When you think about it, it's kind of silly.
Lost in all the hoopla about whether or not Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic should win his third consecutive NBA MVP award — for any number of reasons — has been the reality that Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid may be the most deserving candidate of all.
That's not to discredit the contributions of Jokic. Nor those of Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, another worthy MVP candidate.
Sacramento Kings guard De'Aaron Fox should even garner some recognition for being a worthy nominee. His clutch play and growth from last season are significant factors in the Kings being on the verge of ending a 17-year playoff drought.
Nonetheless, Embiid must win his first NBA MVP this season.
Why Joel Embiid must win first NBA MVP over Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo
To kick off the discussion about why Embiid deserves to win MVP over the likes of players like Jokic and Antetokounmpo, a simple comparison of counting stats.
Embiid is averaging 33.3 points, 10.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.7 blocks, and 1.1 steals per game this season. He's doing all this while shooting 54.5 percent from the field, 34.1 percent from 3-point range, and 85.6 percent from the free-throw line.
The Sixers are 49-25, third in the Eastern Conference standings.
Jokic is averaging 24.9 points, 11.8 rebounds, 9.9 assists, 0.6 blocks, and 1.3 steals per game this season. The dynamic big man has done this on 63.3 percent shooting from the field, 39.0 percent shooting from 3-point range, and 82.3 percent shooting from the free-throw line.
The Nuggets are 50-24, first in the Western Conference standings.
Antetokounmpo is averaging 31.1 points, 11.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 0.8 blocks, and 0.8 steals per game this season. He's doing so while shooting 55.0 percent from the field, 28.5 percent from 3-point range, and 64.7 percent from the free-throw line.
The Bucks are 53-12, first in the Eastern Conference standings.
For good measure, let's include Fox, who's averaging 25.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 0.3 blocks, and 1.2 steals per game this season. He's been shooting 51.6 percent from the field, 33.8 percent from 3-point range, and 77.1 percent from the free-throw line.
The Kings are 45-29, third in the Western Conference standings.
Just a simple comparison of the counting stats favors Embiid, who is outscoring Jokic by 8.4 points per game. Even when factoring in the points that each player and has a clear advantage over the rest of the field as a rim-protector. This two-way impact is always displayed on-the-court but on paper, it's easily recognizable as well.
That said, though Jokic is as skilled a scorer as they come, he's been much more passive on that end because he's heavily involved as a passer. Anyone comparing the MVP cases for each player this season would be remiss not to mention the assists points created by the MVP candidates.
Jokic is leading the field with 24.6 assist points created per game, which ranks third in the NBA.
Fox averages 16.1 assist points created per game, while Antetokounmpo averages 14.8 assist points created per game and Embiid is responsible for 10.9 assist points created per game.
If one were to add their assist points created to their individual scoring averages, the number of total points they're responsible for contributing per game would be as follows:
1. Jokic – 49.5
2. Antetokounmpo – 45.9
3. Embiid – 44.2
4. Fox – 41.4
From this angle, the balanced approach of Jokic has had a greater impact on his team's offense than anyone else. That shouldn't come as a surprise, even when assuming that Jokic's assist average might give him a leg up on the competition from this angle. Because when watching Jokic, he's all at once at puppeteer and an engine, with the offensive system all but built around him.
Nonetheless, the gap between Jokic and Embiid isn't quite wide enough to ignore the defensive impact that Embiid has in comparison.
Yes, Jokic has grown over the years as a defender, and he's more aware of how to disrupt players' shots in the paint. However, despite the effort Nuggets head coach Michael Malone has put forth to paint him as a defensive anchor, there's an abundance of film that flies in the face of that.
— Bango Burner 🦌 (@BangoBurner_) March 9, 2023
Embiid certainly has his issues defensively because he's more of a traditional center on that end, much more suited to altering shots around the rim than stepping out on the perimeter and changing direction to stop lane penetration. Nonetheless, in that role, he's remained impressive.
Tim Legler explains why Joel Embiid’s defense is the reason he’s MVP over Nikola Jokic
(Via @OldManAndThree) pic.twitter.com/zjqbBm0bkd
— NBACentral (@TheNBACentral) March 22, 2023
Of course, when assessing both Giannis and Fox's case, one can argue that their defense this season has been more impressive than both Embiid and Jokic.
Giannis is much more athletic has fluid mobility, both physical factors which allow him to guard players all over the court. In terms of scoring skill, Embiid, Jokic, and Fox are all more skilled. However, in terms of overall two-way impact, he really may be as worthy an MVP as Embiid.
Fox, at 6-foot-3 rather than 7-foot-0, doesn't have the same advantages as Antetokounmpo, Embiid, or Jokic. Nonetheless, he's been an exceptional on-ball defender this season and he hasn't been targeted for being lead-footed like Embiid or Jokic. That's why ignoring him as a dark horse candidate for MVP, particularly in the midst of the Kings having a historical season, would be foolhardy.
All in all, Embiid should edge out Jokic for MVP. Bu the bigger discussion may actually be whether or not Embiid should remain in the top-3 of MVP candidates this season.