Joel Embiid overtakes Nikola Jokić for 2022-23 NBA MVP race

Don’t count MVPs before they hatch. Nikola Jokić’s third straight MVP seemed inevitable through the first three quarters of the season. Jokić’s triple-double averages, improved offensive efficiency, advanced statistics, or Denver’s No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, they all tipped the scales towards Jokić with the award.

The trench warfare in the 2023 MVP discourse has reached critical mass in recent weeks. Bleacher Report analyst Andy Bailey almost quit Twitter due to the backlash Philly fans. Kendrick Perkins, grasping at straws with Jokić’s consistent hitting, sparked a war Take it first with JJ Reddick that took the MVP conversation to the spirit pepper level of the Scoville scale.

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On Friday, however, MVP ladder predicted a change in atmosphere by anointing Joel Embiid as the new leader. Historical precedent dictates that voters will not be left behind. The latest development in the race is reminiscent of a year ago, when Jokić edged out Embiid in one of ESPN’s final MVP polls on March 29 after leading the poll February. Inexplicably, so did Embiid surpassed Jokić in the month and a half between straw polls, adding to the anger of Embiid’s supporters, who believed Jokić’s first two MVPs were stolen.

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“What else do I have to do to win it, and for me… at this point it’s like, it doesn’t matterEmbiid wondered aloud last year after leading the league in scoring.

But this time, what Embiid has done through the first 70 games of the season — and especially over the past 30 days — has paid off. It turns out Embiid had to overtake the reigning MVP in just one metric. While MVP voting is not an exact science, player efficiency rankings have always been considered the most reliable measure.

For most of the season, Jokić’s MVP case hinged on the Nuggets’ record and the analytics leaning in his favor. He still leads in true shooting percentage, VORP, box plus/minus, defensive plus/minus, win shares and offensive plus/minus, but let’s talk about those. Any defensive metric that has Jokić ahead of Embiid or the field by such a wide margin is unreliable. PER is great though.

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Here are the last 10 PER leaders and where they finished in the final MVP voting table at the end of their respective seasons.

  • 2022: Nikola Jokić (1.)
  • 2021: Nikola Jokić (1.)
  • 2020: Giannis Antetokounmpo (1st)
  • 2019: Giannis Antetokounmpo (1st)
  • 2018: James Harden (1st)
  • 2017: Russell Westbrook (1st)
  • 2016: Steph Curry (1st)
  • 2015: Steph Curry (1st)
  • 2014: Kevin Durant (1st)
  • 2013: LeBron James (1st)

The MVP trophy should have been named after basketball academic John Hollinger, who developed the all-in-one PER formula, instead of Michael Jordan, because the metric now equates to a burning basketball. So it’s no surprise that Embiid just surpassed Jokić’s previously unattainable advantage in PER.

How has Embiid caught up over the past month? By taking his game up a notch as Jokić and the Nuggets floundered.

The Nuggets have ranked dead last in defensive efficiency since March 8, and Jokić has been unable to stop five losses in the last six games. Since December 1st, the 76ers have the best record in the NBA while competing in a more challenging division. Embiid was absolutely undefendable in March, shooting 36.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per contest, shooting 62.7 percent from the field. Jokić’s daily numbers were 25/12.8/9.1, but Embiid changed games on both ends of the floor.

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Philadelphia’s eight-game winning streak, which began with Embiid outscoring Antetokounmpo in crunch time and a three-pointer at home for the Bucks, did a lot to change the narrative of the contest. Or it could have been Embiid obliterating Ja Moran at the rim in a close 110-105 win over the Grizzlies on Feb. 23. Embiid following Philadelphia’s 141-121 win over the Pacers earned the approval Rick Carlisle. The eyeball test, stars and stats line up with Embiid. Buckle up, these last 12 games are going to be a rollercoaster ride.

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