With respect to fellow superstars Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, and Luka Doncic, many believe the MVP race will boil down to Jokic and Embiid. The two centers have carried their clubs, the Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers, throughout the season while putting up gaudy numbers in the process.
Based on box score alone, Embiid possibly strengthened his case on Monday. But with a single shot, Jokic put himself in a great position to become the NBA’s 13th back-to-back MVP.
Nikola Jokic hit a single shot to lead the Nuggets to victory
Embiid didn’t ruin his MVP chances on Monday. The Cameroonian scored a game-high 34 points to go with nine rebounds and a pair of blocks. Meanwhile, Jokic scored only 22 points but had an impressive 13 rebounds and eight assists.
The Joker may have finished with 22, but two of those helped Denver capture the big road victory.
With 1:32 left, the Nuggets were clinging onto a minuscule 110-108 lead. Jokic caught a pass in transition just above the three-point line with Embiid directly in front of him. Without missing a beat, the Serbian star charged forward and made contact with his fellow 7-footer. As he was falling forward, he switched to his right hand and connected on an off-balance floater from about five feet out.
The big shot put Denver up 112-108 with just over 90 seconds to go. It would go on to serve as the game-winner, with the Nuggets clawing out a 114-110 victory on the road.
After the game, Embiid offered effusive praise for his fellow big man.
“He’s a great player, great competition, I love playing against the best,” Embiid said via ESPN. “He’s a monster. I love watching him. But he’s also easy to study.”
Jokic’s dagger put the period on Denver’s comeback. The Nuggets trailed by as many as 16 points before halftime and were down seven going into the fourth. The 27-year-old had nine points, seven rebounds, and four assists in the final two quarters.
Jokic beat Joel Embiid and strengthened his grasp on the MVP award
Embiid’s 34 points were nearly enough for the Sixers to earn the W. But the dub went to Jokic, who continued to show why he should be this year’s Most Valuable Player.
On advanced metrics alone, Jokic is the runaway favorite. Denver’s 2014 second-round pick is the league leader in PER, win shares, VORP, and box plus-minus. The last stat is especially telling of Jokic’s dominance, as the center’s 13.8 box plus-minus is better than Michael Jordan’s best season (13.0).
This isn’t saying Nikola Jokic is suddenly better than the GOAT. But it clearly shows that Jokic’s impact on his team is greater than nearly everyone else in league history. That includes Embiid, whose 9.5 BPM is the third-best in the sport.
But what the Joker did at the end of Monday’s contest went beyond advanced statistics. He already helped lead the Nuggets to an impressive comeback. But he punctuated it with a highly-impressive display of concentration and willpower, hitting his lone field goal of the quarter after making contact with Embiid.
His shot was bold. It was clutch. And considering who was guarding him, it was symbolic. If there was any doubt that Jokic has done enough to win MVP, it was erased with a five-foot floater that became his biggest shot of the year.
Jokic has the statistical advantage, but Embiid could benefit from voter fatigue
In a nationally-televised four-point victory, Jokic put himself in a position to win the MVP for a second consecutive year. That’s, of course, assuming the voters aren’t tired of writing his name down.
There’s a reason there have been only 12 players to win two MVPs in a row. The last was Giannis, who won in 2019 and 2020 before the Joker kept him from a three-peat. Realistically, voters are far less inclined to put the same name down multiple years in a row.
Do you think Jordan was really the most valuable player in only five of his 15 seasons? Or that LeBron stopped being the league’s best player after 2013, the year he won his most recent MVP? Unless there is no one else who’s worthy, the voters are more willing to hand the award to someone new.
That means that as good as Jokic has been, Embiid could still be the favorite. Especially when Antetokounmpo, who’s second in BPM, is already a two-time winner himself.
Monday was a great demonstration of the top two candidates going head-to-head. But after seeing Jokic’s heroics end with a win, there should be zero hesitation to write his name down again.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.