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Joel Embiid vs. Anthony Davis: a battle of MVP candidates

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Two of the game’s best bigs go at it in tonight’s Sixers/Pelicans game.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Philadelphia 76ers John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers will play host to the New Orleans Pelicans on this Thanksgiving Eve, and thankful we all should be: tonight, we get to observe two of the very best big men the game has to offer face each other head-to-head. Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis are each engaged in a take-no-prisoners bludgeoning of the NBA through the first quarter of the season. The two immensely skilled skyscrapers are reshaping the conversation about a league widely thought to be trending away from the dominant center. So much so that both Joel and AD are credibly in the conversation for the MVP award if it were distributed based on this season’s results up until today:

Top Candidates Table
Rk Player Tm W L W/L% G MP Prob%
1 Anthony Davis NOP 10 7 .588 14 37.6 21.4%
2 Giannis Antetokounmpo MIL 12 4 .750 15 33.1 20.2%
3 Damian Lillard POR 12 5 .706 17 34.6 13.5%
4 Kevin Durant GSW 12 6 .667 18 34.8 9.4%
5 Joel Embiid PHI 12 7 .632 19 34.9 9.2%
6 LeBron James LAL 9 7 .563 16 34.7 8.5%
7 Kyle Lowry TOR 14 4 .778 18 33.9 5.9%
8 Kawhi Leonard TOR 14 4 .778 13 33.4 5.6%
9 Nikola Jokic DEN 10 7 .588 17 29.8 3.8%
10 Kemba Walker CHO 8 8 .500 16 35.3 2.4%
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/21/2018.

Per Basketball-Reference: The NBA MVP Award Tracker ranks candidates based on a model built using previous voting results. This list does not represent the opinion of this site. Rather, these are the players that the voters are likely to target (maximum two players per team).

With a battle of the elite upon us, let’s take a look at how the two franchise centerpieces have fared in previous meetups and how their current campaigns compare.

Previous Games

2016-2017

In Joel’s rookie season (2016-2017), Embiid played in both games versus New Orleans (which the two teams split 1-1), but the games were during the infamously frustrating minutes restriction era. Over the two contest, Jo averaged just about 26 minutes and put up box score numbers that today we know to be well below his capabilities. As for Davis, he put up impressive traditional stats and held the game high point total in both meetings (though he shot inefficiently).

12/8/2016 (Sixers won 99-88)

Philadelphia 76ers (5-18) Table
Basic Box Score Stats
Starters MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS +/-
Joel Embiid 27:03 5 15 .333 0 5 .000 4 5 .800 3 4 7 2 3 4 3 3 14 +27

New Orleans Pelicans (7-16) Table
Basic Box Score Stats
Starters MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS +/-
Anthony Davis 40:33 8 21 .381 0 2 .000 10 12 .833 1 10 11 2 0 2 3 1 26 -10

12/20/2016 (Pelicans won 108-93)

Philadelphia 76ers (7-21) Table
Basic Box Score Stats
Starters MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS +/-
Joel Embiid 24:43 4 12 .333 0 3 .000 3 5 .600 0 6 6 1 1 1 2 5 11 -17

New Orleans Pelicans (10-20) Table
Basic Box Score Stats
Starters MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS +/-
Anthony Davis 35:13 12 30 .400 0 1 .000 7 10 .700 5 11 16 2 0 2 1 2 31 +11

2017-2018

Unfortunately, in the 2017-2018 season, Embiid was active for only the second of the two games between Philly and New Orleans, and saw just 24 minutes. However, Jo-Jo made the most of his half-a-game worth of tick. Embiid registered a double-double with 24 points (while shooting over 60%) and racked up 16 rebounds on his way to a contest-best +33 plus-minus. Conversely, Davis had a wholly uninspiring game as the Pelicans were on the wrong side of a blowout. Embiid did have a handful of solid defensive sequences guarding Davis, but for the most part, Davis just wasn’t hitting any decent-to-good looks.

2/9/2018 (Sixers won 100-82)

Philadelphia 76ers (27-25) Table
Basic Box Score Stats
Starters MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS +/-
Joel Embiid 23:53 11 18 .611 2 4 .500 0 0 3 13 16 0 2 1 3 1 24 +33

New Orleans Pelicans (28-26) Table
Basic Box Score Stats
Starters MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS +/-
Anthony Davis 27:36 6 19 .316 0 3 .000 2 3 .667 0 8 8 0 1 0 0 2 14 -29

I remember this game like it was yesterday. Davis wasn’t guarding Embiid on every single one of Jo’s 18 FGA, but Davis was assigned to Embiid quite often. Joel hit a number of jumpers in Davis’ eye — shots when AD really couldn’t do anything more than stick a hand up. But what I distinctly remember was Joel moving very well off the ball, and deceptively shaking AD a couple of times. Take the following play for example, in which Joel used a JJ Redick screen to lose Davis and get a wide open dunk:

2018-2019: An MVP Race?

NBA.com

Traditional Stats

NBA.com
  • The MVP Tracker at the top of this post favored Davis over Embiid, and the traditional stats backup that notion, with Davis topping Embiid in almost every category.

Advanced Stats

NBA.com

Scoring Type Percentages

NBA.com
  • Joel Embiid’s shot and point profile is made up of a much higher proportion of 3PT than that of Anthony Davis. As the table indicates, 23% of Joel’s FGA and 14.7% of his overall points scored are from 3PT.
  • Nearly 1 in every 10 points (9.3%) Davis scores comes on the fastbreak.
  • Davis does over half (55.8%) of his scoring damage in the paint.
  • Almost half (46.7%) of Joel’s made field goals are unassisted. Davis, on the other hand, is assisted on just under 70% of his made shots.

While Davis likely has the upperhand on Joel in any MVP conversation, both players are unquestionably producing at an elite level. Tonight’s matchup should be a treat for any fan of basketball.