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Joel Embiid is trying to be the best player on the floor every night — and he has been

The MVP discourse has officially gone off the rails, but Joel Embiid continues to be the best player out there every night he plays.

Portland Trail Blazers v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Man, this MVP discourse has really gotten out of hand, hasn’t it?

Nikola Jokic is a great player. He gets the proper amount of attention and respect, having won two MVPs and being the odds-on favorite to win his third straight. Take nothing away from him — and this will be the last he’s mentioned here.

But Joel Embiid is really good at basketball.

Friday night was yet another bullet point for Embiid to add to his “best player on the planet” resume. He was one of the few players that didn’t appear to have weary legs from the Sixers’ five-games-in-seven-nights road trip.

The Sixers were not good for most of their matchup against Portland, trailing by as many as 21. They were down 11 going into the fourth quarter. Anfernee Simons was scorching the Sixers’ perimeter defenders. Damian Lillard got a few guys in foul trouble. The effort was lackluster for just about the entire game.

The Sixers finally picked it up a notch on the defensive end and outscored Portland 16-5 over the game’s last five minutes. After trailing the entire night, they had a chance to win the game with 7.2 seconds left, trailing 119-118. There was zero question who would get the ball.

And little doubt from his teammates that he’d deliver.

“Something that he works on every day,” James Harden said postgame. “That’s why he’s the MVP of the league.”

Careful, James. You don’t want to make a bunch of people mad online.

“I’ve said it: I think I’m unguardable,” Embiid said. “It’s all about using that and trying to make my teammates better. With that comes a lot of double teams and triple teams every single game, so it’s about, how do I make my teammates better every day?”

It’s a shot we’ve seen Embiid make countless times. You almost lose sight of how special it is for a seven-foot, 280-pound(?) human to be this skilled and agile.

But making shots like this hasn’t always been Embiid’s forte. There are reasons why Embiid has been able to come up clutch in these situations and why the Sixers’ late-game execution has been remarkably improved this season.

The most notable reason is personnel. With all due respect to Ben Simmons, swapping in Harden in these late-game situations is not even comparable. It makes it harder for opponents to double Embiid, knowing Harden is lurking. Plus, Harden, the NBA’s leader in assists per game, is setting the table in the half-court offense better than any guard ever could for Embiid.

It’s also Harden’s basketball IQ that led to Embiid’s big shot. The play was supposed to be a dribble handoff, with the option for Embiid to give or fake it to Harden off the inbound pass. Instead, Harden saw the space Embiid had already, so he cut to the rim to pull Jerami Grant away from helping.

It’s not something every player would’ve done.

“That was such a great read,” Doc Rivers said postgame. “I’m telling you, there’s 10 people that could see that instead of 99.9 percent of the league that would’ve come anyway, brought their guy and crowded it. But (Embiid) caught it on the elbow and when James saw that, he just cut out. He won’t get credit for it other than what I’m doing, but it was a hell of a read. That was why he had space.”

But the guy that made the shot also deserves a whole lot of credit.

As we know, Embiid has evolved over the years. Despite the bemoaning of the “Embiid needs to be in the post!” crowd — which feels like the same people that want the Eagles to run the ball more, that yell “shoot!” when the Flyers are on the power play, and want the Phillies to let their pitchers throw until their arms fall off — his ability to operate from the elbow has been an indispensable evolution.

And — let’s put a trigger warning on this — Rivers gets credit for putting Embiid at the nail when he first arrived. It’s so much more difficult for defenses to send double and triple teams Embiid’s way around the elbow. Plus, it allows Embiid to see the whole floor better. It’s emboldened Embiid to become one of the best midrange shooters in the game.

As his trainer Drew Hanlen will tell you, Embiid has spent countless hours watching players like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki. When you watch that fadeaway shot, it mirrors a lot of what we saw from those players during their legendary careers.

“From my previous years, I had a couple opportunities of game-winners and stuff, and we kept trying to post,” Embiid said. “Like I said, it’s easy to double; there’s not enough space. But when you get in those positions where you’re at the nail or the top of the key, the court is wide-open — because most of the time, guys don’t want to give up threes. It’s been working out pretty well.”

Yeah, you could say that.

Embiid currently leads the NBA in scoring, averaging 33.4 points per game. He’s also enjoying one of his most efficient seasons, shooting 53.9 percent from the field (which would be a career high) and 64.8 true shooting (also would be a career high).

If all Embiid did was score a bunch of points and hit game-winners, that would be great ... but he plays a little defense too.

Lost in the clutchness of his final shot was a great block on Lillard.

These moments are almost feeling routine. Embiid also came up with huge stops on Giannis Antetokounmpo down the stretch of the Sixers’ win over the Bucks. And that block against Ja Morant with under two minutes to go a couple weeks ago might have been one of the defensive plays of the year.

This is what Joel Embiid does almost every night.

“Joel just being Joel,” Georges Niang said. “I don’t want to say I take it for granted, but what he’s doing is remarkable.”

And as for the MVP discourse ...

“After last year, I try not to get too emotionally wrapped up in it,” Niang said. “I just think I get to see one of the best centers to ever play the game — the best center right now in the game’s work and craft. I focus more on appreciating that rather than doing the whole comparison thing. I don’t even know how that voting goes. ...

“If he doesn’t win the MVP, that doesn’t mean he’s not the MVP. It’s just some people decided … that he did or didn’t win the MVP. So he’s my MVP.”

Embiid recently said he doesn’t care about the award and is trying to be the best player on the floor every night.

And he’s been doing just that, even dropping 47 and 18 on ... ah, never mind.

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