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NBA MVP futures: Sizing up the contenders

February 23, 2022 10:24 PM
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With seven weeks left in the regular season, this year’s MVP race is as deep as ever. Two centers, Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic, lead the way, but a plethora of candidates have a case for winning the Maurice Podoloff Trophy. In this column, I’ll make the case for and against each MVP candidate as we head into the homestretch. For those hoping to find Chris Paul’s name, his thumb injury will keep him out for the rest of the regular season and almost surely knocks him out of the running.

Odds listed are the best prices available.

Joel Embiid (+ 150, William Hill)

The case for: The league’s scoring leader at the All-Star break, Embiid is the rightful favorite to win this award. Embiid not only scores more than anyone in the league, he’s also the league leader in usage rate (37.2%) and made free throws (421). He has also improved his game to elevate the players around him, as he’s currently averaging career-highs in assists per game (4.5) and assist rate (26.1%). He is lethal out of the post, as Philadelphia averages 1.08 points per possession when he posts up, by far the most efficient mark when you factor in frequency. And as with any MVP candidate, his team is a shell of itself without him on the floor. With Embiid on the floor, the 76ers have a + 6.9 net rating, which would be the second-best net rating in the league if a team averaged that for a season. Without him on the floor, the 76ers are being outscored by 2.9 points every 100 possessions, a net rating on par with the Wizards. Yet, Philadelphia is 35-23 and just 2.5 games out of the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The statistical argument alone is strong enough for Embiid to win the award, but he also has the narrative in his favor. It’s rare that a team loses an All-Defensive team player such as Ben Simmons and doesn’t miss a beat, but that’s what the 76ers have done. Embiid has led them through all of this drama by performing like one of the best players in the world. Voters are a sucker for narrative, both positive and negative, and Embiid has one of the best ones on his side.

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