In the 2018-19 season, Philadelphia 76ers superstar big man Joel Embiid had unquestionably his best campaign to date. The 7-footer averaged 27.5 points (on 48.4 percent shooting), 13.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 0.7 steals, and 1.9 blocks, while also draining 1.2 three-pointers per contest on a 30.0-percent clip. Those are literally across-the-board career-high marks for the 25-year-old, and these were more than enough to propel him into the NBA MVP conversation following an outstanding season.
Nevertheless, Embiid was never really a strong contender for the Most Valuable Player award. By the end of the season, he finished sixth overall in the final voting, but ended up way behind, trailing eventual MVP winner Giannis Antetokounmpo by no less than a staggering 892 points in the final tally.
Entering the 2019-20 season, however, we believe that this coming campaign has the makings of an even better outing for Embiid in more ways than one. This might finally be the year that the former third overall pick takes his team to new heights, and in the process, force himself into the MVP conversation yet again by the end of the season.
Perhaps the biggest factor that will provide Embiid (and the Sixers, of course) with a much needed boost in the coming year would be the offseason arrival of Al Horford as an unrestricted free agent. For one, the former Boston Celtics big man will now serve as the team’s defensive anchor, thereby allowing Embiid to focus more on the offensive end. As a result, JoJo might get a shot at upping his scoring total, and perhaps even his efficiency from the floor.
More importantly, Horford’s presence should provide Sixers head coach Brett Brown with more options up front. This should result in a decreased workload for Embiid, which leads us to our second point.
Health is Wealth
Last season, Embiid averaged 33.7 minutes per contest. If he is able to hover around the 30-minute mark, then surely, this will have a long-term effect on his health. The Cameroon international is not exactly the most durable of players in the NBA today, so shaving off a few minutes from his playing time should decrease the probability of injury and/or fatigue.
Many believe that 70 games played in the regular is the magic number Embiid needs to hit in order to up his chances in the MVP race (he played 64 and 63 games in the past two seasons), and with Horford in the picture, this is looking very feasible for Embiid and the 76ers.
Traffic Out West, Easy Peasy in the East
Another factor that should affect Embiid’s NBA MVP credentials is all the congestion in the Western Conference. A crazy offseason has resulted in more than a few serious contenders for the top spot in the West come playoffs time, which should lead us to believe that there won’t be an overly dominant side in the West.
On the other hand, the Eastern Conference opened up even more for the Sixers, and with Kawhi Leonard gone and the Milwaukee Bucks losing Malcolm Brogdon (we believe that this will have a much more significant effect on the Bucks than most might presume), Philly could definitely dominate the East. A 60-win season for the Sixers might be in the books, and as we all know, having the best record in the league goes a very long way in terms of one’s odds at securing the MVP title.
Still the Main Man
Regardless of whichever way you look at the current Sixers side, there is no doubt that this is still Joel Embiid’s team. Ben Simmons would be a close second, but as it stands, he is still the Robin to Embiid’s Batman.
The potential success of Philadelphia will still mainly revolve around Embiid, and so long as he is able to stay healthy, then he will be the man who will be tasked to lead the 76ers in what should be a very promising year ahead. Credit will be given where it is due, but at the end of the day (or the season), it will be clear that Embiid still remains to be the most valuable member of the team.
Although we might not want to admit it solely for the purpose of a supposed completely unbiased voting system, it is hard to deny that a good narrative plays an important role in any candidate’s NBA MVP hopes. Embiid definitely fits the mold.
Aside from the fact that Joel’s likability extends far beyond his own city’s fans, what Embiid has is a very endearing story. An African teenager who barely knew anything about basketball leaves everything behind to pursue an American dream, overcomes all the adversities of major injuries that cast a lot of doubt on his potential moving forward, to become one of the best players in the league, while in the process leading his team to a deep playoffs run. How do you beat that?
To be clear, though, we just need to get this out there: Giannis is still the favorite to bag back-to-back MVP wins. A man named Stephen Curry is also primed for a breakout season following all that has happened with his Golden State Warriors this summer. Nevertheless, what we can say with confidence is that this might just be the year that Embiid finally becomes a serious (Top 3?) contender for the NBA MVP crown, and that he might just have an outside shot at bringing home the trophy come June next year.