With 15 games remaining in the NBA’s regular season, Joel Embiid has pulled closer to Nikola Jokic for the distinction of odds on favorite for NBA MVP, over on DraftKings.
At 45-22, the Sixers hold steady in third place in the Eastern Conference, ahead of a major showdown with the 44-27 Cleveland Cavaliers tonight. Meanwhile, Nikola Jokic’s Denver Nuggets have lost four games in a row.
Now the Western Conference isn’t nearly as tough as the East is right now, so Michael Malone’s group still has a four-game cushion. Any voter searching for a “which player earned his team the higher seed” can still vote Joker for MVP on that grounds. But remember, Jokic won MVP last season despite his team finishing as just a sixth seed. And the Sixers now have the third-best record in the entire NBA, due to possessing the tie breaker vs. Denver.
Per ESPN.Com, the league wide standings:
And maybe that has something to do with this development per oddsmakers, the latest odds on DraftKings:
Update, since this went up at 1:00 P.M. EST on the 15th, the odds have changed again:
So the implied odds here give the super-maxed, horse-farming, Sombor-raised, Serbian sensation about a 53 percent shot to win his third consecutive MVP title. And Embiid now has roughly a 38 percent chance, after we account for juice.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has won two of them, is given roughly a 15 percent chance. I think Giannis’ true odds may even be better than this.
Updated implied odds:
Jokic: 47.5 percent
Embiid: 38 percent
Giannis: 20 percent
Embiid’s chances leaped up to +130, then actually decreased, to +150 over the hour, as oddsmakers likely saw a wave of bets come in on The Greek Freak, making a late push.
We’ve been here before.
It was just over two years and 10 days ago today when Joel “The Process” Embiid had apparently pulled even with LeBron James in the race for 2020-2021 NBA MVP. Having a career year with his team in first place in the Eastern Conference, Embiid was on an absolute tear before he landed awkwardly in Washington and injured his knee. That fall cost him enough games to tip the scales in favor of Nikola Jokic, who won MVP that season.
And right around February 2022 just under one year and one month ago, Embiid was again in a dead heat for MVP, earning a narrow 45-43 lead over Joker in the ESPN MVP in straw poll.
Kevin Durant was even giving Embiid his stamp of approval, one month after that poll came out:
"Joel Embiid, DeMar DeRozan, Ja Morant for me, those are my top three [for MVP] and I'll probably go Joel. Jokic, you can throw throw Jokic in there. But I'll probably go Joel."— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) March 19, 2022
-Sounds like Kevin Durant gives his vote for MVP to Joel Embiid. pic.twitter.com/755IgFVoMG
This year, LeBron James selecting Embiid first overall in the All-Star game gave us similar vibes, that the game’s best have a certain appreciation for Embiid’s overall skill-set. Maybe even more so than Jokic’s.
Nikola Jokic drafted himself so he wouldn't be the last pick in the All-Star Draft pic.twitter.com/6WKWkWkGli— BasketNews (@BasketNews_com) February 20, 2023
This season, Embiid has come a long way per the betting odds. He wasn’t even close to the top of the list even as late as holiday season, which is pretty crazy. Dude wasn’t even among the top four vote getters for All-Star in his own Conference.
Embiid leading the league in scoring and anchoring the league's 2nd rated defense has had a tough time cracking the top 10 in MVP Ladders.— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) December 29, 2022
And one gets the feeling now, the MVP race is going to come down to some upcoming head to heads. And that idea gives me backup big PTSD.
One year ago, the MVP race hung in the balance when the Sixers lost several marquis head-to-heads.
Embiid won the personal battle between himself and Nikola Jokic back on March 14, 2022. The Sixers’ starters were dominant, a plus 18. But Denver as a team got a crucial 114-110 road win, leaving Sixers fans wondering why Philadelphia felt the need to keep forcing dreaded DeAndre Jordan lineups; one of those was a team low -7 in a pivotal stretch.
Still, somehow, by sheer force of will, Embid retook the top MVP spot on the KIA ladder by March 25, heading into a grand showdown hosting Giannis and the Milwaukee Bucks. There were one-seed and MVP implications all over the place. Philadelphia was favored heading into the night. You could taste it. And they had an absolute cake schedule remaining after that, enough to help them target a top two or three seed.
Fans could feel the redemption narrative, having endured so much anti-Process slander over the years.
Joel Embiid fought hard on both ends, and helped the Sixers win the minutes he was on the floor, as per usual.
But a key stretch where the team asked Paul Millsap of all people, to defend Giannis... Giannis would score 14 consecutive points for the Bucks, contributing to Milwaukee’s high-profile road victory. One especially overmatched Millsap “anchored” lineup was a -9 in just four minutes of action. Milwaukee won the game by two points.
According to https://t.co/ElSYPqQVMN’s matchup data from last night, Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 15 points when Paul Millsap was his primary defender.— Austin Krell (@NBAKrell) March 30, 2022
Millsap registered just under 2 minutes as Giannis’ primary defender.
Embiid was frustrated after the game, and for very good reason. “I was on the bench the whole time,” Embiid said after the 118-116 loss. “When I was on the floor, you know, really made sure that I was always there to help. I thought we didn’t follow up that strategy, we didn’t build a wall, and you had a lot of free lane to just attack and get whatever [Giannis] wanted. And that changed the game. Maybe next time just match up the minutes,” Embiid suggested.
Joel sat down with 2:22 left in the third, the Sixers up 10 and reentered with 9:22 to go in the third. By then their lead had dwindled to two.
And wouldn’t you know it, two days after that crushing home loss, Jokic had leap-frogged Embiid again for the No. 1 spot atop the KIA MVP ladder. It’s silly but these big games really do tend to influence fence-sitting voters. And many of these voters have recently admitted they’re currently undecided in this race; names like ESPN’s Zach Lowe and The Ringer’s Bill Simmons come to mind, although Simmons said he’s now leaning for Joel.
In 2022, the Sixers finished as the East’s fourth seed, despite totaling the same number of wins as the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Had they won those two nationally televised games (simply playing Paul Reed when Joel sat, might have done the trick both times) vs. Jokic and Giannis, games where Embiid slayed when on the floor, Joel might well have maintained his perceived lead among voters. I’m pretty comfortable saying he would have, given how much the discourse and standings swung with the L’s.
And you wonder why Sixer fans spend so much time talking about names like Greg Monroe, Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan and Montrezl Harrell?
It’s going to be harder this time. It’s not a pair of big home games they may need to win but a whole bunch of road games. So for Joel Embiid to win his first ever MVP, he’s going to have to continue dominating. But he’s also going to need plenty of help. He’s going to need James Harden to continue to play at an All-NBA level, he’s going to need Tyrese Maxey to keep cooking, and other teammates to continue knocking down shots. And yes, he’s going to need his head coach Doc Rivers to avoid some of the devastating rotation tendencies he’s fallen into in the past.
So far things look good. But holy moly, look at this looming schedule....
The Sixers have road games in:
- Golden State
- Phoenix (on the second night of a back-to-back no less)
- and Milwaukee
At home they still have Dallas, Toronto, Boston, and Miami.
They have two back-to-backs left. Embiid isn’t going to be able to do this alone. He’s going to need a lot of help. Like a lot. But the MVP is absolutely within reach. Everyone needs to pull their weight.