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Back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic says Joel Embiid deserves to be an All-Star starter

I guess Denver Nuggets’ superstar center doesn’t hate the process... duly noted.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Joel Embiid is now second in our MVP race behind Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, according to the latest KIA NBA MVP Ladder. In Michael C. Wright’s rankings, The Phantom of The Process is on The Joker’s heels once again. Comic book fans rejoice.

But apparently that “honor” hasn’t been good enough to earn the now six-time All-Star big man a First Team All-NBA nod in 2021 or 2022. It probably won’t help him again in 2023. And even more comically, apparently second in the MVP race isn’t even good enough to buy him a starting All-Star spot as a top five player in his own Conference! We’ve hit a new low.

This must be unprecedented, no?

Even if you are from Boulder, Colorado or fancy yourself an objective fan and somehow feel Jokic is miles ahead of Embiid, that Joel is:

  • leading the NBA in points per game for the second season in a row, on pace to be the first center to win back-to-back scoring titles since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar accomplished the feat between 1970-1972, (despite myriad changes to the game benefiting perimeter players) while
  • anchoring the 7th rated defense (despite how often James Harden and Tyrese Maxey share the floor, sorry for the strays guys you know I love you), while
  • his Sixers possess the 2nd best record in the East
  • the third best winning percentage in the sport...

... yet somehow Embiid isn’t even regarded on the ballot as a top five player in his own Conference? This shouldn’t sit well with you.

The whole silly thing reminds me of that ole’ Jerry Seinfeld bit on Olympic silver medals:

“But you win that Silver, ‘congratulations, you almost won. Of all the losers you came in first, of that group. You’re the number one loser. No one lost ahead of you’....’I trained, I exercised, I worked out my entire life. I never had a date, I never had a drink, I never had a beer. I was doing push ups since I was a fetus. I flew halfway around the world, everybody in my whole life was there, the guy shot off the gun [sighs]’...[gold medal is the] greatest guy in the world, [silver medal] never heard of ‘em.”

Gettem Perk!

They really do hate the process, huh? Brian Windhorst of ESPN warned us that at least the media may not #TTP. (They certainly didn’t when the Sixers were tanking to draft a guy like Embiid, but you’d think maybe they’d have come around by now seeing what Joel has become?)

Per Windy, who always finds a way to stay ahead of the curve, earlier this month:

“Yet [Jayson] Tatum is popular. The media voters like Tatum, and have been impressed with his season to this point.”

“The media voters do not like Joel Embiid. Excuse me, sir. The media voters do not like Joel Embiid....Maybe the media needs the fans and the league to backstop them on Joel Embiid....”

And it doesn’t sound like Daryl Morey would disagree with Windhorst.

Embiid likely lost out to some guys because of the idiosyncratic guard-forward ballot designation for All-NBA back in 2021. Boston’s Jayson Tatum earned an All-NBA First Team role over Embiid in 2022. It may have helped Tatum that he was eligible there as both a guard and a forward. But for this current All-Star vote, Tatum is only eligible as a front-court player, not a guard.

How’s that poem go, The Rime of the Ancient Leprechaun? Tatum, Tatum everywhere ‘cause boy do NBA positional eligibility rules really stink?

So between him, Giannis, and Kevin Durant, those three dudes took the top front court spots, leaving the East devoid of its highest ranking MVP candidate to date, league points per game leader, and devoid of a center entirely.

And you know who is surprised? The reigning back-to-back MVP, Nikola Jokic.

Per The Athletic’s Mike Vorkunov, who has worked New York Knicks beat and now specializes in NBA national coverage and league business affairs, here’s what Joker said ahead of the pending Sixers-Nuggets Saturday showdown:

“People try to create a bad blood. There isn’t any. I respect the guy... I was kind of surprised that he didn’t get selected as All-Star. He deserve it and he showed us that he’s not just All-Star but a starter.”

Game recognize game.

Neither Donovan Mitchell nor Kyrie Irving got as many fan votes as Embiid did, but they’ll get to start over him in the East’s backcourt.

The way it probably should work would be the top five vote getters start. That would (and should) leave a starting five of Giannis-Durant-Tatum-Embiid-Irving, bumping Donovan Mitchell. If Tatum could theoretically “play two-guard” on an All-NBA team, why can’t he slide over and play some alongside Irving in an All-Star game? With Spida as sixth man?

Daryl Morey says we’re roughly 76 years behind the curve on this issue, per his recent appearance on the Anthony Gargano show:

“Instead of going to All-NBA and All-Star systems that would just put the best 5 players on the floor, they continue to hold onto antiquated notions of symbols that we put next to players. If you go around the league, there are so many players who are unique to history. You cant put them in a box with an F label, a G label, or a C label. It is so antiquated. They actively resist making this change even though it makes sense. And the league has done a good job to get us to positionless basketball. They have made rule changes and made the game it is the best it has ever been. But someone sat down in 1948 and put these position levels on people. And we are still voting on them all these years later. It is crazy to me.”

Jokic gets it (unless it’s next level, Jedi-mind-reverse-jinx-gamesmanship and Nikola is just trying to soften Joel up for a looming showdown). Morey gets it. Windy gets it. The fans who voted get it. League positional eligibility rules don’t get it. Too many members of the voting media don’t get it.

Part of the reason the game is so fun today is because its stars no longer fit into our tidy positions of yesteryear. Jokic is regarded as a center, but if you watch Denver plays, he plays plenty of point as the team’s primary initiator. Yet, the voting award system penalizes one of the NBA’s five best players year-after-year now because voters are compelled to label him a “center.”

But hopefully Embiid can get the last laugh by winning NBA Finals MVP this June. I’m sure they’ll straighten all of this stuff out... just as soon as Embiid retires.

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