With just weeks left in the regular season, the race for the NBA MVP is as hot as it’s maybe ever been.
At the heart of the discussion is two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, former two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the man wanting to win the award for the first time, Joel Embiid.
All three have had fantastic seasons.
But that’s led to a number of heated debates about the selection process, with ESPN NBA analyst Kendrick Perkins alleging race plays a factor.
Last season, Embiid became the first center to lead the league in scoring since Shaquille O’Neal. This year, Embiid has upped his game yet again. His 33.3 points per game lead the league yet again. If he finishes the season that way, he’d be the first center to lead the league in scoring in back-t0-back years since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1971 and 1972.
Embiid will have a chance to strengthen his case on Monday night when the Sixers play Jokic and the Nuggets in Denver. The last time they met, he put up 47 points and 18 rebounds in a 126-119 Philadelphia win.
Joel Embiid Takes Shot At Nikola Jokic’s Defense In Tell-All Interview
Before the rematch, however, Embiid sat down with Shams Charania of The Athletic and talked about how his change in approach has led him to becoming an MVP candidate.
“So for me, I also took that approach where I was like, the last few years, I could have probably had one MVP or whatever, and it didn’t happen. I just said I’m not going to focus on that. I’ve gotten to the point where people are used to me and people are putting the type of expectations on me. The only way I’m going to get that respect is by winning a championship. Whatever gets me to the playoffs healthy, that’s what I’ve got to do. Starting off the season not slowly, but one step at a time, building up to this point where I’m playing up to this point and just dominating offensively and defensively, it’s worked out well for me.
“When you worry about the right things, which is winning basketball and doing whatever it takes — whatever happens, happens.”
Embiid also appeared to take a thinly veiled shot at Jokic’s struggles on the defensive end.
“You can talk about analytics all you want. When you got some guys in the league, the eye test tells you that they’re not good defensively, but analytics tell you they’re the best defenders. That’s when analytics don’t make sense at all.”
And he’s not worried about what people think about his comments, either.
People always thought that I was crazy when I said this — I really believe that I’m not well-liked. And it’s cool with me, that’s fine. I’ll be the bad guy. I like being the a–hole anyway.
Embiid and the Sixers currently sit in third place in the Eastern Conference at 49-25. That’s one game behind the Nuggets, who lead the west at 50-24. Antetokounmpo, meanwhile, has the Bucks at 53-21 and in first place in the Eastern Conference.
Though the season is nearly over, the MVP race still has plenty left to be decided.