What Trend will Joel Embiid Follow?

Two of the last three winners of the NBA MVP award are now NBA champions after Nikola Jokic guided the Denver Nuggets to glory for the first time courtesy of their win over the Miami Heat.

Jokic’s predecessor Giannis Antetokounmpo won back-to-back MVP awards but failed to capture the NBA Championship until Jokic seized the MVP award in the 2021/22 season where Giannis and the Milwaukee Bucks would lift the crown against the Phoenix Suns.

Jokic suffered the same fate, winning successive NBA MVP awards before Joel Embiid rose up to take the mantle in the campaign where Jokic and Denver finally got over the line.

Embiid is now entering an interesting period of his career as he aims to emulate his contemporaries at the top of the game. Unfortunately for Embiid, the Philadelphia 76ers have not come close to reaching the NBA Finals, despite their talent.

Their most recent playoff failure resulted in the firing of Doc Rivers after their defeat to the Boston Celtics in game seven of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Sixers have been serial underachievers, and the health of Embiid has been a critical factor in their postseason issues.

Not only does the center have to remain at the peak of his powers throughout the grind of the NBA campaign, but he must also be injury-free if the franchise is to end its NBA title drought stretching back to 1983. Embiid is one of the leading contenders in the odds for the NBA MVP yet again, together with Jokic and Giannis. But will he join his contemporaries in winning successive MVP awards or will he take the charge to the NBA Championship and bring a title back to Philly?

Giannis Breaks the Trend

As Giannis and Jokic have proven, becoming the best player in the NBA can be an easier journey than winning the NBA Championship. Giannis has been a standout star for the Bucks after breaking out in his fourth season, earning the Most Improved Player award.

After refining his game, Giannis was a monster inside the paint at both ends of the court, becoming one of the dominant scorers in the league as well as a foundation of the Bucks’ defensive play. His brilliance was recognized in the 2018/19 season when he was crowned the MVP in the Bucks’ 60-win campaign, locking up the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

After brushing aside the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics in the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Bucks were stunned by the Toronto Raptors, losing 4-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals. 

Giannis was again sensational in the 2019/20 campaign and was rightfully crowned league MVP for the second year in a row. However, the championship eluded Giannis and the Bucks despite his excellence as the Miami Heat secured a 4-1 win in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Giannis maintained his high standards in the 2021/22 season and overcame adversity to guide the Bucks into the NBA Finals. He overcame a knee injury to defeat the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals and was unstoppable in the NBA Finals as Milwaukee rallied from a two-game deficit to defeat the Phoenix Suns, putting in a 50-point performance in game six to secure the series. Although he was not named league MVP, Giannis made the impact when it mattered the most.

Jokic Follows in Giannis’ Wake

It’s now a story he shares with Jokic. The Serbian was the model of consistency in his first five seasons in the league before he enjoyed a breakout in the 2020/21 campaign. Jokic was potent, averaging 20 points per game, but he took his efficiency to new levels by averaging 26.4 ppg, ushering the Nuggets to the third seed in the Western Conference. However, the Nuggets lost Jamal Murray to injury late in the campaign, placing the onus on Jokic, and alone he could not fire Denver into the Western Conference finals, suffering a sweep at the hands of the Phoenix Suns in the semi-finals.

Jokic was even better as Murray remained on the sidelines for the entirety of the 2021/22 campaign. Both offensively and defensively, Jokic was flawless and even increased his scoring rate to 27.1 ppg. He single handedly kept the Nuggets in the postseason picture, but the flaws on the team were evident despite his brilliance, resulting in a first-round exit against the Golden State Warriors.

With Murray restored following his ACL injury, the burden was eased on Jokic and it allowed him to dominate without being the sole focal point of every opponent’s gameplan. He was downright deadly once again at both ends of the court. Unlike previous seasons, Jokic had the support to allow him to thrive consistently throughout the campaign and into the playoffs after the Nuggets locked up the top seed with a 53-win term.

In the postseason he was a machine as the Minnesota Timberwolves and Suns were defeated before Jokic saved his best for LeBron James and the Lakers, sweeping the storied franchise in the Western Conference Finals. The Miami Heat were powerless to stop him in the NBA Finals, allowing the Nuggets to march to their first title. Jokic did not claim the league MVP like in previous seasons, but he was able to preserve his body and mind through the rigors of the campaign to play his best under the spotlight.

Can Embiid Break Through in the Playoffs?

Embiid was sensational in the 2022/23 season and was the right choice to be named MVP. He could have beaten Jokic to the award in the previous campaign and even the one before, but the Serbian just had the edge in voters’ minds.

Embiid stamped his authority on the Eastern Conference with a number of outstanding performances over the course of the season, including a career-high 59-point outing against the Utah Jazz, dragging the Sixers toward the top-three seed despite issues surrounding other players on the roster. He broke several franchise records joining illustrious names such as Wilt Chamberlain and Allen Iverson in securing multiple 50-point games in a term.

As a result of his incredible year, Embiid was crowned league MVP but suffered an LCL injury against the Brooklyn Nets in game three of their first-round series. He returned against the Celtics in the semi-finals but was playing through the pain barrier. Embiid ensured that the series would go down to the wire after heroic performances in games four and five, only to put forward his worst display of the season in game seven as the Sixers crashed out of the playoffs in the semi-finals again.

Embiid will now have a new coach to work with in Nick Nurse, who guided the Toronto Raptors to their maiden crown. He knows how to coach big-time players, bringing out the best in Kawhi Leonard in the Raptors’ run to the title. Embiid can reach those levels too, but Nurse needs to ensure that he follows the trajectory of Giannis and Jokic in producing his peak form under the spotlight rather than the regular season.

The next term could be more difficult for the Sixers given the uncertainty over James Harden’s future. Tyrese Maxey’s development could be crucial in easing the burden on Embiid, while veterans Tobias Harris, P.J Tucker, and Montrezl Harrell remain. However, it is going to be a tough task with the Bucks and Celtics blocking their path in the Eastern Conference. It requires Embiid to channel Giannis, Jokic or even LeBron to lift a slightly above-average roster into the NBA Finals and toward an unlikely title.

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