Extra Pass: Embiid-Jokic showdown

Published March 27, 2023, 5:00 PMMiguel Flores

It’s an entertaining battle between top MVP candidates Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic as the 76ers visit the Nuggets.

What's up with Denver vs Philadelphia?

At this point in the season, the action is in the scramble for the postseason and neither the Nuggets nor the 76ers are in any danger of missing the postseason. The Nuggets hold a cozy three-game lead for the top seed in the West with a 50-24 record. The Sixers, on the other hand, have a 49-25 record, good for third in the East.

A couple of wins with less than two weeks left in the season could give these teams a bit of a cushion, but they should already be locked in their seeds. This game is really about one thing: Embiid vs. Jokic.

These two last met in January in Philadelphia, where Embiid thoroughly dominated the matchup. He finished with 47 points, 18 rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks. Jokic had a measly 24 points, eight rebounds, and nine assists, by comparison.

That represented a turning point in the MVP debate – which both players have expressed their disdain over. But no matter how many times they say the don't care about the award, that’s all everyone’s going to be talking about tomorrow.

For this Extra Pass, we’re dishing some talking points for you to throw around with your buddies while you’re watching the game live on NBA TV Philippines at 9:30 AM. Prepare to look smart and spark some debate.

Does Jokic deserve to be a three-time MVP?

There have only been three players ever to win MVP for three consecutive season: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Larry Bird. It takes a special level of dominance to stay at the top for that long, but there are other nebulous factors that need to coincide to be named MVP thrice.

The MVP is voted on by select members of the media. As such, narratives affect (or infect, if you’re a doomer) the MVP debate. Voter fatigue was a huge deterrent for Jokic’s MVP case. The discussion is no longer whether Jokic deserves the MVP, it has become whether Jokic deserves to be a name next to Russell, Chamberlain, and Bird.

Jokic/Embiid has no rings

This is, by far, the most asinine of the talking points you’ll encounter in this conversation. The MVP is a regular season award. Bringing up postseason success completely misses the point.

Which is not to say that either are lacking in that department. Jokic has led the Nuggets to the playoffs for four consecutive seasons, leading them to the 2020 Western Conference Finals. Embiid has led the Sixers to the postseason for five straight seasons. Look up “Kawhi Leonard buzzer beater” on YouTube to see just how close the Sixers were to glory in 2019.

X is statistically better

Perhaps the most toxic development from the MVP discourse this season has been the weaponizing of stats – advanced or otherwise. Fans have resorted to cherry picking different stats to prove a point. The bad thing is, you could really make an argument for any talking point, if you find the right stats.

Want to prove Jokic is a bum on defense? Find the correct filters to show his rim protection numbers compared to other starting centers in the league. Want to prove that Jokic is actually a monster on defense? Show the Nuggets’ defensive rating for when Jokic is on the floor and for when he sits.

The eye test crowd isn’t much better. Twitter now is a trove of any clips to prove whatever point you want to make. There are as many clips of Embiid getting cooked on defense as there is of him making great plays.

Which is all to say there’s a better way to enjoy this: just watch the damn game.