By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer
Joel Embiid has consistently been at or near the top of the MVP conversation this season. When asked to make his case Saturday at media day at All-Star Weekend, he said, "The way I've been playing speaks for itself."
Embiid certainly has a major case for why he should be atop the MVP conversation coming out of the All-Star break. He leads the league in points per game, averaging 29.6 points while shooting 49.5 percent from the field and 36.9 percent from three-point range. He also excels at drawing fouls, attempting 11.3 free throws per game. If he ends the season still leading the league in points per game, he will be the first big man to lead in that category since Shaquille O'Neal did it averaging 29.7 points per game in the 1999-00 season.
One key area he has improved at as a scorer is his ability to control the game in clutch situations. He leads the league in clutch points, averaging 5.3 points per game in the clutch. Clutch time is defined as the last five minutes of a game when a team is leading or trailing by five points or fewer. His performance in key situations late in games was a weakness in his game leading into this season, but he has vastly improved in that area.
In addition to proving he is an elite scorer, Embiid has proven to be capable of doing a variety of other things on the court. He is averaging 11.2 rebounds and a career-high 4.5 assists per game while also playing good defense, averaging 1.4 blocks and 1.0 steals per game so far this season. His improved passing ability has showed up in multiple facets of the game from helping him in transition to being able to pass out of double teams.
Embiid has worked hard to become a more versatile player, and his work is paying off in droves this season. He spoke on Thursday after the team's win over the Milwaukee Bucks about the importance of him adding more aspects to his game each season.
"At times, I know when to be a big man, but most of the time in the new NBA, they triple-team me every single possession so that’s where you gotta add something else to your game," Embiid said. "You gotta go to something else, you gotta go to something else, you gotta go to the nail and handle the ball, you see in transition to be able to score the ball and make plays for your teammates."
Embiid has definitely become a much more well-rounded player over the past couple seasons, much to the chagrin of everyone who is tasked with trying to defend him.
With all the drama that went on surrounding Ben Simmons before the trade deadline, Embiid was forced to take his game to another level. The Sixers were asking a ton from Embiid every night, as shown by his 37.7 usage percentage, the highest among any player with at least 25 games played this season. He led the Sixers to third place in the Eastern Conference with a 35-23 record heading into the All-Star break.
Embiid is having a great season, but there are some other competitors also deserving being near the top of the MVP conversation. Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets is putting together another fantastic season, averaging 26.0 points, 13.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, who won the award two out of the past three seasons, is also up there in the conversation. Some dark horse candidates are DeMar DeRozan of the Chicago Bulls and the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry.
One of the things that held Embiid back from winning the MVP award previously was a lack of durability. He is on pace to set his career high for games played in a season. His only long stretch where he was inactive this season occurred in November due to a bout with Covid-19, causing him to miss nine games. If he can continue to play at this high of a level and stay healthy throughout the rest of the season, there is no reason he should not be at the top of the MVP conversation.