Joel Embiid is once again looking to lead the Philadelphia 76ers to a championship in the 2022-23 season. But as a side quest, he is also looking to firmly establish himself as the best center in the league, which many hoops fans would claim is Denver Nuggets superstar Nikola Jokic.

In the NBA’s annual GM survey, Embiid made several appearances. One of them was in the question about who the top center in the NBA is. He placed second to Jokic by a wide margin. The Nuggets big man got 79 percent of the votes, while Embiid got 17 percent and Giannis Antetokounmpo picked up 3 percent.

Nikola Jokic coming ahead of Joel Embiid is not surprising at all, as evidenced by MVP voting patterns over the last two years. The Serbian big man has a very strong case to be considered the best center in the league. But the two-time MVP coming in front of Embiid with such a wide margin is lunacy. Here are the key reasons why.

2. Joel Embiid’s contributions on offense are elite

Jokic’s one-of-a-kind play style has made him a one-man wrecking crew with his unblockable, high-arching shots and physical battles in the paint. Embiid’s play style is a little different but still supremely dominant, as his off-the-dribble shooting and slashing abilities make him every defense’s worst nightmare.

The Sixers star is fresh off a scoring title with 30.6 points per game, the first center to do so since Shaquille O’Neal. Embiid was undoubtedly the best scorer in the regular season last year, leading the league in points per 100 possessions (while Jokic ranked fifth) while shooting 49.9 percent from the field, 37.1 percent from deep and 81.4 percent from the free-throw line.

Jokic is, of course, no slouch as a scorer, averaging 27.1 points per game on .583/.337/.810 shooting splits. However, Embiid’s level of scoring production, even dating back to last season, has Jokic beat. His ability to attack from all over the court has put him in the echelon of some of the all-time great scorers. This should be an area of the game where Embiid is seen to have the advantage.

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Playmaking is clearly an advantage for Jokic. Embiid set a career high at 4.2 assists per game last year, but Jokic is in the conversation of the best passers in the entire league. There is another area of the game where one big man has an even bigger leg up on the other, though.

1. The debate about defense isn’t very close

Offense being the bigger priority over defense in modern basketball can partly explain why some fans prefer Jokic to Embiid. The Nuggets big man is a bucket and an otherworldly passer, whereas Embiid is just the former. However, the debate over who is better on defense is not nearly that close.

Embiid clears Jokic in this facet of the game, which is especially important for centers. Chalking Jokic up to being a poor defender isn’t totally fair, as he has showcased improvement on that end, but he’s no Joel Embiid. The Sixers big man is one of the premier paint protectors in the sport. His presence deters shooters and those who challenge him face the brutal task of shooting over him. Even on the perimeter, he has shown the ability to disrupt quicker opponents:

The level of Jokic’s defensive prowess was revealed in the playoffs when he was benched so that the Nuggets could optimize their defense for a key end-of-game possession. To his credit, he correctly predicted a play set up to get a lob, but he wasn’t chosen to be in the game to guard it. Embiid clearly serves as the anchor of the Sixers’ defense, while the playoff substitution calls that into question for Jokic.

The fact that Joel Embiid is plainly better on one side of the ball should make this debate closer than GMs think it should be. While Nikola Jokic’s unreal offensive production gives him a case to be the best center in the league, Embiid’s two-way dominance gives him a case that should stack up evenly. NBA general managers seem to disagree with that assertion. The Sixers big man has two chances to prove them wrong this season.