When the Denvers head to Philadelphia on Saturday for a big showdown on ABC, they will be the reigning two-time NBA MVP. Nicholas Jokic leading his Nuggets against the reigning two-time MVP runner-up Joel Embiid and his 76ers in what could be considered the Battle of the MVPs.
In Year 3 of their personal rivalry for the NBA’s top regular-season prize, Jokic is currently the favorite to execute a historic hat-trick that would put Jokic on the all-time-highest run in NBA history along with the others. eight players with at least three MVPs, all easily identifiable by a single name: Jordan. lebron. Magic. Kareem. Wither. Russell. Bird. Moses.
According to Caesars Sportsbook, Jokic is -165 to win MVP. Embiid (+750) is fourth among the favourites, behind luka doncic Y jayson tatum. If we do the math, these odds suggest that Jokic is 10 times more likely to win this MVP than Embiid.
Aside from what a player does on the court, MVP races are often resolved based on the dominant narrative. Going into this season, it was thought Jokic would fight a formidable counter-narrative that he “shouldn’t” be able to join the “one-name three-time MVP club” before he and the Nuggets have won at least one NBA title. title.
However, after continuing to play at the MVP level for more than half the season and, more importantly, leading the Nuggets to the best record and first seed in the Western Conference, Jokic has received a boost contrary to the narrative. The prevailing new sentiment that has made him the favorite to win centers on the idea that if he can play at that level Y To get his team to the top of the heap, no outdated way of thinking about the need for a ring should disqualify Jokic from winning again.
That counter-counter-narrative depends, again, heavily on Jokic’s position as the candidate with the best clear mix of video game production and team success. luka doncic He is considered to have Jokic-level production, but the Mavericks don’t have team success. The Celtics have team success, but the perception is that jayson tatum He doesn’t have exactly the same level of production as Jokic.
Interestingly, according to ESPN’s Real Plus Minus Impact stat, Tatum has been the highest impact player in the NBA thus far by both RPM and RPM Wins, so perception may not match reality, but at this point perception rules the day.
Then there’s Embiid.
While Jokic is averaging near a triple-double with 25.1 PPG, 11.0 RPG and 9.9 APG, Embiid responds by leading the NBA in scoring as part of his 33.4 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 4.1 APG stat line. Jokic has an absurd signature game of the season thus far with a triple-double of 40 points, 27 rebounds and 10 assists. But then again, Embiid matches that with an equally memorable performance of 59 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists and 7 blocks.
And while Jokic’s Nuggets lead the Western Conference with a 34-15 record, Embiid’s 76ers have moved very quietly to the second-best record in the Eastern Conference and third-best record in the NBA at 31-16 with the streak Current longest winning streak in the NBA at six games and counting.
This doesn’t sound like a competition where one player should be 10 times more likely to win than the other, but let’s dig deeper.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve detailed how central Jokic is to the Nuggets’ offense, and also how the 76ers’ offensive attack relies on Embiid, using scouting software to cement the cases. Jokic is simply the best passing big man of his generation (perhaps all time) while also possessing one of the best and most efficient jump shots of all time, a combination that allows him to create an offense team building and spawning that makes life easier for his teammates at the best grade in the league.
Embiid, on the other hand, is one of the dominant ISO players in the NBA, and is capable of drawing so much defensive attention with his scoring ability that he opens up his team full of strong shooters and players 1v1 for easy looks and/or attack unbalanced defenses. Scouting analysis supports these statements, but they’re easily summed up by the impact data, with Jokic and Embiid ranked 1-2 among centers in offensive RPM.
But what happens on the other side of the court?
While Embiid’s 76ers have the sixth best defensive team ranking in the NBA, a fraction of a point outside the top 5, Jokic’s Nuggets are 15th in the league, right in the middle of the pack. Scouting analytics again help us break down the extent of each player’s defensive prowess. According to Second Spectrum, Embiid allows just 0.75 points per chance to opponents as a ball-handling defender on isolates, the 11th-best mark in the NBA (among players who defend at least 50 isolates). Jokic, on the other hand, allows 0.99 points per chance to rank 123rd.
Similarly, while defending the most common set in the NBA, the pick-and-roll/pop, Embiid has allowed 0.88 points per chance as a blocker defender on ball picks to rank ninth in the NBA. (among 113 players). defend at least 250 selections), while Jokic allows 0.96 points per chance to rank 48th.
In fact, as the closest defender on all shots, according to Second Spectrum, Embiid ranks 26th (out of 94 players who made at least 450 shots) in allowing 52.1% EFG, while Jokic ranks 75th. of 94 by allowing a 57.1% EFG.
It’s easy to see and show that Embiid is the better defender of the two. It should be noted that despite Embiid’s defensive advantages, Jokic still ranks slightly ahead in impact measured by RPM. These two always measure very similarly in RPM; they finished 6th and 7th in a virtual tie in Jokic’s first MVP season of 2020-21, 1st and 2nd last season, and are currently 2nd and 5th this season. though it should be noted that Jokic’s 8.3 RPM and Embiid’s 7.7 are closer together than second-place Jokic is to first-place Tatum (9.6 RPM).
But, Embiid’s defensive advantage speaks to a larger narrative point: The postseason is much more about defense and 1-on-1 mismatches than the regular season. And, Jokic’s ERA dropped in the 2020 and 2021 playoffs in series against antonio davis Y deandre aytonrespectively.
Embiid, meanwhile, has been just as individually dominant in the postseason as he has been in the regular season in recent seasons, as long as he’s been healthy.
While the MVP is a regular-season award, initial questions about whether Jokic won three in a row before earning a ring could resurface if the run comes to a close between him and Embiid for the third straight season.
And therein lies the problem. Jokic is a very useful MVP candidate this season. In fantasy basketball, he is the undisputed king, the best fantasy producer both by game and overall.
But, in the MVP race, Embiid also has a strong case that could get stronger as the season progresses. If he stays healthy and leads the 76ers to the No. 1 seed in the East, Embiid will have the statistics, the team’s success and probably his own powerful narratives.
And, going back to the future angle, I agree that Jokic should actually be favored over Embiid when they enter Saturday’s game. But there’s no way he’s 11 times more deserving of the award than Embiid right now, and if he stays healthy, I think Embiid’s case will only get better from here. I look forward to seeing the Battle of the MVPs on the court on Saturday.
In my future bets, I am currently backing the underdog as the better value than the odds-on favorite.