Joel Embiid on MVP: “I don’t know what else I have to do to win it”

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Joel Embiid was both gracious and resigned.

Embiid said he has known for weeks that Nikola Jokic would be named the back-to-back NBA MVP and said the Denver big man earned it. While the voting results (and the award itself) will not be announced until next week, Embiid will again finish near the top but not quite there after an MVP-worthy season. After the 76ers Game 5 loss on Tuesday in Miami, Embiid spoke about the MVP and the race for the award (via NBC Sports Philadelphia).

“This is something that I knew weeks ago,” Embiid said, “even probably two weeks before the season ended after those games against … Denver and Milwaukee. And when (ESPN’s Tim Bontemps) did his straw poll or whatever, I just knew it wasn’t going to happen. Obviously, congrats to Nikola. He deserved it. He had an amazing season. There’s no right or wrong. There were a lot of candidates; it could’ve gone either way with Giannis (Antetokounmpo), Devin Booker — being on the best team in the league by far. So I guess every year it’s all about whatever you (reporters) decide, whatever fits the narrative as far as who’s going to win.

“But to me, the only thing I’ll say about these awards is … I don’t know how to explain it, but I go back to what I heard on a podcast with (The Ringer’s) Bill Simmons sounding like he had a grudge against somebody, saying, ‘F Jalen Green.’ If we’re going to allow these type of people to vote on these awards, that’s not fair. What if Jalen Green is in a position to earn a supermax (contract) or an All-Star appearance, and you’ve got someone sounding like that? And he has a lot of power. He can sway a lot of other media members, and you’ve got someone saying that type of stuff. I don’t think it’s fair. I don’t think it’s OK.

“So that’s really the only thing I’ll say about those awards. I’m not mad. That’s two years in a row I put myself in that position. It didn’t happen. It’s almost like at this point, it’s whatever. Whatever happens, happens. Last year I campaigned about it. This year I answered questions when asked, and the next few years until I retire, it’s almost like … I don’t know. Like I said, I don’t know what else I have to do to win it. To me, at this point it’s whatever. It’s all about focusing — not that I wasn’t focused on the bigger picture — but it’s really trying to put all my energy into the bigger picture, which is to win the whole thing.”

Winning the whole thing seems a much longer shot after Tuesday’s loss. Embiid — playing in a mask despite a fractured orbital bone and torn thumb ligaments that will require surgery — has gutted it out, and just his presence has changed the series, giving the 76ers a chance to win on the nights he gets enough help.

The NBA had this happen before, when the winner of the MVP was on a team eliminated in the first round, and it taints perceptions because of our recency bias (Dirk Nowitzki won his MVP the year the “we believe” Warriors knocked his 67-win team out in the first round). Embiid has played like an MVP these playoffs (as has Giannis Antetokounmpo). Jokic did as well — 31 points, 13.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists a game against the Warriors — but he is home while Embiid and Antetokounmpo are still playing.

The MVP is a regular-season award, the ballots are cast before even the first play-in game tips off. What Embiid has done in the past few weeks may reinforce the perceptions of his worthiness to his backers, and it is the most recent thing in our memories, but none of that counts toward the award.

Embiid had an MVP-worthy season. So did Jokic and Antetokounmpo. Embiid is correct, there is no right or wrong among them, any of that trio would have been a worthy winner. Embiid joins another club filled with the greatest players in the game’s history — players who had MVP-worthy seasons and did not win the award.