By Dylan MacKinnon
Embiid has without a doubt been the best player in the NBA this year. He should be the MVP. Some think Jokic already clinched it. Which in fairness, he has been great. It would not be totally undeserved if he took home the award. But Embiid has been even better. By the literal definition of the title, Embiid is the most valuable player. He may not get the award, and it sounds like it will end up going to Jokic. It doesn’t matter who the voters pick for MVP though. Joel Embiid has already proven he is the best player in the NBA. Here is the evidence to prove it.
Defense Still Matters
Its harder to judge defense than it is offense. You can look at a box score and get some idea of how much impact a player had on offense. On defense, the only things that show up in the box score are steals and blocks, and those don’t always equal great defense. You can play great defense and impact a shot without getting as block. You can also get 5 blocks in a game but then also play bad defense on every other shot against you.
Because of this, the defensive impact can go over looked when it comes to awards, whether its Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player, or MVP. But that should not be the case. You spend half your time on the court defending, it should be seen as just as important.
When it comes to defense, its not even close between Embiid and Jokic. Jokic is at best, a league average defender. Passable, perhaps, but nothing special. Embiid meanwhile is a Defensive Player of the Year Contender. He likely wont win it, but he is in that conversation. If he doesn’t get All NBA Defense first team, he will likely at least be on the second team. No one has Jokic anywhere near that conversation.
When Embiid is off the court, the other teams offensive rating goes up. Not a ton, because the Sixers are just in general a good defensive team. But it does make a difference. They go from allowing a Offensive rating of 106.9 to 109.2
Jokic meanwhile actually goes in the opposite way. While the Nuggets allow a offensive rating of 114.8 when Jokic is on the court, but that goes down to 107.5 when he is off the court. That is the difference between a mediocre defense, and a elite defense.
On/Off Stats are imperfect, but a gap that wide means something. Embiid is among the best defenders, but Jokic you could argue hurts his team on that end. Embiid is significantly better at something that takes up 50% of the game. That means even more when you account for this next section.
Offensive Impact is Pretty Similar
It is a matter of debate who makes the bigger impact on the offensive end. Embiid scores more points and draws more fouls, but Jokic’s play making leads to him getting almost double digit assists. Going back to the on/off stats, The Sixers have a net difference of +11.1 with Embiid on the court, and the Nuggets have a net difference of +13.1. So Jokic is probably a bit better than Embiid is on that end. Both are among the leagues best, but the stats suggest a slight edge for Jokic.
But take that into consideration with the defensive difference, and suddenly its not so close. Embiid net difference between offensive and defensive impact is +13.4. Jokic meanwhile is only +5.8. You see, it helps when you have a positive impact on both ends of the floor.
The award is Most Valuable Player. It should go to the guy who adds the most value to his team. Well the numbers show that is Embiid, and by a large margin. While Jokic has a massive impact for his team on the offensive end, he hurts his team on defense. He’s a net positive, but Embiid adds value on both ends. The offense is close, so the defense should be the tie breaker.
The NBA’s Own Stat Says He is The Best
It can hard to tell what sabermetrics have value, and which ones are just random things someone pulled out of thin air. But if the league itself chooses to invent a stat, its something we should pay attention to. PIE (Player Impact Estimate) is a stat the NBA invented. It is similar to PER, but it incorporates more defensive numbers. If you are curious how it is calculated, here is the formula.
(PTS + FGM + FTM – FGA – FTA + Deff.REB + Off.REB/2 + AST + STL + BLK/2 – PF – TO) / (Game.PTS + Game.FGM + Game.FTM – Game.FGA – Game.FTA + Game.Deff.REB + Game.Off.REB/2 + Game.AST + Game.STL + Game.BLK/2 – Game.PF – Game.TO)
Embiid leads this stat. His PIE is 20.8, Jokic’s is 19.9. Is this a perfect be all end all stat? No. But a lot of the pro-Jokic argument revolves around his higher PER, so I don’t see why we should disregard PIE. PIE and PER are two very similar statistics, but the big difference is PIE values defense more. So if Pro-Jokic folks can say Jokic is better because of a slightly better PER, then it is more than fair to use PIE to argue for Embiid being the better player.
His Team is The One Seed
Should team record have as much weight in the MVP race as it does? Perhaps not. But its a fact over the last two decades only one player has won MVP despite not being on a top 4 overall seed. Sixers are the one seed in the East, and the 3rd seed overall. Nuggets are the 4th seed in the West, and the 6th seed overall. So if it is fair to point that Embiid would be only the 2nd player this century to win MVP while missing double digit games, it is also fair to point out Jokic would be only the 2nd to win it this century while not being on a top 4 seed.
And if you just take Embiid on his own, he has the highest individual winning percentage of any qualified player. Embiid has a record of 38-11 (.776). If you compare that to the best team records, he would be the overall number one seed. And by a wide margin. Stretch it out over the 68 games played by most NBA teams so far, and he is 52-16. A full two games ahead of the Jazz.
Sixer’s Record Without Him
Building off the last section, without Embiid the Sixers are 9-10. Embiid’s presence takes them from being a team with a losing record, to with him on the court being the most winningest team in the league. From a no 1 overall seed, to a team that would be in the play in.
People say his missed games should disqualify him. if anything, they improve his case. They are literal proof of the value he brings. Perhaps if Jokic missed games it would make as big of a difference, so you could say this an unfair comparison. But then why does Embiid have only 6 less wins, and 13 less losses, despite playing 19 less games.
Is the award for the Most Valuable Player, or the Player most impactful on offense? Because if its just for whomever is the best offensive player, then sure give it to Jokic. He has been slightly more impactful on the offensive end than Embiid has because of his ability to create plays for other players. But as already shown, if you include the other 50% of the game, Embiid is way more valuable.
Is the Award a perfect attendance award, or is it for the guy who adds the most value. Because yes, Jokic has played every game. He can get the perfect attendance sticker. At my high school, students with perfect attendance got to go off school property during lunch, so Jokic can do that, while Embiid has to stay in the school cafteria with me and the other students who took too many sick days. But if we are going to actually treat it like a major NBA award and not a fake thing high schools give out to students, then its not close. Embiid is more impactful in less games played. The on/off stats prove that. The difference in record when he plays prove that. If anything that makes his case stronger.
So the writers can give it to Jokic. We know defense isn’t valued, and we know they value attendance more than they do actual impact. It doesn’t matter. Embiid has been the best player this season. No award can change that.