Joel Embiid scored 35 points, including 16 from the free throw line, in 33 minutes as the 76ers completed a season sweep of the rival Boston Celtics on Tuesday night.
Bulky knee brace and all, the best two-way player in the NBA this season — when he’s been able to actually play — is back.
Until he injured his knee in mid-March, the man who calls himself “The Process” was in the process of locking up the NBA’s MVP award, his betting odds dropping to under 2/1 at most PA mobile sportsbooks with nearly half the season left to play. Then came the left-knee bone bruise that looked potentially season-ending in the moment, and Embiid shot up to the third shortest odds for MVP, as high as +650.
But he returned on the fairly optimistic side of the timetable. He scored 24 points in 29 minutes on Saturday in a win over the lowly Timberwolves, was given Sunday off — the team lost to Memphis, falling to 9-9 in games without Embiid this season — and carried his usual load Tuesday while elevating the Sixers’ record in games with him to 26-7.
So here Embiid stands, having played 33 of 51 games, with 21 to go, meaning even if he plays every game from here on out — unlikely, with four back-to-backs remaining on the Sixers’ schedule — he will have participated in exactly three-fourths of the team’s contest at season’s end.
Can that possibly be enough to be named the MVP of the league?
The re-shrinking odds at Pennsylvania’s legal sportsbooks say yes, although there’s one one massive “if/then” statement that probably has to swing a specific way.
The other MVP-caliber center
The “if” is “if Nikola Jokic misses time.” Then, Embiid has a serious chance.
The Nuggets center has played in all 50 games this season. Though Denver’s record is slightly worse than that of the Sixers (32-18, compared to 35-16) and Jokic trails Embiid ever so slightly in Player Efficiency Rating (Embiid’s 36.69 is tops in the league, Jokic is second at 36.66), “The Joker” is, understandably and deservedly, beginning to pull away in MVP odds.
Jokic has been marvelously consistent. His assist numbers blow Embiid’s out of the water (8.6 per game to 3.2), even if Embiid stacks up favorably in most other categories and is magnitudes more effective on the defensive end. If Embiid plays 54 games and Jokic plays 72 (or anything close to that — say 52 and 68, respectively), unless the Nuggets stumble down the stretch as a team and finish outside the top six seeds in the West, JoJo can’t win.
No reasonable person is rooting for a Jokic injury. But it’s simple reality that he’d need to suffer one to really open the door for Embiid.
Jokic, Embiid, and five outside shots
There are seven players with some degree of a realistic hope of winning MVP. Here are their odds as of Wednesday morning at all of the PA sportsbooks offering MVP markets. Caesars, BetAmerica, and Betfred have no MVP futures posted. So this chart covers the books operated by Kambi (DraftKings, BetRivers, PlaySugarhouse, Unibet, Barstool, and Parx), plus BetMGM, FanDuel, and FOX Bet:
|PLAYER||KAMBI BOOKS||BETMGM||FANDUEL||FOX BET|
Clearly, it’s Jokic’s award to lose. The lane for someone else to snag the trophy only opens up if he misses games, slumps horribly, or can’t get the Nuggets past about 40 wins.
The remaining candidates below Embiid, all of whom stand at 10/1 or longer at nearly every sportsbook, each face clear challenges in collecting MVP votes:
- Antetokounmpo: The stats are as spectacular as ever, but “The Greek Freak” won the last two MVPs, then fizzled in the playoffs, and voters will be disinclined to make it three straight unless they have no other choice.
- Harden: As brilliant as he’s been for the Nets, he’s currently dealing with an injury, and he wasn’t an exemplary team player as he whined and forced his way out of Houston at the beginning of the season.
- James: Became the favorite ever so briefly when Embiid got hurt, then got hurt himself and will likely remain out for another couple of weeks. Probably the worst bet on the board right now.
- Lillard: Has been magnificent in getting the Portland Trail Blazers to a 30-20 record, but unless they go about 20-2 down the stretch, honorable mention is all their star guard warrants.
- Doncic: The preseason favorite has the Mavs clicking now, but they’re still just a 7-seed. Like Lillard, he only enters the conversation if his team wins 90% of its remaining games and the likes of Jokic, Embiid, and Giannis all miss games.
Embiid was about +150 a month ago and about +600 a week ago, and now he’s settling in-between, from +350 to +400. He’s been the most dominant player in the NBA this season, and his team is tied for the best record in the Eastern Conference. He’s averaging 30 and 11 on 52/39/85 shooting splits, while anchoring a defense that is No. 1 in the NBA in blocks, No. 2 in steals, and No. 2 in overall defensive rating.
But does that all add up to an MVP award if you only play between 50 and 54 games?
Barring something happening out of thin air in Denver, nope. This “Process” is getting results, but one awkward landing will probably prevent an MVP award from being one of them.
Of course, there are some things more important than MVP awards — like postseason success, for example.
Now that Embiid is back and looking like himself, the Sixers are among the more realistic candidates to win the Eastern Conference or even the NBA title.
There’s arguably excellent value on the team to win the East, with the sportsbooks falling in love with the Brooklyn Nets (about even money) and somewhat surprisingly favoring the Milwaukee Bucks (from +300 to +350) over the 76ers. FanDuel and BetMGM both have the Sixers at 5/1 to win the conference, the best price on them in PA.
And to win the championship, the Sixers only have the sixth-best odds despite being tied for the third-best record. They are as high as 13/1 in Pennsylvania. All of those odds would be lower if bettors could say with confidence that Embiid will be healthy throughout the playoffs.
Meanwhile, one of Embiid’s teammates is a serious contender for another individual award. Ben Simmons is running second to Utah’s Rudy Gobert for Defensive Player of the Year, priced at +200 at most PA books (and an outrageously attractive +500 at PointsBet, which is coming to Pennsylvania eventually). Gobert sits between -220 and -250 at the PA sportsbooks.
While the award typically goes to someone who plays in the paint, there is an increasing drumbeat of experts calling Simmons, typically tasked with shutting down the opposition’s best perimeter scorer, the league’s best defensive player.
While the odds favored the Steelers’ T.J. Watt to win the NFL’s DPOY at the end of the last regular season, Aaron Donald ended up getting the votes, powered by the consensus opinion that, whether the season’s stats prove it or not, he’s simply the best defensive player in the game.
It’s not crazy to think a similar sentiment will win the day, and the award, for Simmons. Certainly, he’d take home DPOY if he had the sole vote.