
The craziest part, is that an article recently dropped breaking down Jokic’s defensive woes and how the analytics are lying to you. In a recent article written by Kirks Goldberry titled “The Problem with Nikola Jokic’s game?” Goldsberry breaks down how poor of a rim protector Jokic has been this season. (Picture taken from the article Quote Tweeted by Embiid’s Trainer Drew Hanlen)
That had nothing to do with Jokic. Just a simple observation that a lot of analytics are flawed because they overvalue certain things.
— Drew Hanlen (@DrewHanlen) March 29, 2023
Not only has Jokic been a poor rim protector, but he has been historically bad, and yet how many people even knew this article came out? There was no social media post, and what day it came out? That’s right, Monday, March 27th, the same day Joel Embiid’s article in The Athletic came out. NBA media chose to talk about Embiid’s words instead of what’s happening on the court. What’s crazy enough is that the same company dropped a piece on Jokic that same week. You would think they would ask him about the MVP race or expectations to win a title/get back to the conference finals, but here is the headline for the article:
Nikola Jokić owns more than half a dozen horses and spends much of his offseasons tending to them at his own stable.
— The Athletic NBA (@TheAthleticNBA) March 29, 2023
They were talking to a two-time MVP about horses and not championship aspirations.
While there are around two weeks left in the NBA season, and indeed the MVP race isn’t over, Joel Embiid needs to play basketball, give the media no quotes, and if he does, maybe talk about his love for soccer and Shirley Temple. Embiid has no trouble being the bad guy, and he spoke about that in The Athletic article:
76ers’ Joel Embiid unplugged at @TheAthletic: “I’ll be the bad guy. I like being the a–hole anyway. I like being the underdog.”
Embiid on MVP race, focus on “winning, winning, winning”, James Harden as “best playmaker in the world”, more: https://t.co/RWziQfSh8z
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 27, 2023
It would just be a shame if it cost him the MVP.