It’s not officially official, but it’s certainly looking that way.
On Friday night Joel Embiid entered an NBA slate replete with storylines from playoff seeding to lottery seeding leading the entire league in points per game with 33.1. Dallas Mavericks star Luka Dončić was in second place with 32.7.
And Sixers fans hoping for Joel to finally get the recognition he deserves from MVP voters were just keeping an eye on Luka to make sure he didn’t drop 60 points tonight against the Chicago Bulls. Embiid winning a scoring title wouldn’t hurt his chances with voters, one would imagine.
But as it turned out, Luka only played the first quarter plus a brief appearance in the second quarter.
Some of you were keeping an eye on the Brooklyn Nets. Mikal Bridges and co. had to win vs. the skeleton crew Orlando Magic to lock up their date with Philly in round one. They did just that so we now know Philadelphia’s opponent for the quarterfinals.
But over in Dallas it sounds like it was a bit of an awkward scene, as ESPN’s Tim MacMahon captured in this tweet:
Luka Doncic stayed in to start the second quarter, got a bucket, took a foul and checked out. His season is over, barring a change in plans.— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) April 8, 2023
Maybe the Mavs were trying to get him a standing ovation? That didn't happen. There was a smattering of confused clapping.
The Mavericks are making the tough (but ultimately prudent, I’d argue) decision to go belly up here and do all they can to keep their top ten protected first-round pick.
As much as some fans are worried about this organizational decision frustrating Luka, since they still had a chance to make the play-in, it seems to me that the specter of finishing outside of the play-in tournament and also forking over a first rounder to the New York Knicks would have been pretty bad if you want to keep this star happy.
And all that before we even discuss Kyrie Irving’s pending unrestricted free agency.
So it sounds as ifLuka’s season is over. The Mavs have one more game vs. the Spurs, but if they’ve come this far in their tank, they probably won’t stop now.
And so ESPN Stats and & Info clearly felt comfy calling this scoring title race around 10:30 EST.
Luka Dončić will finish the season with 32.4 points per game. Joel Embiid can't finish worse than 32.6.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 8, 2023
Embiid will become the first center to win back-to-back scoring titles since Bob McAdoo did it three straight seasons (1974-76). pic.twitter.com/90OBEcysG7
Regular LB readers will know that I have been saying Embiid would become the first center since Kareem Abdul-Jabaar to accomplish the whole back-to-back center scoring titlist thing since 1972. My mistake. I was under the impression Bob McAdoo was a power forward. Still, this is a ridiculous accomplishment for one Joel Embiid.
So many scoring titlists have been perimeter oriented players, and many of them are not rim protectors capable of anchoring a top ten defense essentially on their own. That makes Joel the rarest of rare unicorns here.
Embiid averaged 30.6 points per game a season ago. And it felt like that number might have been “inflated” because he had to shoulder so much of the load while Ben Simmons was out of the lineup. It was honestly difficult to imagine he would get this much better but he did. This season went from good midrange shooter to an amazing one and jacked it up even higher to 33.1 on a career best .655 TS% on top. He’s also matched his career high in assists per game (4.2) and set a new one for made free throws per game (10), while shooting a stellar 86 percent from the stripe.
Joel Embiid’s 33.08 points per game this season is the 23rd best scoring performance in NBA/ABA history— Sean Barnard (@Sean_Barnard1) April 8, 2023
Wilt Chamberlain (7 times)
Michael Jordan (3x)
James Harden (2x)
Rick Barry (2x)
Elgin Baylor (2x)
“His shooting touch is devastating. He is the size of Joel Embiid with the jumper of Chris Paul.” https://t.co/hGDkS7ZNsb— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) April 6, 2023
In the words of Steph Curry, who recently told Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes he would pick Joel for MVP:
“I would say Joel,” Curry told Bleacher Report. “Any person you pick, their body of work could be compared to Jokić or Giannis. But Joel took a leap that I think a lot of people didn’t expect because he was dominant already. That leap turned heads and put Philly in a great position. If I had to pick, it would be him.”
Embiid can play in the season finale against the Brooklyn Nets and score 0 points and still win. As you can see in the graphic above, he still couldn’t finish worse than 32.6 points per game. My hunch would be we do not see Joel again until the playoffs but who knows... maybe he’d like to tack on one more tune up and add to his total games played.
Some prominent media members (with MVP votes) have already congratulated JoJo on making some history.
Well, unless Luka scores 59 in the first quarter (unlikely), congrats to Joel Embiid on winning the scoring title.— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) April 8, 2023
So we’ll await final word on what happens to Luka. I suppose, technically, if Embiid didn’t suit up again and Luka dropped 80 on San Antonio he could steal this thing from Embiid. But I’m very comfortable banging the gavel on this one. Congrats Joel. Like Steph Curry said, you were already so dominant, it was nearly impossible picturing you improving as much as you did this past offseason. But you did.
Now I expect James Harden will remind you he did this three times in a row so you still have work to do, but we can think about that idea this coming summer in those unseen hours with trainer Drew Hanlen.