76ers

Joel Embiid wants to win MVP — and it's not crazy to think he can

ap-joel-embiid-media-day.jpg
AP Images

Joel Embiid wants to win MVP — and it's not crazy to think he can

Joel Embiid hasn’t been shy about his goals this season.

Then again, Joel Embiid isn’t really shy about anything — whether it’s trash-talking opponents or giving an unsuspecting fan a smooch on the noggin. 

The Sixers' All-Star center wants to be the MVP. He wants his name mentioned in the same breath as LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. 

And here’s the crazy thing: Embiid isn’t crazy to think he has a shot.

Last season, Embiid averaged 22.9 points, 11 rebounds and 1.8 blocks a game. Those are not MVP-type numbers, plain and simple. But you have to consider Embiid is just scratching the surface. He’s just 24 years old and is still relatively new to the sport.

Only eight players have averaged at least 22 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in a season at age 23 or younger (blocks did not become an official stat until 1973-74). Six have won MVP. The other two are Embiid and Anthony Davis, who will be among Embiid’s stiffest competitors for the award.

In order for Embiid to get into the conversation as the league’s best player, his scoring average has to go up. Out of the last 11 MVPs, only one has scored below 25 points a night (Curry during his first MVP season in 2014-15). 

With that said, this preseason showed that Embiid should be trending up in this category. He averaged 23 points in just 24.5 minutes a contest. He stuck by his goal to be a beast down low, shooting 54 percent from the field and getting to the line 28 times in 98 minutes. 

There is a little cause for concern with Embiid’s jumper. He hit just 2 of 18 threes and 71 percent of his free throws — he’s been a 77 percent shooter from the line his first two seasons. But if he can get that aspect of his game going, he’ll truly be a nightmare matchup.

The biggest bugaboo for Embiid continues to be turnovers. He averaged four turnovers a game during the preseason and has averaged 3.7 for his career. As a player that receives a significant amount of attention and double teams, this is bound to happen. Embiid though needs to be better at recognizing the doubles coming and “quarterbacking the gym” as Brett Brown likes to say. In most of the Sixers’ lineups, he’ll be surrounded by shooters and should be able to tally some easy assists.

Defensively, Embiid just needs to continue to progress as he has. He finished second to Utah’s Rudy Gobert in Defensive Player of the Year voting. Before Embiid boldly made his goal the Most Valuable Player, he frequently talked about wanting to be the DPOY. He’s an elite rim protector and does an excellent job allowing Brown to have his defense switch on everything. 

Lastly, his conditioning has been referenced repeatedly over the last year or so. Finally being healthy heading into an offseason allowed Embiid to work on his body more than he ever has. He appears to be slimmer and more toned than he’s been over the past couple of seasons. That’ll only help in his quest.

It certainly won’t be easy for Embiid. It’s possible the award goes to LeBron in his first season leading a young Lakers team out West. Maybe Durant or Curry carries the Warriors to another historical season. Maybe Davis takes another leap in Year 7.

Or maybe Embiid backs up the talk with some hardware.

More on the Sixers

Sixers Talk podcast: Matisse Thybulle might already be the sixth man

sixers-talk-matisse-thybulle-2.jpg
NBC Sports Philadelphia/NBC Sports Philadelphia

Sixers Talk podcast: Matisse Thybulle might already be the sixth man

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss the amount of games they expect Joel Embiid to play, Ben Simmons' self-awareness and Matisse Thybulle already surpassing expectations.

• Will Embiid set a career high in games played with his new load management plan? The guys make a friendly wager.

• Simmons gave arguably the most thoughtful quote he's ever given.

• Is Thybulle already the Sixers' sixth best player?

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Sixers pick up Zhaire Smith's third-year option, make clear call to bank on his further development

Sixers pick up Zhaire Smith's third-year option, make clear call to bank on his further development

Zhaire Smith's role with the Sixers isn't yet clear for this season, but the 20-year-old guard has a future with the team.

General manager Elton Brand confirmed that Wednesday. The team announced it has exercised Smith's third-year option for the 2020-21 season, worth $3.2 million

The Sixers acquired Smith and the Miami Heat's 2021 first-round pick last year in a draft-night trade with the Phoenix Suns, who received Mikal Bridges. Smith played in six regular-season games his rookie year, averaging 6.7 points and and 2.2 rebounds per game, but that's far from the whole story. Smith broke his foot in August, then suffered a severe allergic reaction and subsequent complications that led to him losing over 35 pounds. Over time, Smith regained his standout athleticism and rebuilt his jump shot after changing his form to compensate for his loss of strength (see story).

Head coach Brett Brown described Smith during training camp as a "pogo stick" and has praised his talent for on-ball defense, comparing him on multiple occasions to Avery Bradley. However, Smith has not been part of the Sixers' rotation during the preseason. Brown has acknowledged that development is a great priority for the Sixers with Smith than immediate contribution, especially after everything he went through as a rookie. The emergence of rookie Matisse Thybulle and solid play of Shake Milton during the preseason are further reasons why Smith hasn't been playing with the Sixers' regulars. Smith played the entire fourth quarter Tuesday night of the Sixers' 106-86 win over the Pistons and had seven points and three rebounds.

"It's just a process, so I'm not worried about it," he said. "As long as we get the win, it doesn't matter."

Given the potential the Sixers saw in Smith — and continue to see — it never seemed plausible that they would decline his third-year option.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers