Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic graciously defends the MVP case for Joel Embiid, the Philadelphia 76ers star who unceremoniously exited the NBA Playoffs.
If Nikola Jokic secured his third consecutive NBA MVP Award this season, he would have been the fourth NBA player to do so in league history.
Jokic would have joined the company of legendary players such as Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Larry Bird. If the voting occurred directly after the Denver Nuggets swept the Los Angeles Lakers in a 4-0 Western Conference Finals series, there’s a strong chance Jokic would have joined their ranks. Instead, the award went to Joel Embiid, who led the Philadelphia 76ers to a 54-28 record and the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Embiid has faced immense criticism after an uncharacteristic showing against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, where the Celtics took the win in Game 7. Leading the series 3-2 after Game 5, the 76ers fumbled their Finals chances in the two remaining games. In Game 7, Embiid and teammate James Harden combined for 24 points, a mere half of Celtics star Jayson Tatum’s 51 points. In 38 minutes, Embiid only managed to make eight rebounds, two blocks and five of 18 field goals, missing all four three-point attempts in a 15-point finish.
Afterward, observers noted that Embiid didn’t “play like an MVP” during a critical Game 7, instead losing to the Celtics by 24 points. Although Jokic was the runner-up for the coveted award, he made it clear that the correct player was chosen for the 2022-23 season.
“I don’t know, I don’t think about MVPs anymore,” Jokic told reporters after securing the Nuggets’ first NBA Finals slot in franchise history. “I think people are just mean in saying that Embiid shouldn’t have won it. I think he should have won it. If you watch it, I think he was playing extremely tough basketball through the whole season. He was really amazing in 82 games or however many games he played.”
Nikola Jokic defends Joel Embiid MVP victory
Big men have dominated the MVP race in recent years, evidenced by Jokic and Embiid as well as the contenders in the 2022-23 campaign.
Behind Embiid and Jokic was Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who won the award in 2019 and 2020.
MVP award winners usually aren’t a predictor of NBA championship results — even Antetokounmpo didn’t win MVP and obtain a ring in the same season. Still, seeing Embiid and the 76ers flare out in the manner that they did was deflating for any basketball fan who has cheered on Embiid over the past several seasons.
“I don’t know what else I have to do to win it,” Embiid said after losing out to Jokic in 2022, saying that he felt ambivalent about winning the subjective award.
Despite his frustrations with the MVP voting system as a whole, Embiid congratulated Jokic for an “amazing season.”
“Congrats to Nikola. He deserved it,” Embiid said. “He had an amazing season. There’s no right or wrong.”
Last year, Embiid said he was focusing his energy on winning a championship instead of an individual award, so perhaps he can return next season and continue the trend that Antetokounmpo and Jokic have set forth.