Should Joel Embiid win the 2021 MVP Award?
The 2021 NBA season is a shortened one due to COVID-19. As such, it’s hard to tell with a decent sample size of games who’s the Most Valuable Player in the league.
Keep in mind that the MVP Award means the most valuable player, not necessarily the best one. I think that some of the fans, players, coaches, and officials get mad for the wrong reasons about why a certain player got elected to win the MVP Award over another hooper. I think that Kobe Bryant deserved more MVP trophies before he retired, but still, if your team doesn’t have a Top 3 record in either the Western or Eastern Conference, then can you really be considered the most valued player in the Association? (I only bring that point up because of the year Kobe could’ve won MVP over Steve Nash). The debate is still out there about player contributions versus actual team wins and losses, so feel free to commit below about the subjective nature when it comes to voting for MVP winners.
Think about it like this: Is LeBron James still the most athletically gifted player in the league with the highest basketball IQ? The answer to that question is absolutely yes, and while Nikola Jokic (nih-KOH-luh YOH-kitch) and Joel Embiid (joh-EL em-BEAD) bring a lot to the table, you’d be foolish if you’d rather have those two players trying to hit the game-winning shot over LeBron.
In essence, voters for the MVP Award take normal statistics, next-level statistics, and your team’s overall win-loss record into account when electing the league’s most valuable player in the entire NBA.
So that’s what we’re going to do when doing this video. We have to take into account that Embiid’s 76ers have a very good chance at getting the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. We also have to consider that LeBron’s Lakers have taken a significant nosedive in the standings without Anthony Davis in the starting lineup and that Jokic’s Denver Nuggets are vastly underachieving in 2021.
And yes, we’ll consider who the most efficient player is versus the best overall scorer and defender. In order to keep this video from dragging on, I’m mostly going to stick to the Big 3 of MVP candidates: LBJ, Embiid, and Jokic. Stephen Curry (STEHF-in CURRY) is obviously having an incredible year for the Golden State Warriors, but unless his Player Efficiency Rating can crack the Top 5 as we get closer to the month of April, it’s going to be hard for the basketball writers to select Curry over a healthy Embiid, Jokic, and James.
First of all, let’s look at records and how each candidate’s teams are performing this season. The Lakers are by far the best team when compared to the Nuggets and 76ers. Still, a four-game losing streak without Anthony Davis on the floor kind of tells the voters, “Well, is LeBron even the most important player on his team?” This question has some merit to it, but the writers also understand that Dennis Schroder (SHREW-dur) has been banged up as well.
LeBron is a 36-year-old veteran who began his NBA career right out of high school. The voters are considering this because you have to take anything bad that LeBron does here on out with a grain of salt. The voters understand that LeBron has a lot of wear on those tires, and because of that, he cares a lot more about being healthy for the playoffs versus playoff seeding. In addition, the Lakers never planned on playing him this many minutes during the 2021 regular season, but with AD having major Achilles tendon concerns, they need LeBron to play heavy minutes. Even when he gives you lackluster defensive effort or misses key free-throws, it’s still incredible that a man less than five years away from turning 40 is averaging over 25 Points Per Game, 8 Rebounds Per Game, and 7 Assists Per Game. Also, LeBron has been playing 75+ regular season games since he was a teenager. Just something to keep in mind.
Still, his P-E-R numbers are less than desirable for the MVP trophy. And come on LeBron. He’s shooting less than 70% from the free-throw line? I get that he’s 36 years old and that charity stripe buckets aren’t exactly his thing. The voters get it, too. But without a full 82-game sample size this season, it’s hard to imagine that LeBron can get his free-throw shooting percentage to a more respectable 73-75%.
What are Jokic and Embiid shooting from free trips at the line? They’ve been phenomenal when sent to the charity stripe in 2021. They’re both over 85%, with Jokic having the slight edge over Embiid’s still impressive 86%. Jokic is currently shooting 88.5% from the free-throw line.
So if we go by free-throw shooting, LeBron gets a pass on most MVP votes. Then again, free-throw shooting isn’t his niche. What usually separates him are the analytics. But in 2021, it’s been the Jokic show when it comes to next-level statistics.
Despite his Nuggets still fighting for a No. 7 or 8 playoff seed, the Serbian born basketball player has basically been the most efficient player in 2021. He’s first in most next level statistics: Player Efficiency Rating, Box Plus/Minus, Value Over Replacement Player, etc.
But should the MVP Award go to the most efficient player or the best player on one of the best teams in the NBA? Furthermore, should the best scorer or the most efficient scorer be honored with MVP honors? To answer these questions, I looked at previous MVP winners the last five seasons and how they finished in both PPG and PER.
Giannis (YAH-niss) took home the MVP Award the last two seasons. Before him, it was James Harden during the 2017-18 season; Russell Westbrook during 2016-17; and who can forget Stephen Curry’s masterful jump shooting clinic during Golden State’s 73-win campaign in 2015-16. Plus, he led one of the greatest teams the NBA had ever seen. There was simply no way that anyone would overtake Curry that season for MVP honors.
