LeBron James guards Joel Embiid

It’s almost impossible for Joel Embiid to win MVP ahead of LeBron James

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There are clear criteria to win NBA MVP. Team success is a must. Spectacular individual numbers are a necessity. A healthy narrative is helpful, too.

Voters cast their votes in different ways. Some buy into narrative and story, others delve deep into the advanced statistics. It’s hard to argue about many MVP winners. It is ultimately a subjective award in a team sport with a never-ending list of variables.

MVP races always narrow down to two or three players, though. It was Giannis Antetokounmpo versus LeBron James last season. It was Antetokounmpo vs James Harden the year before.

In 2020/21, it looks like it could become Joel Embiid against LeBron James. Nikola Jokic, Stephen Curry and Luka Doncic are all in contention, but none of their teams are assured of a top seed. Kevin Durant warrants consideration, but health and safety protocols have already kept him out of several games and playing on a big three makes it trickier for him to win voters over. Durant, of course, has a healthy dollop of narrative, however.

History suggests it’s almost impossible to win MVP if your team isn’t in the top five or six in the league. Embiid and LeBron have no such worries in the NBA MVP race.


Embiid vs LeBron

The Sixers are flying high atop the Eastern Conference. They are unbeaten with all five of their starting line-up available. Embiid is fourth in scoring, ninth in rebounding, and sixth in true shooting while maintaining elite levels on the defensive end. His case to win MVP is clear, though the games he’s taken off will count against him when voting comes round.

LeBron’s candidacy is the same as always. The numbers are there (though he’s assisting less than last season), he gets the credit of leadership, and his Lakers are already pencilled in as a top two seed in the Western Conference. James built up his own case when he missed out to Antetokounmpo last season. Doing what he’s doing in season 18, deep into his thirties, is a compelling MVP case.

Defense might have its own award, but it still counts towards MVP. James was disinterested on that end in his second Cleveland stint. He often leads the Lakers’ defensive effort, taking the toughest assignment down the stretch. The four-time MVP is second among all small forwards in ESPN’s real plus-minus.

Still shooting almost 40% from three on a career-high 6.8 attempts per game, James is still breaking new ground. He’s delivered some trademark performances along the way, despite some dodgy Lakers losses. He’s yet to sit out a game.

If he remains healthy, it’s very hard to see how anyone other than James wins MVP. Even with how Embiid is playing, the award is in LeBron’s hands. If the season ended tomorrow, James would almost certainly win the vote, as much for last season, as much for his career, as for his performances in 2021. It might not be spot on, but it’s the way the MVP race works.


It’s going to be a lot of fun if this becomes Joel Embiid versus LeBron James. It’s just difficult to imagine what Embiid has to do to beat the Lakers superstar.

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