We spent most of last year discussing which center should win MVP - Joel Embiid or Nikola Jokić. The conversation is repeating itself in '21/'22, and Shaquille O’Neal has no doubt who should get it.
Shaq picks Embiid over Jokic
Former league MVP O’Neal shared his pick between Embiid and Jokic. He chose the Philadelphia 76ers star over The Joker.
"I always thought the MVP was a singular award, which means you are the baddest guy in the league, and the baddest guy in the league right now is Joel Embiid."
Shaquille O'Neil, Inside the NBA
Other experts have described Joel Embiid as a throwback to Hakeem Olajuwon because of his performances this season. However, claiming Jojo is baddest guy in the league is debatable. The Denver Nuggets star may have been perceived as “soft” because that’s often the bias against European players, but Jokic is by no means soft. Just ask Markieff Morris.
Comparing Jokic and Embiid this season
Centers being in the focus of MVP talks is a throwback to Shaq's day of dominance in the league, so he probably felt the need to voice his vote. While pointing out he doesn't know what MVP means because everyone has their own definition, Shaq said his criteria is who's the "baddest" man in the league - without explaining what "baddest" means. So let's go with what we know and can check, the numbers.
Embiid is averaging a career-high 29 points,10.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1 steal, and 1.4 blocks per game. The Sixers are 6th in the East with a 28-19 record. His fine performances force others to forget about Ben Simmons now that he became dispensable to the team.
Meanwhile, Nikola Jokic is also doing some heavy lifting for Denver in the absence of Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr. Nikola is averaging 26.2 points, 13.9 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.4 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game. The Nuggets are also in 6th place in the West with a 26-21 record.
Jojo’s PER is at 31.7 while Jokic’s is at 33.1. Without Embiid, the Sixers are 3-8 this season. When Jokic is out, the Nuggets are 1-4 this season. Both prove their importance to their respective teams. But how do we know who has the advantage between the two?
Nikola enjoys a slightly better supporting cast with five to six Nuggets players capable of scoring double digits each night. Philadelphia, as well as Embiid, don't have the same luxury. Both guys deserve to win the MVP -- the same as last year -- but given that Jokic won last year, that probably gives Embiid the edge this year if their performances stay as they were up to this point.
And we agree with Shaq - it shouldn't be someone else just because their team has more regular-season wins. Context matters, and considering the Ben Simmons situation and the supporting cast in Philadelphia, Embiid is the most valuable player in the NBA.