The Lakers are fighting to get out of the play-in, Steph’s in a shooting slump, and KD’s out with an MCL for 6 weeks. Looking for an MVP candidate? Joel Embiid just dropped 50 points in 27 minutes on the court, and Nikola Jokić had a 49 point triple-double in an overtime win against the Clippers. The two front runners from last year are having spectacular seasons, and it’s time everyone took them seriously.
Joel Embiid's case
From the moment the Ben Simmons saga started, all eyes were on Joel Embiid. We all know that as much as Daryl Morey has a four-year outlook on trading Simmons, the moment Embiid walks into his office and makes an ultimatum, the game is done. How long before the Sixers struggling while a max player sits at home frustrates their superstar to the point of implosion?
“I feel pretty good, and I don’t think we’ve played our best basketball yet. We still got a long way to go. We’re missing guys here and there that could really help us. There’s really no urgency to change anything. I think we got everything we need. We’re gonna keep on going and I’m happy.”
This is the perfect answer to give Morey all the leverage he needs to get the best possible deal for Simmons. But if the results on the court don’t back up the words, other GMs won’t buy it. Well, last night Joel Embiid reminded everyone why he was in the running for MVP last year - 50/14/3, 3 blocks and a steal. You may say, ‘Yeah, but it was against the Magic’ so to make sure no one says that, Embiid dropped this insane box score in 27 minutes on the court.
Tyrese Maxey asked Joel who he was going to be that night; Shaq or Dirk? Embiid responded,” I’m gonna be Joel.”
"I said me because at times whenever I want, I'm able to be Shaq. And whenever I want, I'm also able to be Dirk or Kobe or MJ, guards really. Shooting off the dribble, pull-ups or ball-handling, just a combination of everything offensively."
Joel Embiid, postgame press conference
You’d think this game would lock in Embiid as the headliner in all NBA news for the next 24 hours. But only a few hours later, his rival said, “hold my beer.”
Nikola Jokić's case
Without looking, do you know where the team missing Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. is in the standings? The Nuggets are in 6th place, and it’s all thanks to one man - the reigning MVP Nikola Jokić. For the entire season, the MVP’s been playing spectacular basketball and has been consistently overlooked in the MVP conversation.
That’s why Zach Lowe had a mini-meltdown on ESPN, ripping Kendrick Perkins and Richard Jefferson for not talking about Jokić. And why Michael (not Mike!) Malone talked about Jokić being the most disrespected reigning MVP in NBA history - his theory was centered around Nikola not being sexy enough. Well, last night, Jokić brought sexy back. 49/14/10, 3 steals, and a block to lead the Nuggets to an overtime victory against the Clippers.
Lowe’s case for Jokić was loaded with advanced analytics. To sum it up, Nikola is leading the NBA in almost every relevant advanced stat. But if you do not subscribe to the “nerd” way of thinking about basketball and are more of the old school ilk, last night’s game will win you over. Jokić did what most old heads consider the pinnacle of basketball.
Everyone knew he was getting the ball, and he still did whatever he wanted with the game on the line. From buckets to cross-court laser passes, you name it, Jokić did it.
For my peace of mind, I have to point out the Bucks are climbing the ranks in the East, only 2 games behind the no.1 spot. That’s because Giannis is averaging the quietest 31.8/10.4/7 in the last ten games - don’t sleep on his MVP odds.
But both Embiid and Jokić are doing something we need to start valuing more in the 2022 player empowerment NBA. Their teams are struggling due to absences, some planned (Simmons) and some due to injury (Murray and Porter.) Yet, both guys are leading their team without melodramatic social media posts and acting as the leaders they are. Helping their front office have the best possible conditions to make the most of a difficult situation.
LeBron deleted this tweet, which says a lot. In the era we live in, with superstar players claiming so much power, they should be held accountable for more than their own performance on the court. Jokić and Embiid aren’t just leading their teams with incredible consistency. They’re doing it without deleting any tweets.
P.S. Luka dropped 41 to lead the Mavs in a narrow win against the Raptors, and you won’t hear much about it. That’s how great Embiid and Jokić are playing, and that’s how much talent the NBA has right now.