NBA Awards Rankings: Jokic vs. Embiid (again), plus Tyrese Haliburton's rise

Some new developments on the MVP front, with a familiar battle waged at the top.

Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers
Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers / Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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76ers. . 2. . Center. Joel Embiid. player. 93. 2. Joel Embiid

The Sixers have lost a couple in a row after their eight-game win streak. Part of that is scheduling — a second-straight game against the Pacers on the first night of a back-to-back, followed by a matchup with the first-place Celtics the following night. Part of it is natural regression, both for Embiid and breakout star (and fringe MVP candidate?) Tyrese Maxey.

Minor setback aside, the Sixers are 8-3 despite noticeable roster flaws and the prominent departure of James Harden, who many considered a top-20 player as recently as last season. Embiid's numbers are off the chart — 31.9 points, 11.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 1.7 blocks on .504/.308/.873 splits — and he is impacting the game more broadly than ever before.

The playmaking leap is real. It's a stretch to compare Embiid to the league's great passing bigs, but he is seeing the floor more clearly than in years past. He's making quick reads out of double teams and the Sixers are cutting effectively, affording Embiid more passing outlets when the pocket collapses. He's on track for a career-high in assists without a huge spike in turnovers, which is a positive sign of growth.

There's also a defensive factor at play. Embiid is playing argubaly the best defense of his career, partially spurred by Nick Nurse's demands for more "swings" on that end of the floor. Embiid still has to maintain the longview and preserve his body, but there are few more intimidating rim protectors in the NBA. When Embiid is actively patrolling the paint and covering ground at his current level, it completely changes the approach for opposing offenses.