76ers star Embiid breaks through, wins first MVP

76ers star Embiid breaks through, wins first MVP

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award for the 2022-23 season, the league announced Tuesday, finally lifting the prestigious trophy after finishing second in the past two seasons.

Embiid turned the script around with a dominant season as he finished ahead of Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic and Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo for the league’s highest individual honor.

What looked like a close race for much of the season ended in blowout when Embiid received 73 of the 100 available votes for first place (915 total). Jokic had 15 first-place votes (674 total), while Antetokounmpo won 12 (606). Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum was fourth, and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was fifth.

“I don’t even know where to start,” Embiid said during an interview with Inside the NBA after winning the award. “It took a long time, a lot of hard work. I’ve been through a lot, and I’m not just talking about basketball… it feels good. I don’t know what to say. It is amazing. “

Embiid is determined to win the MVP trophy – and has fought for it for years. The third overall pick of the 2014 draft, Embiid missed his first two full seasons through injuries before establishing himself as a consistent All-Star and All-NBA player. The affable center became the face of the ’76 rebuilding effort commonly known as “The Process.” He adopted the nickname and is introduced as Joel “The Process” Embiid before every home game.

The 29-year-old from Yaoundé, Cameroon had a career year in which he led the NBA for the second straight season while improving his efficiency – with average career highs of 33.1 points and 54.8% shooting, along with a 10 .2 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.7 blocks per game.

The win for Embiid marks the third straight season a center has picked up the honors, with Jokic winning the last two seasons. It’s the fifth consecutive year for an international player, dating back to Antetokounmpo’s victories in the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Prior to the last five years, the only international players to win MVP were Hakeem Olajuwon (1993-94), Steve Nash (2005-06) and Dirk Nowitzki (2006-07).

The MVP award was renamed after Michael Jordan this season as part of an overhaul of the league’s awards.

The Sixers have been without their MVP for the past two weeks as Embiid was sidelined with a sprained lateral collateral ligament in his right knee, sustained in Game 3 of Philadelphia’s first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets. The injury forced him to miss both the final game of that series and Philadelphia’s overwhelming win over the Boston Celtics Monday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals behind 45 points from James Harden.

When asked if he was ready to play in Game 2 on Wednesday, Embiid disagreed, saying “we’ll see.”

Jokic, meanwhile, became nearly the first center — and only the third player ever, after Russell Westbrook and Oscar Robertson — to average a triple-double for a season and average 24.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 9.8 assists on shooting, 63% completed from the field for the Western Conference lead nuggets. Embiid denied him the chance to become just the fourth player in NBA history to win three straight MVP awards, joining Larry Bird – the last player to do so (1984-86) – Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.

Antetokounmpo, himself a two-time MVP winner, averaged 31.1 points, 11.8 rebounds and 5.7 assists for Milwaukee this season. He led the Bucks to the league’s best record before missing two games and part of a third with a back injury in Milwaukee’s shocking first-round loss to the Miami Heat in the playoffs last week.

Throughout the season, ESPN’s MVP straw polls followed what appeared to be a close race. In December, Tatum led the first poll but had less than half of the first-place votes overall, showing it was still an open race. When the second edition of the straw poll was conducted the week before the All-Star break, Jokic held a significant lead, grabbing 77 out of 100 first-place votes to finish ahead of Antetokounmpo and Embiid, respectively.

But between then and the last straw poll in late March, Jokic and the Nuggets struggled all month while Embiid had an absolute rift after the All-Star break, sending Philadelphia up the standings while tackling the league’s toughest schedule faced.

As a result, Embiid moved up to the top of the last straw poll, despite ending in first place with fewer votes than Jokic.

Embiid made his closing point with a dominant performance of 52 points and 13 rebounds to beat the Celtics in the final week of the regular season.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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