National Basketball Association

Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic battling for title of NBA's best big man, and possibly MVP

March 2

Rumors of the demise of the NBA big man have been greatly exaggerated.

Of the top-ranked NBA stars in player efficiency rating – or PER – a measure of a player's per-minute production, the top three stand 6-foot-11 or taller.

The top two on the list are Denver Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic, whose PER of 31.6 leads the league, and Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, with a PER of 31.0.

And coming in third with a PER of 29.2 is  Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, who happens to be the league's defending back-to-back Most Valuable Player.

Jokic and Embiid would love to wrestle the award away from the Bucks superstar, and are well-positioned to do so as the midway point of the NBA season approaches.

According to FOX Bet, Embiid is the second-favorite to take home the MVP at +300, trailing only LeBron James at +175. Jokic checks in third at +500, ahead of Luka Doncic (+1200) and Kevin Durant (+1200) to round out the top five.

The 6-foot-11, 284-pound Jokic has been a revelation in Denver this season, averaging 27.1 points, 8.5 assists and 11.0 rebounds per game as of Tuesday morning.

And he can stretch the floor from his position, too. While he's only attempting an average of 3.8 3-pointers per game, he's hitting them at a 41.1% clip, better than the likes of teammate Jamal Murray (40.8%) and Brooklyn Nets sharpshooter James Harden (39.8%).

Jokic's outlet passing is also a beauty to behold.

The 26-year-old Jokic entered the league as a second-round pick in the 2014 NBA draft and thus arrived with little fanfare or expectations.

Embiid, on the other hand, went third overall in that very same draft despite having foot surgery just days before.

Injuries and setbacks delayed his NBA debut by two full seasons, and his rookie season was basically cut in half following a season-ending knee injury prior to All-Star Weekend in 2017.

Patience paid off for both Embiid and the Sixers.

Despite the 26-year-old Cameroonian's career initially looking destined to be fraught with injury, he's managed to play in 207 of 272 regular-season games for the Sixers since his rookie season.

This season, he's averaging a career-high 29.8 points per game to go along with 11.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists.

The seven-footer has seen his shooting numbers go up significantly this season, too, with a 52.1% clip from the floor, 41.7% from distance and 86.0% from the line all clocking in as career highs.

Furthermore, with two NBA All-Defensive Second Team nods in his five seasons of play, Embiid has proven his impact on both ends of the floor.

Both Embiid and Jokic are perennial All-Stars, but if forced to pick between the two, who's the better player?

Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe opened that debate on Tuesday's episode of "Undisputed," with Sharpe throwing his support behind Jokic, due in large part to the Serbian's durability.

Bayless voted the other way, seeing Embiid's ability to intimidate as an overwhelming factor.

"Give me the guy who terrorizes, who dominates, who terrifies. Give me a Joel Embiid who strikes fear in the hearts of anybody who tries to guard him because when he's there, when he's available ... he is literally unstoppable. I have never seen a man this tall shoot the ball as well as this man shoots it."

Both big men have their teams presently above the playoff line, with Embiid's Sixers leading the Eastern Conference at 23-12 and Jokic & Co. hanging onto the seventh seed ⁠— and playoff play-in spot ⁠— in the West at 19-15 coming into Tuesday.

Choosing between the two centers might be a case of picking between pizza and ice cream. No matter which one you wind up with, it's hard to imagine you'll be disappointed.

But for those looking to let them settle it on the floor, look no further than March 30, when the Nuggets host the Sixers.

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