Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid has officially been named the MVP of the 2022-23 NBA season. Although it comes at a time when he is battling a knee injury, the Sixers and their superstar should celebrate the accomplishment. Winning an award like this is never a guarantee for any player — especially not for one with a journey like that of Embiid.
Not even a decade ago, Embiid’s NBA future was bleak. He was in his second season after being drafted third overall in 2014 but had yet to play a game. Brutal injuries to his right foot that kept him sidelined, as well as the tragedy of his brother’s death, sent him to a dark place where he contemplated retirement before he got the chance to play for the Sixers. Fans lost hope that he would even play, let alone shine, in the NBA.
Embiid’s mental fortitude to overcome those obstacles and countless hours in the gym have culminated in him becoming arguably the best player in the NBA, bringing the Sixers to heights they haven’t seen in a while and etching his name all over basketball history books.
With an astonishing 33.1 points per game this season, Joel Embiid reached a new career-high and earned his second consecutive scoring title, a feat no center has achieved since Bob McAdoo of the 1970s. He bumped his efficiency to 54.8 percent from the field, also a career-high, while tallying 10.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.7 blocks per game in 34.6 minutes. The Sixers’ giant posted historic performances left and right while providing leadership for his teammates each step of the way.
Looking to counter the way opposing defenses double-team him and needing to find a way to work with new co-star James Harden, Embiid tweaked his game to unlock a new level. He set up shop in the middle of the floor more often and in the post less often. He learned how to operate in pick-and-rolls with Harden, shuffling his way to the mid-range to put up a shot that looked like money every single time, running to the rim for a close shot or moving back out beyond the arc.
We’ve seen better defensive seasons from Embiid but he was still fantastic on that end throughout this season. His rim protection was the backbone of the Sixers’ defense as he bumped up his block percentage to 4.6 percent, his highest mark since 2017-18. He came through with crunch-time blocks and deflections that sealed Philly wins on several occasions.
Embiid was hardly seen as the MVP at the beginning of the season when he played sluggishly and the Sixers were scrapping their way to a .500 record over the first quarter of the campaign. As the team started to turn it around, Embiid’s MVP odds rose precipitously. A chorus of outstanding games turned the tides in his favor, making him the runaway favorite by the regular season’s conclusion.
A 59-point, near-quadruple-double masterclass in November was Embiid’s first earth-shattering game of his season. Some of his other gems include the times when he dropped 53 points on the Charlotte Hornets, hit game-winning shots in back-to-back road games in January, recorded 47 points and 18 rebounds in a comeback win over the Denver Nuggets, led a comeback win to snap the Milwaukee Bucks’ 17-game winning streak, drilled a game-winner to salvage a victory against the Portland Trail Blazers and hung 52 points on the Boston Celtics while shooting 80 percent from the field.
Littered throughout Embiid’s season are games where he went off but the Sixers failed to win (such as his 46-point outing against the Golden State Warriors), ugly games where he still did enough to get Philly a win (like his first post-All-Star break game against the Memphis Grizzlies) and games where his gaudy stat lines hardly do justice to show how amazing he was.
On top of Embiid’s individual excellence, he led the Sixers to a 54-28 record, their best mark in an 82-game season since the 2000-01 campaign. He thrived in his first full season alongside Harden (who won the assists title) and brought Philly to the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season, which the franchise hadn’t accomplished since the 1980s.
Joel Embiid is the first Sixers player to win the award since Allen Iverson, who took it home in the 2000-01 season. He joins Moses Malone (1982-83), Julius Erving (1980-81) and Wilt Chamberlain (1965-66, 1966-67, 1967-68) as the only other Philadelphia players to be named MVP.
Trailing Embiid in the voting for this season’s award were Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who collectively have won the last four MVPs. Embiid was the runner-up for the award the prior two seasons and did everything he could to make sure he wouldn’t be denied again.
A championship has always been the main goal for Joel Embiid this season but this award is absolutely meaningful to him. It cements his status as one of this era’s very best players and one of the absolute greatest and most iconic players in the history of Philadelphia sports.
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