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NBA MVP: Joel Embiid or Giannis Antetokounmpo?

Natty discusses the two NBA stars’ MVP cases.

Indiana Pacers v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

There are two players who are scoring at least 30 points per game in the calendar year of 2022: Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Those two also happen to be in the MVP discussion this year, AND their respective teams are both title contenders. The Milwaukee Bucks are 36-23 (prior to Wednesday’s games) and are in third place in a top-heavy Eastern Conference, while the Philadelphia 76ers are 34-23 and in fifth place. The Bucks have a better point differential on the season, but the Sixers just traded for James Harden. The Heat and the Bulls (!) are tied for first place in the East at 37-21, so the conference is still absotively posilutely up for grabs (the Cleveland Cavaliers are in fourth, 35-23, and the Boston Celtics are sixth at 34-25. It’s anyone’s ballgame.

Since January 1st, though, only two of the teams in the East/NBA have 30+ PPG scorers, and that’s the Bucks and Sixers. Here are the Freak’s and the Process’s numbers in 2022:

EMBIID

32.8 PPG, 51 FG%, 12+ FTA, 81 FT%, 3+ 3PA, 31 3PT%, 11+ RPG, 5+ APG, 1+ BPG, 3+ TO

GIANNIS

32.2 PPG, 56 FG%, 12+ FTA, 76 FT%, 3+ 3PA, 35 3PT%, 11 RPG, 6+ APG, 1+ BPG, 3+ TO

Which one of these players is better? They seem nearly identical to me. For what it’s worth, Embiid’s Net Rating is nearly half of what it was last year, while Giannis’s is basically the same. The Freak has a better true shooting percentage this year (63 TS%), but Embiid’s at 60 TS%. This are differences without much of a distinction, though, in my opinion. Joel’s done all this without Ben Simmons, while Giannis has been without Brook Lopez (though he still has Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton). Does Giannis’s MVP case suffer because of his supporting cast? If so, won’t James Harden’s presence on Philly also negatively impact Embiid’s case?

Meanwhile, the Joker, Nikola Jokic, 25-13-8 in 2022 on 58% shooting. And, he’s been without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter, Jr. The Denver Nuggets are the sixth seed in the Western Conference at 32-25, but there’s almost no way the Nugs will catch the top three teams in the West, each of which have 40+ wins already. If Denver goes on a run and claims the fourth seed, will that propel the Joker over the Freak and the Process, especially if the Bucks or the Sixers have a better record at the end of the season than the Nuggets?

Does the fact that both Giannis and Jokic already have MVPs influence the MVP vote? Is it “Embiid’s turn,” for lack of a better phrase, especially if all three players have similar numbers and/or team records?

What about Chris Paul on the first place Suns, or DeMar DeChozan on the (tied for) first place Bulls? CP3’s put together another HOF season, and while he may not have the individual counting stats, just take a look at the scoreboard: his Suns have the best overall record in the entire NBA by five games, 47-10. The Point God is averaging 16-5-12 in 2022, by the way. Surely his team’s success and his consistent excellence should include him in the MVP discussion? And, DeMar, I mean, my God: he’s on a scoring streak with high efficiency that tied Wilt Chamberlain. DeChozan could BEAT that streak tonight against...the Kings. If the Bulls end with a top 2 record, and DeRozan keeps up this level of play (fourth in PPG in 2022, he’s averaging 29-5-5 on 53% shooting since January 1st), he MUST be included in the MVP discussion. He’s played without Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, AND Zach LaVine. Doesn’t losing three of your best guys for stretches while succeeding DESPITE that make you a valuable player?

I still think the MVP is between Giannis and Embiid, though. They’re both playing above and beyond what the other contenders are currently doing. If the season ended today, I’d give the award to Joel: he’s played with a lesser cast under difficult circumstances. But, the end-of-season scoreboard matters, and if Giannis brings the Bucks to the top of the Conference, then that could change my mind, especially since the East is so tough this year.

The second half of the NBA season is going to be MONSTROUS. Harden and Embiid in Philly! Ben Simmons with Kevin Durant (and, sometimes Kyrie Irving)! The Bulls could get healthy, the Nuggets could get Jamal Murray back, the Warriors could go on a run and propel Steph Curry back into the MVP discussion. This has been a helluva season so far, and the second half promises more of the same.

Who do YOU have for NBA MVP?