Joel Embiid got jobbed again. Get used to it.
It’s going to be a two-horse race for the next five years. To win, Embiid will have to perform better than Rich Strike.
This season he was the most valuable player to his team, the most versatile center in history, and the scoring champion.
At this point, the question becomes, what’s more infuriating?
The injustice? The resentment? Or the ignorance?
On Monday, the Sixers center was robbed of the Most Valuable Player award for the second consecutive season. Reportedly, one-dimensional Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic — a PER (player efficiency rating) stud and the darling of the sort of analytics-based basketball observers who might not know a pick from a roll — won for the second consecutive season. The report came from ESPN.com.
It landed the day after Embiid led the Sixers to a second straight playoff win, playing with a broken eye socket, a torn thumb ligament, and whatever lingering effects from a concussion suffered 10 days ago.
Embiid has campaigned shamelessly for two years to win his first MVP award. He was disappointed at last year’s outcome. He will be enraged this week. Pity the Miami Heat. He will take out his frustrations on them.
The award rewards regular-season accomplishment, not playoff performance. However, which player would you rather have pursuing a title? Embiid, whose team is 6-2 in his eight playoff games, or Jokic, who, after Denver’s five-game, first-round collapse, watched Embiid from the comfort of his couch?
Embiid’s playing at about 75%, and still, he’s the difference in the series. Jokic at 75%? He’s Bill Wennington.
Jokic is a peerless offensive player. He’s a better passer and shooter than Embiid. Embiid is close — more power, better moves to the basket, better in transition. Defensively, though, the chasm is massive.
Which means, in totality, Embiid is better. He does things Jokic cannot. He’s a combination of Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Dirk Nowitzki. Jokic is Larry Bird, plus two inches and 50 pounds.
Take Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, for instance.
Switches forced Embiid into covering Heat guards twice Sunday. The first time, against former All-Star Victor Oladipo, he forced a jump ball. The second time, he forced Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro to throw the ball out of bounds. You’re not getting that sort of defense from Jokic.
That’s the injustice and the ignorance.
Here’s the resentment.
Embiid, as a rookie in 2016, appropriated the name, “The Process.” It’s catchy, but it carries baggage.
“The Process” became the tag line for the controversial, disastrous strategy enacted by Sam Hinkie in 2013. The Sixers lost for years to accrue draft picks and salary cap room, infuriating other owners and the league office. Now in its ninth year, any fruits of the process remain tainted.
That, of course, includes Embiid — the only tangible direct product of The Process.
Jokic supporters will point to the season-long absence of co-star Jamal Murray and the limited availability of Michael Porter Jr. Well, until the trade deadline Embiid played without Ben Simmons, the boycotting co-Processor, an All-Star, the best perimeter defender in the NBA, a superb rebounder, and the team’s point guard.
There’s always next year, right?
Giannis Antetokounmpo won the MVP in 2019 and 2020, and, for anyone who knows basketball, or anyone building a team, he’s far more deserving than Jokic this year, too. Further, the Greek Freak’s team won the NBA championship last season.
He’s also just 27. So is Jokic. Embiid’s 28.
The mantle will pass between the first two guys into their 30s. Embiid will look on, longingly.
Embiid’s only revenge?