Earlier this week, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic has won his second consecutive MVP award and it was formally announced on Wednesday. Looking at the voting, Jokic had a slight edge over Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid. While many expected this throughout the regular season, several NBA media personalities and players have argued that Jokic should not have won the award and Embiid should have. This is the second year in a row where Embiid finished as the MVP runner-up to Jokic. There is no denying what either big man accomplished this season, but the question everyone is asking is “did Jokic deserve to win the MVP award, or should Embiid have won?”
One argument that many have made in defense of Joel Embiid is that he is still in the playoffs, while Jokic was eliminated in the first round. This is true, but the MVP award is a regular-season award. Looking at the regular season, both Jokic and Embiid have impressive stat lines. Jokic averaged 27.1 PPG, 13.8 RPG, 7.9 APG, 0.9 BPG, and 1.5 SPG in 74 games, with every stat except his assists increasing. Embiid had another great year, averaging 30.6 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.5 BPG, and 1.1 SPG in 68 games. Jokic only missed eight games while Embiid ended up missing 14 games. Both dealt with minor injuries during the season, but neither was out for too long. In the eight games Jokic missed this season, the Nuggets had a 2-6 record. In the 14 games, Embiid missed, the team was able to put up a 6-8 record. Jokic’s absence was seen on the court in the games he was out while the Sixers were able to put up a fight when Embiid was gone.
Another argument that is typically used when making a case for an MVP is the narrative. When looking at Jokic, he did not have much help. Denver was missing their star guard in Jamal Murray for the entire season as well as Michael Porter Jr for the majority of the season as well. While the team had occasional help in Aaron Gordon and Will Barton, it was quite difficult to find a true number two option on the team. Given this, Jokic leading the team to a 48-34 record and the sixth seed in a very strong Western Conference looks quite impressive while adding to his MVP case.
On Embiid’s end, there was a significant amount of narrative playing into his MVP case as well. The biggest story for the Philadelphia 76ers in the first half of the season was the Ben Simmons drama. Sixers players like Tyrese Maxey stepped up in his place, but the Simmons drama loomed over Embiid and the team until he was traded in February. With James Harden joining the team, it can be argued that this might have had a negative effect on Embiid’s MVP case. The expectations of the team rose, but the team had some ups and downs in the second half. While having Harden join the Sixers helped the team overall, having help in another superstar took a tiny bit away from Embiid’s MVP case.
If the NBA MVP award included the post-season in addition to the regular season, there is no doubt that Joel Embiid would be the 2022 NBA MVP. It is tough to argue, but this may have been Embiid’s best chance to win an MVP award. Another season where he was at the top of his game while being one of the best big men in the league. It is almost guaranteed that Jokic will not win a third MVP in a row, but it is possible that Embiid may not perform at the same level next season. There is no telling how long he will be in his prime due to his history of injuries. In addition to his injuries, there are other stars who will be in the MVP conversation. Ja Morant, Luka Doncic, and Devin Booker are just three stars on the rise who will be in the conversation for years to come, in addition to those who are still in the conversation. When it comes down to it, Nikola Jokic may be the 2021-22 NBA MVP, but Joel Embiid equally deserves those honors.