The 2022 MVP race is shaping up to be one of the closest in recent memory, with star centers Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic leading the way. Everyone seems to have their own choice in mind for who should take home this year’s hardware, including NBA legend Julius Erving.
Dr. J knows what it takes to earn the title of “Most Valuable Player”, winning three ABA MVPs along as well as an NBA one in 1981. But 41 years after securing his prestigious award, the former Philadelphia 76ers star gave an MVP opinion that many Sixers fans will find rather unpopular.
Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic are the MVP frontrunners
There is no shortage of candidates for Erving and others to select from when assessing this year’s MVP debate. Giannis Antetokounmpo has been exceptional once again, as the two-time MVP aims to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to a repeat. Luka Doncic has carried the Dallas Mavericks throughout their red-hot second half. And that’s not even getting to other honorable mentions like Jayson Tatum, Ja Morant, DeMar DeRozan, and LeBron James.
But for the last few months, the race has boiled down to a pair of 7-footers: Philly’s Joel Embiid and the Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic.
The 28-year-old Embiid is in the mix to take home his first scoring title in 2021-22. His 30.2 points per game place him slightly below LeBron (30.3), while he still shoots a solid 49.3% from the field and 36.8% from three. Embiid has amped up his play since the All-Star break, averaging 31.7 points and 12.6 rebounds over his last 19 contests.
Meanwhile, Jokic is making it increasingly more difficult to not hand him a second straight MVP. The 27-year-old is reaching career-highs with 26.8 points, 13.7 rebounds, and a 58.3% clip from the field. Like Embiid, he’s also been on a tear in recent days, averaging 31.4 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.1 assists since March 6.
Embiid is the more traditional MVP candidate as he aims to lead the league in scoring for the 48-30 Sixers. Meanwhile, Jokic is leading in several advanced statistics like PER and Win Shares while also averaging close to a triple-double for the 47-32 Nuggets.
Several weeks ago, Philly’s big man was the sizable favorite to take home his first MVP. But the odds have shifted near the end of the season, as the Joker’s big week has catapulted him ahead of the Process.
Julius Erving believes Jokic is a more deserving MVP than Embiid
After dominating the NBA, Erving played his entire 11-year NBA career with the 76ers, winning the MVP in 1981 and a title in 1983. So you can expect the Doc to hold the City of Brotherly Love near and dear to his heart.
Dr. J recently did an interview with Rich Eisen to talk about his beloved Sixers ahead of the playoffs. Eisen then asked the Hall of Famer who he believes should win the MVP. Unfortunately for Embiid and the Philly faithful, Erving threw his support behind the Joker (h/t: The Rich Eisen Show).
“I’m hopeful that Embiid wins it because he talks about it and it’s one of those [accomplishments] that he’s reaching for. But I think the most deserving guy is Jokic. He hasn’t missed any games and night in and night out he’s done better than he did last year. … When you get better, I don’t think you lose stages — not if it’s a fair fight.”Julius Erving
Embiid has played in 65 games, setting a career-high with four contests to go. Meanwhile, Jokic has played in 72 of Denver’s 79 contests, a total he’s reached in all seven of his NBA seasons.
Yet despite admitting that Jokic was the more deserving MVP choice, the Doc will support the Sixers star when it comes time to submit a ballot.
“I’m going to vote for Embiid because he’s my guy,” Erving added. “And Antetokounmpo, who knows how he’s going to finish up. But both Embiid and Antetokounmpo have missed several weeks of play. Jokic has been out there every night.”
If Joel Embiid loses out on MVP, it shouldn’t be because of missed games
It’s obvious that playing as many games as possible is important to Erving. It wasn’t until his final go-around in 1986-87 that he finally played fewer than 71 games in a season. So by that metric, Jokic clearly has the upper hand.
That said, Embiid shouldn’t miss out on winning his first MVP because he’s played seven fewer games than his fellow center.
The 7-foot Cameroonian has been better than ever in his sixth season on the court. He’s had to lead Philadelphia through the Ben Simmons turmoil for most of the season while later adjusting to new teammate James Harden. Yet he’s been able to offer reliable production for a Sixers team that believes it can win a title.
Not to mention, we’ve seen what Philly looks like when Embiid does miss time. The 76ers are just 5-8 when Embiid sits out, giving voters a fair idea of whether he’s “valuable” to his team’s success.
This isn’t necessarily an argument that Embiid should win the MVP over Jokic. But if the Process falls just short this year, it should be because of the greatness of his opponent rather than his own shortcomings.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.