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Forget MVP, Joel Embiid is having an all-time great season

Fresh off winning MVP last season, Joel Embiid has leveled up again this year.

San Antonio Spurs v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

I am not here to pick an MVP debate halfway through the 2023-24 NBA season. For all I care, it can go to Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luka Doncic or any number of other deserving candidates. (Except for Jayson Tatum because, well, you know.)

Embiid’s MVP case will largely come down to whether he plays the required 65 games this season. Having already missed 10, he can only miss seven more before he becomes ineligible to win MVP or Defensive Player and the Year or make an All-NBA team. If he sustains his current production and meets that 65-game cutoff, he’ll have as good of a shot at the award as anyone.

Because what he’s doing this season is transcending anyone else. It’s an all-time great year.

After Embiid’s career-best 70-point, 18-rebound, five-assist eruption against Victor Wembanyama and the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night, he’s leading the league in scoring for the third straight season with 36.1 points per game (?!?!) on 53.9 percent shooting. He’s adding 11.6 rebounds, a career-high 5.9 assists, 1.9 blocks, 1.2 steals and 1.2 three-pointers in only 34.3 minutes per game—0.3 fewer than in his MVP year last season.

Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, James Harden, Rick Barry and Kobe Bryant are the only five players who’ve averaged at least 35 points per game across an entire season. Of the 12 individual 35-point-per-game seasons, Embiid’s true shooting percentage of 65.1 leads the field by a mile.

Not only is Embiid dominating around the basket and at the free-throw line (where he’s shooting a career-high 88.7 percent on 12.2 attempts per game), but he’s cooking from the mid-range more than ever before. He’s shooting 50.3 percent from 10-16 feet and a career-high 53.7 percent from 16 feet to the three-point line. In Jordan’s 1996-97 season—a year in which he won MVP and his Bulls won their second of three straight NBA titles—he shot 52.1 percent from that range.

Embiid is doing work on the glass, too. Fueled by 2.7 offensive rebounds per game—a marked uptick from his output under Doc Rivers—he recently reeled off a 16-game streak with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds. In doing so, he became only the third player in NBA history with such a streak, joining only Chamberlain and Kareem-Abdul Jabbar.

Embiid ran the 30-point double-double streak to 17 with his 41-point, 10-assist, seven-rebound outing against Nikola Jokic and the reigning NBA champion Denver Nuggets last week. It ended with a 36-point, seven-rebound night in only 31 minutes against the Orlando Magic this past Friday. But don’t worry—he’s in the midst of a 21-game streak with 30 or more points, which moved past Chamberlain for the fifth-longest in NBA history on Monday.

As former Sixer JJ Redick noted on The Old Man & The Three, Embiid would be only the second player in NBA history to average at least 35 points, 10 rebounds and five assists over an entire season, joining Chamberlain in 1963-64. Chamberlain averaged 46.1 minutes per game that season, yet Embiid’s points and assists this season are right in line with his. Just imagine what Embiid might be averaging if he hadn’t sit out so many fourth quarters this season.

“The production and efficiency that Joel Embiid is having right now is all-time,” Redick said. That isn’t hyperbole, either.

Which brings us to Monday.

Wembanyama, the once-in-a-generation prospect, was coming to Philadelphia for the first time. He ended up having a monstrous game of his own—33 points on 10-of-19 shooting, 7 rebounds, two assists and two blocks in 28 minutes—but neither he nor any other Spur stood a chance of stopping Embiid on Monday.

Embiid had his full bag of tricks on display against the Spurs. He repeatedly bullied his way to the basket and drew contact, and when he didn’t, his mid-range jumper was pure more often than not. He also dominated with nine offensive rebounds, nearly matching the Spurs’ entire team total (13).

Highlights included a wraparound pass to Kelly Oubre Jr. for an and-one opportunity:

There was also whatever the hell you would call this—lose the ball, throw it up against the glass through triple-coverage and somehow make it anyway?

With this game, Embiid became only the second player in NBA history with 65 points, 15 rebounds and five assists in a game, joining Jordan in March 1990. No player had ever had a 70-15-5 game before Embiid on Monday. The 70 points were a franchise record, too, which is notable for a team that counts Chamberlain, Allen Iverson and Charles Barkley among its former players.

To Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich’s credit, he foreshadowed this type of performance from Embiid during his pregame press conference.

It rendered Tyrese Maxey almost speechless.

“What he’s doing right now is extremely special, and I’m just so grateful to be a part of it,” he told reporters postgame.

Regardless of how the rest of the season unfolds—particularly the MVP race—let us all hope that those outside the Philadelphia region take a break from whining about Embiid’s free throws to appreciate the greatness that’s unfolding before our eyes. Jokic is a fellow all-time great big man, but we’re no longer comparing Embiid to his contemporaries this season. His production rises above that level for the time being.

Embiid is having a historic season, and we should all appreciate that for however long it lasts.

Unless otherwise noted, all stats via NBA.com, PBPStats, Cleaning the Glass or Basketball Reference. All salary information via Spotrac or RealGM.

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