MVP Race: Is Joel Embiid still a legitimate candidate?

Joel Embiid chases Lebron James for MVP

The last player to win MVP at the center position was Shaquille O’Neal in 2000. Can Philadelphia 76ers’ big man Joel Embiid end the 20-year drought? Let’s look at how his current season stacks up with Shaq’s MVP year.

Embiid has the Philadelphia 76ers off to an 18-9 start, best in the East. The 26-year-old big man is putting up a career-high 29.6 points per game on 54.3% shooting from the field and 40% on 3-pointers. Embiid leads the league with a 31.1 player efficiency rating and has scored 33 or more points in six of his past seven games.

Embiid is neck-and-neck with LeBron James right now for league MVP, but while James is 10 years older than Embiid, he’s also played 21% more games than the Sixers Center. It is certainly safe to say that Joel Embiid needs to play more games to make a case for the league’s most valuable player.

While Embiid has only missed 6 games this season, Lebron hasn’t missed a game of the Lakers’ 28-game season thus far.

Embiid has been playing the best basketball of his career this season, and that trend continued on Wednesday, when the big man put up 31 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists to lead the 76ers past the Houston Rockets, 118-113. The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Sixers and pushed their lead atop the Eastern Conference back up to 1.5 games.

Embiid has been battling a sore back ever since he took a hard fall against the Los Angeles Lakers last month, and it wasn’t even a guarantee he would suit up against the Rockets. After the game he gave an update, saying his back was “pretty tight” throughout, but that he should be fine long term. The Sixers will have to hope that’s the case because his history-making performance on Wednesday showed just how important he is to their success. 

We saw Embiid burnish his MVP case with a ho-hum 31-point, 11-rebound, nine-assist line. But with only 28 games into the season, Embiid is going to have to play more games to make a legitimate case for MVP, while Lebron James is showing no signs of slowing down, playing all 28 games this season at 36 years old.