There are many expectations for the Philadelphia 76ers this year. Adding Al Horford and trading for Josh Richardson make those expectations a little easier to reach. The totality of those expectations is obvious: an NBA Championship.
Not to sound like I’m not a team player, but what about one of the individual accomplishments — specifically, the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award? If there’s one Sixer that will enter the conversation, it’s Joel Embiid. The third-year 7-footer could be on the verge of an incredible season. (I don’t care what those measurements say. Matt Cord, Sixers PA announcer, says “7-foot-2”, and I ride for Matt Cord.)
How “valuable” could it be?
Let’s get the obvious first point out of the way, as it will likely be the one that negates his candidacy: availability.
In three seasons, Embiid has not played a full 82-game season. The big man played 31 games in his rookie season (and was robbed of the Rookie of the Year award as a result). The next year, he played 63 games, followed by 64 games last year. His health and how much he plays will be a major factor in whether he wins the Maurice Podoloff Trophy.
There is some precedent for a player winning the MVP award playing less than 82 games (obviously). The last two MVP winners – Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden – played in 72 games. The only MVP winners with fewer games played came in strike-shortened seasons (Lebron James in 2011-12 and Karl Malone in 1998-99).
Let’s say 70 is the magic number. With 72 games played, Giannis had a WS/48 of .292 with 14.4 total win shares. In Harden’s MVP year, his WS/48 was .289 (a career-best) and 15.4 total win shares. (Harden also led the league in usage rate with a truly ridiculous 36.1 percent -- which he eclipsed last year when that number was 40.5 percent. Christ, Houston. Can you give James a breather? You want him to not be gassed in the playoffs, right?)
Embiid has never come close to those WS/48 numbers, but he’s flirting with the .200 WS/48, which is why he COULD win the MVP. Will he? I would sooner bet on him to win NBA Defensive Player of the Year, because the field for 2019-20 MVP is LOADED.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis is the … excuse me while I tap into my inner Paul Heyman:
“Reigning... Defending... Undisputed… NBA MVP!”
The Greek Freak is not going anywhere anytime soon, and when you look at Milwaukee’s roster, Giannis might have to do MORE than he did last season. The Bucks best on-ball defender on the perimeter (Malcolm Brogdon) is now with the Indiana Pacers. They lost some depth and vet savvy with Pau Gasol, but they were able to keep Khris Middleton from walking away.
They added some more wing depth with Wesley Matthews – who I thought the Sixers would throw some cheap money at – but did we all witness Eric Bledsoe completely implode in the playoffs last year? If Bledsoe hasn’t called an exorcist, Milwaukee’s offense is going to struggle, and guess who will have to pick up the slack?
James Harden/Russell Westbrook, Houston Rockets
I’m putting these two together because they’ll likely take votes away from each other. To be perfectly honest, I’m still not totally sure how this backcourt works. Both of these gentlemen are high-usage ball handlers. The hope is that Westbrook has done … something … to improve on his abysmal shooting performance last season. (Westbrook shot 42.8 percent from the field last year – not from three, but THE FIELD!)
This is my yearly plea that Russell Westbrook should just stop attempting 3-pointers.
James Harden is still James Harden. He’s still ridiculous on the court. His beard is still ridiculously miraculous. The difference between this year and years past is that Harden might not have to do so much. Honestly, if I’m Daryl Morey or Mike D’Antoni, I’m not doing anything that will increase either’s workload.
The Rockets should be playing for a long playoff run from game one. There’s no need for either Harden or Westbrook to have a usage rate over 35 percent.
(Looks at remainder of Rockets roster)
Yeah, forget I said that. There’s not a whole lot on that roster. It’s a lot of the same guys (Eric Gordon, PJ Tucker, Clint Capela), but they added Ben McLemore. That’s something, right?
Lebron James/Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
Here’s another pair of solo acts I’m pairing together because they’ll take votes away from each other. If I were betting this (which I’m not), I’d be really afraid of losing money because Anthony Davis goes absolutely bonkers this season.
There’s a case to be made that Lebron might put his engine in cruise control until the playoffs, which leaves Anthony Davis to redline his engine. When Harden won his MVP in 2017-18, Lebron James was second in overall voting. Anthony Davis was third (28.1 ppg in 36.4 mpg and 75 games with a .231 WS/48).
Davis is younger and more athletic (but not by too much) than Lebron, so it would make perfect sense if the Lakers decided to run more of their offense through AD. Just because it makes sense doesn’t mean it will happen. Lebron has never taken a back seat to anyone, so why would it happen now?
Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers
Kawhi AND Paul George aren’t grouped together because unless Kawhi has a catastrophic injury that allows George’s numbers to spike, PG-13 isn’t sniffing the MVP conversation.
Leonard is what’s important in Clipper Land. We saw how important he was to Toronto all of last season and that painful, hard to remember game seven: averages of 27/7/3, a TS% of 60.6, .224 WS/48 and over nine total win shares per game. Kawhi was the catalyst of change for a Raptors team that had serious demons to exorcise after multiple disappointing playoff appearances.
Now, Kawhi Leonard is home in Los Angeles. This is what he wanted, but it comes with high expectations and, at the very least, moderate levels of pressure. He signed a three-year deal with an opt-out clause, so he and the Clippers are going to want to get back to business right away. That could mean high(ish) usage for Kawhi and numbers similar to his 2018-19 campaign.
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Listen, if I was betting this future prop, this would be my pick. Right now, those odds are +550, and there are a lot of factors that lead me to believe that Steph may win it.
First, Kevin Durant is in Brooklyn. That makes a lot of shots available, and that leads me to my next point. There will be a lot of shots to be taken, and since Klay Thompson is recovering from ACL surgery, many of those shots will go to Curry first. (I like D’Angelo Russell, but I’m not sure, yet, how he fits in this offense.) Russell is only a 35 percent career 3-point shooter, so unless he’s particularly feeling it that night, Curry gets the bulk of the shots leftover from injury (Thompson) and departure (Durant).
I know it’s been three years, but the year before Durant showed up, Curry got his first MVP with the following numbers:
- 30.1 ppg
- 5.4 rpg
- 6.7 apg
- 50/40/90 Club (50.4% FG/45.4% 3PT/90.8 FT%)
- .318 WS/48
Yeah, I feel like this is going to happen again.
Joel Embiid is going to have a really good 2019-20 campaign. He may win Defensive Player of the Year. He’ll likely win many Eastern Conference player of the month awards. An NBA Championship is very possible, but the one thing he may miss out on (this year, anyway) is the MVP. Without an absolutely insane year in production, the field may be a little too crowded.
Who’s your pick for the 2019-20 NBA MVP?
This poll is closed
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Anthony Davis/Lebron James, LA Lakers
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Russell Westbrook/James Harden, Houston Rockets
Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors