Whoever ends up winning the 20/21 regular-season MVP, it’ll be virtually unprecedented. But it’s in the NBA’s best interest that one guy, in particular, doesn’t become the new precedent setter.
Who has the MVP case?
If the MVP is Nikola Jokić – No.1 guy on the NBA’s latest MVP ladder – assuming the Nuggets finish the season where they currently sit, he will become the fifth player since ’81 to win the award on a team seeded lower than No. 3. 1981 is the year media started voting for MVP. In the last three decades, that only happened once; it was Russell Westbrook in ’17. So if it’s Jokić, who by the way is having an incredible season in Denver, the NBA’s unofficial voting criterion for team wins won’t be met.
The same goes for Steph Curry. The Warriors superstar is playing arguably the best basketball of his career, but the lack of Ws, for most people at least, keeps him out of serious MVP contention. If he goes on a tear, lifting Golden State from 9th to 6th or 7th seed, it’ll certainly help Curry’s case. But there’s no way he’ll be able to meet the unofficial winning threshold for the MVP.
Giannis won’t get it for the third year in a row. Chris Paul, although thriving with the Suns, leading them to the second seed in the West, isn’t putting up MVP-worthy numbers. Guys like Damian Lillard, Kawhi Leonard, and Luka Doncic, although playing great, for some reason, aren’t considered contenders.
Others, like LeBron James, James Harden, and Kevin Durant, who, winning and stats-wise, have more of a traditional case for the MVP, have simply missed too many games and are out of the race for the award. And then there’s Joel Embiid.
The Sixers superstar is putting up incredible individual numbers – 30.1 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists on .515/.385/.851 shooting. Those numbers are translating into wins – Philadelphia has the best record in the East. But he’s missed 18 games. Still, the NBA’s latest MVP ladder put Embiid second, above all the guys aforementioned, except Jokić.
When healthy, the Sixers’ big has played like the best player on the planet. That’s why his name should be mentioned in the race for the MVP. But he must not take home the award. Whoever ends up winning the 20/21 regular-season MVP, as we’ve seen, it’ll be virtually unprecedented in one way or another. But in no way should the voters compromise the unofficial criterion in favor of Embiid. Here’s why.
…that must not prove the rule
Not including the lockout years, Bill Walton, Bob Cousy, and Bill Russell are the only players in NBA history to win the MVP while playing fewer than 70 games. The only real precedent for a player winning the award despite missing a huge chunk of the season is Walton, who played in 58 of 82 games in 77-78. He remains the only player in NBA history to win the MVP while missing 13 or more games. Everyone else, lockout years included, has played in at least 85% of regular-season games the year they won the award.
At best, Embiid is going to play in 75% of Philadelphia’s games this year. That’s assuming he plays every single game throughout the rest of the season, which we all know is a stretch. By May 16, when the end of the 20/21 NBA season is tentatively scheduled, it’s safe to assume the Sixers superstar will have missed almost a third of the season. And despite the fact he’s missing games due to injuries and not due to load management, is it really in the NBA’s best interest for the guy who’s been out for that long to win the MVP?
The regular season is becoming more and more irrelevant to fans and to players. The only thing keeping NBA superstars engaged are the individual awards which have historical significance. Giving the MVP to Embiid, as great as he’s been, having already missed 18 games, would play into the notion that playing every game doesn’t really matter.
I get it; the guy’s been injured; it’s not like he’s load managing. But missed games are missed games. So many guys before Embiid had their MVP seasons ruined with injuries, and no one moved the goalpost for them. Doing it for Joel, especially in today’s day and age, would’ve made the availability aspect of one’s regular-season even less significant. And that’s not the best thing for the NBA — that’s for sure.