There was nothing lost in Joel Embiid’s 50 points in 27 minutes against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night because it’s impossible to talk about the 76ers without mentioning you know who. Every conversation about Philly starts and stops with, “Imagine if Ben Simmons…” Imagine if they traded him here, or if he was playing there, or if he hadn’t passed up that dunk against Atlanta, and on and on.
Even when Embiid goes for a 50 piece, you still can’t forget no matter the quality of highlight.
There’s no forgetting, and there’s no losing track of the Simmons drama. The MVP odds post Kevin Durant injury have Embiid in fourth (+1000) behind Steph Curry (+160), Giannis Antetokounmpo (+280), and Nikola Jokic (+800) despite him putting up at least 30 in 13 of his past 15 games, including last night’s 50 spot and a 41 point performance against Boston.
They’re 11-4 over that stretch, and Embiid had led the team in scoring all of those games. He’s averaging 28, 10, and 4 on 49-37-82 shooting splits for the year, per basketball-reference.com. He’s posted 17 double-doubles and a triple double in the 33 games he’s played, and the team is 23-10 when he’s on the court.
The only case against him being at the forefront of the statistical MVP race, as well as the narrative MVP race, is that he’s missed 11 games, most of them due to a battle with COVID. (The hypothetical chances of the injury-prone Embiid being one of the handful of NBA players who had to “battle” Rona had to be cynically good.) Those absences won’t matter if he stays healthy (a big if), because the three Vegas front-runners ahead of him have only played 38, 38, and 40 contests respectively.
Still, it’s kind of strange that we haven’t heard more chatter about him winning the MVP, because he’s having the special kind of season everyone salivated for out of Curry. Golden State is slumping, and the other two guys in the running each won the award the past season or two. The only reason the headlines haven’t gone the way of Russell Westbrook’s MVP year is because Simmons hasn’t “abandoned” the team yet. Whether you think he quit on the team or he’s in the right after the team tried to trade him, him still being there overshadows Embiid going ham.
Now the undisputed focal point of the team on the floor, Embiid’s opportunities to blow minds have only increased. It’ll never be normal to see a 7-foot, 280-pound center do this.
I’m this guy 17 times a game with Embiid.
Philly faithful should be basking in MVP and title contender segments, not trudging waist-deep through a slog of “Top five Simmons destination” pieces. I understand Daryl Morey wants to justify handling the Simmons situation like an entitled ass-clown and get a Damian Lillard-esque haul, but Embiid is playing like the best guy on a championship team, and they might only be a CJ McCollum-type player away from a title this season.
The sharps give the 76ers the eighth-best odds to take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy (+2000), per ActionNetwork.com, which is probably a pretty accurate reflection of reality given the standings — and if you flip the Bulls (+2200) and Lakers (+1400) because Vegas has to juice LA due to their status as popular betting favorites.
If I had guarantees that Simmons would be moved by the deadline, I’d take a flyer on Philly. Morey has been on the other side of fleecings before, so you know he’s not going to take a substantial L in any deal, but he’s still going to have to take an L.
The media has been talking about everything but the on-court product in Philadelphia for so long that we’re numb to any piece about the team. It’s a terrible look for the organization as they’re in jeopardy of not maximizing their window while Embiid is maximizing his talents.
It’s also bad for the NBA to have one of its most exciting players sit out a season — even though he’s healthy — when it can barely get through a normal year, let alone a COVID-plagued one, with all of its stars intact.
I’m not saying Adam Silver should step in and demand the situation be resolved, but the league has to be desperately hoping for a resolution, because in a season that will probably be defined by losses, it’d be nice to avoid an… avoidable one.
If Embiid were to lose out on his chance at a ring — and an MVP — due to front office ineptitude, we can toss whatever book eventually gets penned about The Process into the Greek Tragedy section at the library.