The NBA regular season is coming to an end, and it’s time to hand out some hardware. The most coveted trophy is the MVP award, which honors the best player in the league. This year, the race is tight between two dominant big men: Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Both players have led their teams to the top of the Eastern Conference standings, while putting up impressive numbers on both ends of the floor. But who deserves to win the MVP? Let’s break down their cases.
Joel Embiid: The Process pays off
Joel Embiid has been a force of nature this season, averaging 29.2 points, 10.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.4 blocks per game. He has improved his efficiency, shooting 51.3% from the field, 37.7% from three and 85.9% from the free throw line. He has also been a defensive anchor for the 76ers, who rank second in defensive rating and first in opponent points in the paint.
Embiid has been clutch in crunch time, scoring 162 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, second only to Damian Lillard. He has also been durable, playing in 49 out of 66 games so far.
Embiid’s impact on the 76ers is undeniable. They have a net rating of +11.6 when he is on the court, compared to -0.7 when he is off. They have a record of 38-11 when he plays, and 10-11 when he doesn’t. Embiid has carried the 76ers to the best record in the East at 48-22, and has them poised for a deep playoff run.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: The Greek Freak repeats?
Giannis Antetokounmpo is no stranger to the MVP conversation. He has won the award in each of the past two seasons, and he is making a strong case for a third straight trophy. He is averaging 28.4 points, 11 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks per game.
He is shooting 56.9% from the field and a career-high 30.3% from three. He is also a defensive menace, ranking third in defensive win shares and fourth in defensive rating among qualified players.
Antetokounmpo’s numbers are slightly down from his previous MVP seasons, but that’s partly because he is playing less minutes (33.1 per game) and sharing the load with his teammates more (his usage rate is down from 37.5% to 31.8%).
He has led the Bucks to the third-best record in the East at 44-25, and they have been one of the hottest teams in the league since acquiring Jrue Holiday and P.J. Tucker.
The verdict: Embiid edges out Giannis
Both Embiid and Antetokounmpo have had phenomenal seasons, and either one would be a worthy MVP winner. However, if I had to cast my vote today, I would give it to Embiid by a narrow margin.
He has been slightly more dominant on both ends of the floor than Giannis, and he has been more valuable to his team’s success than Giannis. He has also faced tougher competition in the East than Giannis, who has benefited from playing in a weaker conference.
Of course, there are other factors that could sway the MVP race in either direction, such as team performance, injuries, narrative and voter fatigue. But based on what we have seen so far this season, I think Embiid deserves to be crowned as the MVP.
Individual superlatives: My picks for other awards
Besides the MVP award, there are other honors that recognize individual excellence in different aspects of the game. Here are my picks for some of these awards:
- Rookie of the Year: LaMelo Ball (Charlotte Hornets)
- Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz)
- Sixth Man of the Year: Jordan Clarkson (Utah Jazz)
- Most Improved Player: Julius Randle (New York Knicks)
- Coach of the Year: Tom Thibodeau (New York Knicks)