Don’t count MVPs before they hatch. Nikola Jokić’s third straight MVP seemed inevitable in the first three quarters of the season. Jokić’s triple-double averages, improved attacking efficiency, advanced stats and Denver’s No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, all seemed to tip the scales towards Jokić walking away with the prize.
Trench warfare in the 2023 MVP speech has reached critical mass in recent weeks. Bleacher Report analyst Andy Bailey nearly quit Twitter due to backlash from Philadelphia fans. Kendrick Perkins looking for straws with his constant bashing of Jokić has sparked a war against First take with JJ Reddick taking the MVP conversation to phantom pepper levels on the Scoville scale.
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However, on Friday, NBA.com’s MVP scale predicted a change in the atmosphere by naming Joel Embiid as the new favorite. Historical precedent dictates that voters are not far behind. This latest development in the race harkens back to a year ago, when Jokić edged Embiid in one of ESPN’s final MVP straw polls on March 29 after leading the vote in FEBRUARY. Inexplicably, Embiid also had dominated Jokic in the month and a half between straw polls, which added to the resentment of Embiid supporters who believed that Jokić’s first two MVPs had been stolen.
“What else do I have to do to win, and for me…at this point, it’s like, it’s nonsense,” Embiid wondered aloud last year. after leading the league in scoring.
But this time, what Embiid did in the first 70 games of the season – and especially in the last 30 days – worked. Turns out, Embiid just had to top the reigning MVP by a single metric. Although MVP voting is not an exact science, player efficiency rankings have always been considered the most reliable benchmark.
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For most of the season, Jokić’s MVP argument hinged on the Nuggets’ record and the wealth of analysis leaning in his favor. He still leads in true shot percentage, VORP, box plus/minus, defensive plus/minus, win shares, and offense plus/minus, but take those with a grain of salt. Any defensive moves that have Jokić ahead of Embiid or the pitch with such a big margin are untrustworthy. PER is king though.
How to win an NBA MVP
Here are the last 10 PER leaders and where they ended up in the final MVP voting table at the end of their respective seasons.
- 2022: Nikola Jokic (1st)
- 2021: Nikola Jokic (1st)
- 2020: Giannis Antetokounmpo (1st)
- 2019: Giannis Antetokounmpo (1st)
- 2018: James Harden (1st)
- 2017: Russell Westbrook (1st)
- 2016: Steph Curry (1st)
- 2015: Steph Curry (1st)
- 2014: Kevin Durant (1st)
- 2013: LeBron James (1st)
The MVP trophy should have been named after basketball academic John Hollinger, who developed the all-in-one PER formula, instead of Michael Jordan, as the metric now equates to a basketball-burning bush. ball. So it’s no surprise that Embiid just passed Jokić’s insurmountable PER lead.
How has Embiid caught up over the past month? By kicking his game up a notch as Jokić and the Nuggets spat.
Since March 8, the Nuggets have ranked dead last in defensive efficiency and Jokić has been powerless to end their five losses in the last six games. Since December 1, the 76ers amassed the NBA’s best record while competing in a tougher division. Embiid was downright out of control in March averaging 36.1 points on 62.7 percent shooting from the field, 8.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per contest. Jokić’s numbers were his daily 25/12.8/9.1, but Embiid changed plays at both ends of the field.
Philadelphia’s eight-game winning streak, which began with Embiid outperforming Antetokounmpo in critical time and draining a game-sealing triple on Bucks soil, helped alter the narrative of this run. Or it could have been Embiid’s obliteration of Ja Morant on the edge in a hard-fought 110-105 win over the Grizzlies on Feb. 23. After Philadelphia’s 141-121 win over the Pacers, Embiid got the approval by Rick Carlisle. The eyeball test, the stars and the stats line up for Embiid. Buckle up, these last 12 games are going to be a rollercoaster.
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