Voting for NBA MVP is rarely an easy task, but it was particularly excruciating for most of this season due to some outstanding performances. After LeBron James dropped out of the race due to a long-term injury, the clear-cut favorites were Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid and Denver Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic.
Jokic won the award on Tuesday, earning 91 of the 100 first-place votes while becoming the first Nugget and first second-round pick to earn NBA MVP honors. Embiid finished second and earned just a single first-place vote, but he was at least neck-and-neck with Jokic — if not the favorite — before he went down with a knee injury in March that cost him 10 games. Overall, Embiid played in 51 games this season, while Jokic played in all 72.
Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers had already said that he felt availability played a huge factor in Jokic winning the MVP, and he doubled down on that sentiment on Thursday.
“I was disappointed Joel didn’t win MVP,” Rivers said. “But I thought — when you think of Joker and what he’s done all year, and that he’s played in the amount of games that he played in — he was the worthy winner, right?”
In such a close race, it appears many voters used the discrepancy in games played as a sort of tie-breaker, which is more than reasonable when you’re dealing with two players of this caliber. As you can see, both made strong statistical cases (per Basketball-Reference).
Nikola Jokic, Nuggets
Joel Embiid, 76ers
The question to which Rivers responded wasn’t even about Embiid’s MVP case. It was about Ben Simmons finishing second for Defensive Player of the Year, which was recently awarded to Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert. Rivers said that although Embiid and Simmons both fell just short this season, he feels it won’t be long until each of them picks up their hardware.
“With their youth and growth that we anticipate, I do think in the future — in the near future — Ben will be Defensive Player of the Year and Joel will be MVP,” Rivers said. “A lot of times you have to have an MVP season the year before you become the MVP, and same thing with any of these awards.”
As for now, awards are the last thing on the Sixers’ minds. They’re currently locked in a 1-1 series with the Atlanta Hawks, with the winner advancing to the Eastern Conference finals.