Joel Embiid, MVP

I’ve written about his debut before. After back-to-back season-ending surgeries. His first bucket. A midrange turnaround fadeaway. Place erupts. Then he blocks the eventual MVP. Even louder. Looking back on every game I’ve seen in person, at least basketball ones, it’s hard to pick a better one. You saw it almost instantly. This dude. He’ll change everything.

It hasn’t been simple. It sure hasn’t been easy. It has felt like one step forward, followed by two steps back. The hardships. The falling short. The triumph of Game 3 against Toronto, a windmill during the bloodbath quickly followed by the illness that provided the setback in Game 4. The Bounces.

The difficulty of that 2020 season which resulted in the only NBA coach he knew being fired. Instead of asking out. Wishing for a new situation. Joel Embiid improved. He was sensational in the shortened 2021 season. Even better the following year despite the drama that surrounded his team before James Harden joined past the midway point. The end results, however, remained the same. Nobody will believe in him until he does it in the postseason, which is fine.

Excuses lose luster after a while. Oh, a torn meniscus. A fractured face. A hurt thumb. No matter how valid those injuries appear, they really don’t matter. Embiid needs a deep postseason run. It’s time, even if the road will be the most difficult that they’ve had to endure during this era.

But let’s take a breath for a minute.

It’s been remarkable to watch Embiid ever since his first season as a third-year player. Sure, it wasn’t always pretty. The falls. The missed games. He didn’t play back-to-back games until midway through his second year. He earned a max contract after playing 31 contests in three full seasons.

It’ll always be personal with Embiid. He’s the last man left from the Process. The turnstile of teammates. Ben Simmons. Jimmy Butler. Markelle Fultz. Al Horford. Decision makers failing. But he stuck with it. He’s at his apex.

This year began rocky. Philly lost to Boston and Milwaukee, the latter with a truly terrible Embiid performance. They then lost to the Spurs at home. Injuries and illnesses prolonged the start of their season, according to Embiid. It wasn’t until mid-December when the 76ers began to sustain wins. Even before then. Embiid scored 59 against Utah the day after scoring 42 against Atlanta. In the win over the Jazz, it may as well have been 5 on 1 as Embiid blocked seven shots in one of the more dominant performances, specifically fourth quarters, you’ll ever see.

A month later he scored 53 against the Hornets and then 44 in a comeback win over the Clippers right before Christmas. It wasn’t just gaudy numbers, either. In Utah, Embiid hit a game winner with seconds left. Earlier in the season, he hit the de facto game-winning three against Chicago. His deflection on a Trae Young pass coupled with a game-deciding shot in the Hawks game. Then there was his only matchup with Nikola Jokic (I know… I know. It stunk Embiid missed the second matchup. I get it. But it happened! Get over it). Philly erased a double-digit late third quarter lead. Embiid was unreal. 47 points. Step-back three followed by a piggyback ride courtesy of James Harden. A couple weeks later, in back-to-back games against the Knicks and Nets, he missed 10 shots en route to 72 points.

At times, Embiid would make plays that began to feel mundane. Effortless. His mid-range jumper became automatic. After the All-Star game, Embiid shot over 85 percent from the restricted area in the first half of games, and then proceeded to shoot 58 percent from midrange after halftime. He saved his most efficient performance for last as Philly clinched the three seed.

20 for 25 from the field for 52 points against Boston.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Embiid’s season. How many will say, well, do it when it matters the most. As true as that statement is. At this moment. Who cares. The regular season certainly carries weight. It must be legitimized otherwise why do they play the games? Why do we cheer when Embiid hits a game-winner against Portland? Why do we so badly almost pathetically (OK without question pathetically) want our guy to win MVP? It matters. What Embiid did this regular season. Even what Philly did this regular season, winning its most games since 2001. That matters.

Who knows what’ll happen these next two months. Many people speculate the season will end how it typically does. A second-round exit. Another loss at the hands of the “rival” up north that’s not really a rival since it’s been one-sided lately. For a second. Let’s not even entertain it.

Embiid just had the best regular season of his career.

And he’s not just our MVP.

He is the MVP.

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