At the NBA All-Star break last season, Joel Embiid appeared to be well on the way to having a career-best season be crowned with NBA MVP honors.
However, it was not to be. In his first game out of the break, Embiid went down with a knee injury against the Washington Wizards and missed ten games. The Philadelphia 76ers survived his absence, and, after he returned, went on to claim the top seed in the Eastern Conference. But Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic took control of the MVP race and won the award by a handy margin, with Embiid a distant second.
As many of the NBA’s best and brightest head to Cleveland for NBA All-Star Weekend festivities, Embiid is again well-positioned to have a career-best season be rewarded with MVP honors.
The Sixers aren’t in first place in the East this season, entering the All-Star break atop the Atlantic Division but third in the East, 2.5 games behind the Chicago Bulls. And Embiid has missed 13 games, nine of them due to a bout with COVID in November.
But in a season in which most of the game's top stars have had at least one injury or COVID-related absence, missed games aren't as much of a factor in the NBA MVP race as they would be in other seasons.
And the Sixers' current position in the standings is an impressive achievement, considering the quality in the East this season and the fact that they were without Ben Simmons all season until he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for James Harden at the trade deadline.
2022 NBA MVP Odds (as of February 18, 2022)
- Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers +125
- Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets +300
- Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks +375
- Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors +1100
- Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies +1400
- DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls +2200
- Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns +3000
- Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns +3000
- Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks +4000
- Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets +6600
- LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers +15000
- Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat +20000
- James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers +25000
- Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz +25000
- Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks +50000
NBA MVP odds are via BetMGM.
2022 NBA MVP Candidates
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (2022 NBA MVP Odds: +125)
Embiid’s 2021-22 NBA Season Stats (45 Games): 29.6 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 4.5 APG
Tyrese Maxey taking full advantage of Simmons' absence to emerge as an invaluable present and future asset has been key for the Sixers, but all roads lead back to Embiid, who leads the NBA in scoring.
Who knows what he received for Christmas, but was it superpowers? His post-Christmas form has catapulted him to the front of the MVP race after his early absence sent his odds tumbling.
In 25 post-Christmas games, Embiid has hit the 30-point mark 19 times. and he has 16 double-doubles and two triple-doubles. In his last game before the All-Star break, he had 42 points, 14 rebounds, and five assists to lead the Sixers to a 123-120 road win over Giannis and the Bucks.
The key for Embiid, obviously, is to stay healthy. Since being drafted in 2014, Embiid has played in just under half of all possible regular season games (306 of 613). But if he can stay healthy, the sky is the limit for him and for the Sixers, with Harden set to make his Sixers debut after the All-Star break.
If Embiid can stay healthy and win MVP, he will be only the fourth winner from the Eastern Conference over the past two decades: LeBron James (four times – two with the Cavs and two with the Heat), Giannis (twice), and Derrick Rose (2011).
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (+300)
Jokic’s 2021-22 NBA Season Stats (52 Games): 26.0 PPG, 13.8 RPG, 7.9 APG
So, what about Jokic, the reigning NBA MVP? Well, he has been as good, if not better, than last season.
Stat Comparison for Nikola Jokic (2021-22 vs 2020-21)
- Points Per Game: 26.0 (2020-21: 26.4)
- Rebounds Per Game: 13.8 (2020-21: 13.5)
- Assists Per Game: 7.9 (2020-21: 8.3)
- Offensive Rebound Percentage: 9.8 (2020-21: 9.4)
- Defensive Rebound Percentage: 36.0 (2020-21: 26.1)
- Total Rebound Percentage: 23.2 (2020-21: 17.8)
- Assist Percentage: 43.4 (2020-21: 40.4)
Despite Jamal Murray (torn ACL) not playing yet this season and Michael Porter Jr. being limited to nine games (and not being good in those nine games), the Nuggets have stayed afloat thanks to Jokic. Denver is currently sixth in the Western Conference, three games behind the Utah Jazz for the fourth seed (and first place in the Northwest Division).
Jokic continues to sit atop Basketball Reference’s NBA MVP tracker, with Giannis second, Embiid third, and Chris Paul fourth. But looking realistically at the MVP race, he is up against it to repeat as MVP as long as Embiid does not get bitten by the injury bug again. Historically, MVP voters in the major American sports leagues don’t love rewarding the same player in consecutive seasons.
Instances of Repeat MVP Winners in the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL
- NBA: 14 (since 1955-56) – most recent in 2019 and 2020 (Giannis)
- NFL (Associated Press award, first awarded in 1957): five – most recent in 2020 and 2021 (Aaron Rodgers)
- MLB (BBWAA award, first awarded in 1931): seven American League MVP & seven National League MVP – most recent repeat AL MVP in 2012 and 2013 (Miguel Cabrera); most recent repeat NL MVP in 2008 and 2009 (Albert Pujols
- NHL (Hart Trophy, first awarded in 1924): 12 – most recent in 2008 and 2009 (Alexander Ovechkin)
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (+375)
Giannis’s 2021-22 NBA Season Stats (49 Games): 29.4 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 6.0 APG
After delivering Milwaukee’s first NBA championship since 1971, there has been no drop-off for Giannis this season.
He is second in the NBA in scoring, and he is on pace to average a career high in assists. In a recent win over the Indiana Pacers, “The Greek Freak” scored a season-high 50 points, his first 50-piece since his NBA title-clinching Game 6 performance against the Suns last season.
And while there are no awards given for it, Giannis remains as entertaining at the mic as he does on the court.
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (+1100)
Curry’s 2021-22 NBA Season Stats (54 Games): 25.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 6.3 APG
The Warriors have the NBA’s second-best record and are co-favorites to win the 2022 NBA title, along with the Suns.
At one point, he was the NBA MVP favorite, and it’s not too late to make a real run at the award. But after finishing third in last season’s MVP voting, Curry will need a strong finish to match or beat that this season.
Steph is shooting only 42.7 percent from the field and 37.9 percent from three, well below his career averages in both areas. With Klay Thompson back and Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole as support options, he doesn’t necessarily need to be his most lethal self every night for the Warriors to have success.
However, with Embiid, Jokic, and Giannis all putting up big numbers on a more consistent basis, Steph’s NBA MVP hopes are fading as we reach the final fourth of the regular season.
Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies (+1400)
Morant’s 2021-22 NBA Season Stats (46 Games): 26.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 6.9 APG
The Grizzlies (41-19) have been one of the NBA’s biggest surprises this season and enter the All-Star break third in the West.
Over his first two NBA seasons, Morant was an inconsistent scorer, averaging 18.4 points per game. But the switch seems to have flipped for him last season in the postseason play-in tournament and first round series against the Utah Jazz.
In 130 regular season games in his first two seasons, he had nine games with 30+ points. This season, he has hit the 30-point mark 20 times. In his last game before the All-Star break, he recorded 44 points and 11 assists against the Portland Trail Blazers.
The MVP may be beyond him this season, but he is a heavy favorite for Most Improved Player of the Year, ahead of Miles Bridges of the Hornets and Darius Garland of the Cavs.
Recent NBA MVP Winners
- 2021: Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
- 2020: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
- 2019: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
- 2018: James Harden, Houston Rockets
- 2017: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
- 2016: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
- 2015: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
- 2014: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
- 2013: LeBron James, Miami Heat
- 2012: LeBron James, Miami Heat
- 2011: Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
- 2010: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
- 2009: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
- 2008: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
- 2007: Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
- 2006: Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns
- 2005: Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns
- 2004: Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves
- 2003: Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
- 2002: Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs