All three MVP finalists were worthy of winning the award this year. Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo are three of the best players in the world and had terrific 2021-22 seasons.
But on Monday it was reported that Jokic has taken home the award for the second straight season.
Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic has been voted the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for a second consecutive season, sources tell ESPN. A formal announcement is expected this week.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) May 9, 2022
Twitter has become a hellscape full of ugly, ignorant and malicious discourse. Sadly, the debate over MVP became consumed by it. For this post, we’ll (mostly) avoid dumping on Jokic to lift Embiid up.
Offensively, both Embiid and Jokic had historic seasons.
Embiid became the first international player to win a scoring title, as well as the first center to do so since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000. He was the first center to average over 30 points a game since Moses Malone in 1981-82 — a year in which the former Sixer won the league’s MVP.
Jokic became the first player to score 2,000 points, grab 1,000 rebounds and dish out 500 assists in a single season. As far as advanced metrics go, the Serbian big man had one of the best seasons ever. The Joker’s 32.85 PER for 2021-22 was the highest mark in league history.
With all things being equal offensively, you can look at the impact each player had on their team.
The Sixers had a slightly better record (51-31) than the Nuggets (48-34) and finished as a higher seed in their respective conference, but that’s a push.
You see a lot of people arguing that Jokic should win the award because he was missing “potential” All-Star teammates Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. But that does not account for Embiid missing an actual All-Star in Ben Simmons and not having an adequate replacement until the trade deadline. Embiid’s leadership was also critical in keeping the team focused during a drama-filled situation.
The addition of James Harden surely helped, but it didn’t mitigate Embiid’s dominance. After Harden’s debut on Feb. 25, Embiid averaged 32.6 points and 12.8 rebounds on 62.64 true shooting in 22 games. And that was with Harden being fairly inconsistent. Again, that feels like a push.
A lot was made last season of Jokic playing every game. Several voters cited that as the reason for choosing Jokic over Embiid for MVP. This season, Embiid played a career-high 68 games — which would’ve been more if not for a rough bout with COVID. Jokic played in 74. Again, a push.
The separator here should be on the defensive end. Give Jokic a ton of credit — he’s vastly improved on that end of the floor since he entered the league.
But the disparity between Jokic and Embiid defensively is evident.
Plays like this make the argument over any type of advanced metric, respectfully.
Embiid locking up Oladipo pic.twitter.com/3WdelD9sPw— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) May 9, 2022
This play — and another against Victor Oladipo and one against Tyler Herro — occurred in the postseason, but these are plays Embiid routinely makes during the regular season.
Again, not to pile on Jokic, but in a do-or-die situation in Game 4 against the Warriors, Michael Malone chose to pull Jokic off the floor. Golden State went small, but could you imagine any scenario in which Rivers would pull Embiid off the floor on any defensive possession, let alone one with the season on the line?
For some reason a three-time second team All-Defense pick and a previous finalist for Defensive Player of the Year has now seen his defense become underrated.
“Just his presence, obviously,” Doc Rivers said after Embiid’s return to the lineup last week. “To start the game, his energy, his rebounding, his ability at the basket. I’ve said it all year — you could see his timing was off a little bit, but his presence defensively, I don’t think he gets enough credit for how good of a defensive player he is and how much he helps us. And I thought tonight, it was a lot of that.”
The word “snub” is too strong given that Jokic is a fantastic player that had a stellar season.
But very disappointing seems like an apt phrase.
In any case, you should probably get your popcorn ready for when Embiid takes the floor in Miami for Game 5 Thursday.