Joel Embiid's signature performance for Philadelphia 76ers boosts MVP profile
The NBA enjoyed a blockbuster night on Wednesday.
James Harden notched a triple-double in his return to face the Houston Rockets, Damian Lillard hit a dagger 3 to beat the Golden State Warriors, the Sacramento Kings took down the LeBron James-less Los Angeles Lakers ... the list goes on.
But one game, and one man, stood out above it all — quite literally.
The game lived up to its billing, and then some, with Embiid stealing the show late. The 26-year-old had a respectable 25 points and 12 points heading into the fourth quarter, but the Sixers were trailing, 89-84.
That's when Embiid took over. In the fourth quarter, the seven-footer put up 14 points, three rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block. His most outrageous contribution came when the Sixers needed it most, as Embiid scrambled to hit a game-tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds of regulation.
The Cameroonian quieted down a bit in overtime, at least from a statistical perspective, popping in a free throw and collecting four rebounds, as teammate Tobias Harris erupted for 11 points en route to a 131-123 win.
"Troel" found other ways to contribute, though, ostensibly goading the referees into hitting Jazz star Donovan Mitchell with an ejection-inducing second technical foul in the added frame.
But that lone point from Embiid in OT meant hitting 40 on the night, giving him more games with at least 40 points and 10 rebounds than the rest of the league combined.
The buzz around Embiid has people wondering: Is he the league's MVP, or perhaps the best player on the planet?
There's a distinction there that some NBA pundits are eager to point out, but first let's dive into the MVP discussion.
As the Sixers prepare for the All-Star break, Embiid's enjoying a career year that has him in rarefied air.
His 30-game numbers compare favorably with a pair of Hall of Fame big men in Bob McAdoo and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
When factoring in Embiid's numbers up to this stage — 30.2 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists per game on 52.1% shooting and 41.6% from distance — his MVP credentials are undeniable.
Plus, as mentioned, the Sixers boast the top record in the East. In fact, this is Philadelphia's best 36-game start since 2000-01, when they started 27-9 and went on to lose to the Lakers in the Finals.
It helps, too, that Embiid's chief competitor for the MVP award, James, sat out his first game for the Lakers on Wednesday and that the defending champions have been reeling ever since Anthony Davis got injured.
While James took a breather, Embiid enjoyed what ESPN's Tim Legler called his "signature" MVP game vs. Utah.
"I don't think it's close right now. And if you need a signature game, this was the game. Because there's nothing more a basketball player can do to affect a game and help his team get a win than Joel Embiid did in this one. ... Joel Embiid, for me, right now, head and shoulders above everybody in the league with what he means to this team."
Shannon Sharpe called it a closer race on Thursday's episode of "Undisputed," and made sure to make note of the distinction between MVP and best player.
For Sharpe, James is still the NBA's best player, while Embiid gets the slim edge in the MVP discussion.
The oddsmakers at FOX Bet also gave the nod to Embiid after Wednesday's performance, shifting the Sixers star from +300 to +200 and James from +175 to +225 to win the award.
But as Sharpe mentioned, MVP doesn't necessarily equate to the best player in the world, a point Chris Broussard hit on "First Things First" on Thursday.
Nick Wright took it a step further, listing a decade's worth of perception and reality when it comes to who the best player in the NBA is at the All-Star break and who's the best when the season is over.
"This is not like fastest man alive, where it is always eligible. Anyone who breaks the 100-meter dash world record becomes the fastest man alive. That is not how 'best player on the planet' works."
After an injury-plagued start to his NBA career, Embiid is delivering on the promise the Sixers saw in him when he went first overall in the 2014 draft.
He's gone from injury-prone bust to MVP candidate in his first four full seasons of work, and even loftier goals await.
The discussions being had about Embiid now, versus those being had a few years ago, speak to his potential.