Joel Embiid is in the driver’s seat of the MVP race heading into the final stretch of the season and a Tuesday night matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks (46-28) and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
We have never seen a basketball player like Joel Embiid. Like it or not, it’s just a fact.
— SLAM (@SLAMonline) March 24, 2022
After a dramatic offseason and even messier divorce surrounding Ben Simmons, Embiid has emerged as the leader of a 76ers squad that has relied heavily on 29.9 points and 11.4 rebounds per game production. At 46-28, the Sixers are in second place and just one game behind the Eastern Conference-leading Miami Heat (48-28). Since the 76ers added James Harden via trade, Embiid has averaged 31.0 points and 12.4 rebounds per game.
“Last year, I got hurt. That was the knock on me with not being healthy,” Embiid said. “This year, I’ve gone to a different level. I’m healthy. I don’t know what else I have to do to be able to [win MVP]. I feel like it is my time. But I have a lot of respect for the other guys, and I think they’re great players.”
“It’s nice to be recognized as the MVP,” Embiid said. “That’s the biggest thing you can win. I would love that. But then again, I want to win a championship. The championship trumps everything.”
Embiid was just inches away from winning his first MVP award last season, getting injured late into the season, and losing the MVP to Nikola Jokic. The perceived slight and falling to the Hawks in the second round inspired, Embiid to enter the offseason hungrier and more determined than ever. Over the summer, Embiid worked on his game with vaunted NBA trainer Drew Hanlen.
Instead of worrying about what Simmons would do, the former Kansas Jayhawk just went to work and trusted the process.
“Joel paid no attention to it,” Drew Hanlen, Embiid’s trainer, told NBA.com. “Joel was more focused on how he can improve as a player and what he needed to do to make up for the talent that they lost in Ben. Why waste energy on things that don’t deserve energy? There was nothing Joel could do about it.”
Embiid was also entrusted with leading the 76ers on his own, implementing an offseason training regimen that helped include studying Kobe Bryant’s game film, Kevin Durant, Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Dirk Nowitzki to breakdown how to get buckets in various ways. Embiid also addressed his conditioning, nutrition and improved his handle and ability to pass out of double-teams.
“We’ve always talked about, ‘Can you carry a team. Can you do it, not by yourself, but can you do it without another All-Star?’” Embiid said. “I just wanted to go on and prove that. To win a championship, I can’t win alone. I need great teammates. But I just wanted to set the foundation.”
“The game has started to slow down for him. The countless hours of film, plus the countless hours of decision-making in workouts, has allowed him to really grasp what is coming next and seeing the play before it unfolds.” Hanlen added.
With eight games remaining in the regular season, Embiid ranks ahead of fellow frontrunner Jokic in points and defensive rating, while Joker has the edge in rebounding and assists. Jokic also leads the League in triple-doubles (18), but Embiid has a 50-point game and six 40-point outings, while Jokic has scored at least 40 just two times this season.