Last season, Giannis was the most efficient player according to P-E-R. However, Harden won the scoring title. In 2018-19, it was the same thing: Giannis was the most efficient player, but “The Beard” was the scoring champion. This tells me that the voters care more about impacting the game more than just scoring. Think of it like this: They’d rather have 25 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists per night over 36 points on 30 shots and 4 assists. This is the new age of thinking, AKA the LeBron James effect. LeBron doesn’t always take over the box score in terms of points, but he always affects the game in other ways.
This is the same way Giannis makes the Bucks better by being such a menacing force in the paint. Other teams have to crowd the paint to keep the Greek Freak in line, and Giannis takes advantage of this by kicking it out to the open player. However, it would be hard to give Giannis a third straight MVP when the Bucks have been so hot and cold in 2021.
Anyway, back to PPG and PER. In 2017-18, Harden won the scoring and efficiency crown. The same thing goes for Russell Westbrook in 2016-17. Curry was the unanimous MVP in 2015-16, as evidenced by him demolishing the league in scoring and overall efficiency.
So the recent trend tells us fans that the voters prefer someone who scores a lot and is efficient. But if they have to pick scoring versus affecting the game in other ways, they’ll pick the Jokic, Embiid, or LBJ player. I’ll put Kawhi Leonard into this conversation as well, but it’s going to be hard to pick Kawhi when the Clippers haven’t dominated the 2021 regular season like many analysts thought would be the case.
But for the sake of argument, we’ll slightly consider Curry, Leonard, and Giannis for the MVP Award. Giannis is a distant sixth because it’s hard to give the MVP Award to a lackluster three-point shooter three years in a row. If Antetokounmpo’s (on-tuh-teh-KOONM-poh’s) Bucks dominated the Eastern Conference like previous years, he’d have a more solid claim to his third straight MVP hardware.
Kawhi’s problem is Paul George is just as important to LA’s success as him. PG13 has practically been a marksman from deep this season, and with Leonard shooting under 40% from 3-point land, it’s conceivable that Embiid and Jokic have realistic claims to the MVP trophy.
The other issue with Kawhi is has he been the most dominant player in the NBA? I don’t personally think so, especially since Jokic dominates the efficiency categories. Leonard isn’t the scorer this season that Bradley Beal is, and he gets more 1-on-1 defensive looks because the D also has to key on fellow All-Star teammate Paul George.
Meanwhile, Beal has been an absolute freak of nature on the offensive end this season. It’s definitely not his fault that Russell Westbrook has severely regressed during his first year in Washington, D.C. The problem is we have to rehash this point: The voters don’t like to elect NBA MVP winners if their teams are mediocre. Westbrook’s MVP season was an anomaly to the unwritten rule because he averaged a triple-double that season. Furthermore, he helped create stability for a franchise who was still in shock from Kevin Durant leaving Oklahoma City for the Golden State Warriors.
So should Beal get the benefit of the doubt for MVP since Westbrook’s PER this season is an atrocious 15.63, good enough for 93rd overall in the league? Theoretically speaking….yes. However, his efficiency numbers aren’t close to Jokic’s, so now we go back to the debate of your team’s wins-and-losses. Beal is the scoring champion, yes. But if his team isn’t winning, and Jokic is more effective at both ends of the floor, shouldn’t Jokic win MVP over him?
As for Curry, his 2021 season is actually very similar to the one where his Warriors won 73 regular-season games. He’s averaging close to 30 PPG, the same PPG that he averaged during that amazing 2015-16 season. Furthermore, his 62-point outing from earlier this year is actually the best he’s ever done on an NBA court. Still, his Win Shares this season are only 4.9. That’s good enough for Top 10 in the NBA, but it’s nowhere Jokic’s 7.9.
Anyway, back to Embiid. Surprisingly enough, Embiid’s True Shooting Percentage isn’t even in the Top 10. This is kind of concerning since centers usually dominate this category. This is because centers generally get the highest percentage of shots: dunks, alley-oops, little hook shoots...I could go on forever here. Honestly, I just don’t see a lot of categories where Embiid dominates besides scoring. He’s great at defensive rebounding, but not so much with offensive boards.
All in all, I still want Jokic to win MVP. He checks all the boxers as an all-around player. But I completely get why the voters would rather vote for the best player on one of the best teams instead of the league’s best player on an average team. Think about it like this: If Jokic is so great, why aren’t the Nuggets a Top 3 or 4 team in the Western Conference? Jokic can’t exactly be blameless here. With that in mind, I’ve seen Jamal Murray get beat off the dribble more than a couple of times, and Michael Porter Jr isn’t exactly a perfect hooper yet in his very young career.
But what do you think? Should Joel Embiid win the 2021 MVP Award? Make sure to comment below and subscribe to Sports Broadcast Solutions.