Final 2022 NBA MVP Watch: Then There Were Two
This season, many names have graced CommRadio’s weekly MVP watch lists. Those include, but are not limited to, Steph Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, DeMar DeRozan and Luka Doncic. But with the regular season officially wrapped up, most fans can agree that the race has been narrowed down to four names in particular.
Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Devin Booker all possess the most complete, well-rounded resumes for the MVP award this year.
It’s like splitting hairs trying to separate the bunch. A four-way MVP wouldn’t even be that outlandish to consider - that’s how phenomenal of seasons these four guys have had.
But when one really breaks it down, there are two players who had historic 2022 campaigns that stand tall above the rest.
Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers and Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets.
A year later, here we are once again. Only this time around, it’s a much closer debate.
Embiid finished as the runner-up in the MVP voting to Jokic in 2021. The pair were neck-and-neck in the race before Embiid suffered a bone bruise in his left knee, causing him to miss 10 games in mid-March and lose too much ground.
The Vegas oddsmakers currently have Jokic as the favorite (-380), but Embiid (+265) shouldn’t be ruled out. In fact, I think he should be the favorite.
Now, bear with me. These debates always tend to get messy. Mostly because nobody knows what this award actually is, the criteria for it or what ‘valuable’ actually entails.
I think I know what it means, but everyone you ask is going to have a different answer.
Is it given to the best player in the league? The most valuable? Maybe a combination of both?
For the sake of this article, let’s just put it aside for now and look at the facts.
Let’s begin with laying out the case for Jokic.
The Case For Each
The Joker had a sensational season, creating his own club by becoming the first player to score 2,000 points, grab 1,000 rebounds and dish out 500 assists in a single season.
He averaged 27.1 points and 13.8 rebounds per game, both career highs along with 7.9 assists. Jokic is also the only player to do that on excellent 58-34-81 percent shooting clips.
On top of that, Jokic led the Nuggets in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and field-goal percentage; the only player in NBA history to lead his team in all those categories. Jokic recorded the highest single-season PER (player efficiency rating) in NBA history posting a 32.8 - dethroning the late great Wilt Chamberlain. (For reference, Embiid’s PER this season isn’t too far behind at 31.2, which ranks just outside of the top-10 all time.)
I mean, these are just otherworldly numbers.
A lot of people like to talk about advanced metrics and empty stats when it comes to Jokic, however these are neither or.
For sure, many of the elaborate and seemingly unnecessary stats that people like to throw around are misleading. Jokic is a very versatile and efficient player, which happens to represent well when it comes to some of these bizarre statistics that are innately flawed.
But with that, they’re not completely useless and Jokic ranks first in many of these categories, not just a couple, including VORP, EPM, +\-, etc. That’s extremely impressive and nearly unprecedented.
It has to mean something - and it does. But the thing is, I don’t think it holds as much water as others tend to believe.
I feel like analytics and advanced metrics have ruined debates like this. It takes away the genuineness and authenticity of the eye-test and distorts performance evaluation. With every stat, it inflates some things, while devaluing others. Which is okay if they’re taken at face value, but deciding an award solely based on these stats is criminal.
Despite Jokic’s greatness this season on the stat sheets, it didn't always translate to winning basketball.
The Nuggets concluded the season as a sixth seed with a 48-34 record and struggled to make the playoffs in a weaker Western Conference. They were dangerously close to being in the play-in game, while in the tougher Eastern Conference, the Sixers went 51-31 and were in the running for the second overall seed up until the last day of the regular season.
Of the last 50 MVP’s, 49 have been seeded fourth or higher in the playoffs. The only outlier is Russell Westbrook’s 2015 season in which he averaged a triple-double and helped earn his Thunder the West’s sixth.
I watched a fair amount of Nuggets games, and Jokic makes a near-unparalleled impact. There’s also certainly no shortage of “wow” passes from the Serbian big man. The league has never seen a player his size that skilled facilitating the ball and practically running an offense.
But I’ve also never seen him takeover and be as dominant or as much of an unstoppable force as Embiid on a nightly basis.
I won’t even get started on the defensive end, either. It’s not a weakness for Jokic by any means, but Embiid still wins that category by a mile as one of his strengths.
Now, speaking of the Cameroonian, let's lay out the case for Embiid.
The Process averaged 30.6 points per game this season, along with 11.7 rebounds and a career-high 4.2 assists. Embiid became the first center to win the scoring title since Shaquille O'Neal in 2000. O'Neal never even averaged 30 - he won it with a mark of 29.7.
Embiid is the first center to average 30 points in over 40 years, and the first since Moses Malone averaged 31.1 points per game in 1981-82.
Here’s the list of centers who have ever averaged 30 points per game in a season:
Wilt Chamberlain (1959-66)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1970-73)
Bob McAdoo (1973-74)
Why am I still stuck on this?
Well, because it’s just as incredible as anything that Jokic accomplished this season. Even more so when you factor in how he got it.
Embiid was immediately double and triple-teamed on nearly every offensive possession, yet it didn't matter.
Ahead of Philadelphia and Toronto’s clash in the first round of the 2022 playoffs, guard Fred VanVleet was asked about their playoff matchup in 2019.
“I think he was a little more back to the basket then, playing like a five," VanVleet said. "Now, he’s turned into Kevin Durant, Michael Jordan, Kobe and Shaq all put together."
That’s an actual quote. From a respected NBA All-Star.
The funny thing is, he forgot Hakeem Olajuwon, Dirk Nowitzki and a handful of others.
The game doesn’t favor centers anymore when it comes to racking up points, but that’s how dominant the big fella is and was this season. Embiid’s a generational talent who has transformed his game since he entered the league, fine-tuning what made him a top NBA prospect and adding moves to his bag that we’ve never seen someone his size even attempt, let alone perfect.
What Even Is An MVP?
Now, time for the fun part of the debate.
Who’s more valuable to their team? Honestly, I’d say this one’s pretty even.
Simply put, they both carried their team in their own respective ways.
Embiid played in a career-high 68 games for the 76ers, was in the best shape of his career and came into every game focused, determined and ready to own the opposition. His ex-teammate Ben Simmons wasn’t hurt - he quit on him - yet Embiid didn’t skip a beat. He not only carried the team, but the city of Philadelphia on his back and weathered the storm.
Jokic deserves the same credit for compensating arguably bigger holes left by Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. and doing EVERYTHING for the Nuggets on offense.
In all reality, both teams would be in the lottery without their respective superstars.
Both players had sensational seasons, and both are deserving to be named league MVP. But ultimately, only one can hoist the trophy…
Jokic would be without a doubt the weakest back-to-back MVP, maybe besides Steve Nash in 2005 and 2006. To me, his season this year just doesn’t scream back-to-back worthy.
Embiid was the best basketball player on the court this year, and an unstoppable force night in and night out.
He deserves the MVP, and in due time, we’ll see how the league really feels about The Process.
Zach Donaldson is a fourth-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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