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Is Embiid a Legitimate NBA MVP Contender with Butler at his Side?

Joel Embiid grabs a rebound
Joel Embiid has emerged as a bona fide MVP candidate. Photo by Keith Allison (Flickr) [CC License]
  • Joel Embiid’s MVP odds improved dramatically following the 76ers’ acquisition of Jimmy Butler
  • Is Butler the key to unlocking Embiid’s greatness?
  • Can Embiid handle an increased workload over the course of a full season?  

Jimmy Butler was unable to turn Karl-Anthony Towns into the league’s most dominant player during their one full season together in Minnesota, but oddsmakers think it will be a different story this year in Philadelphia with Joel Embiid.

The Cameroonian center has seen his odds to win the NBA MVP award improve from +1400 before the Sixers acquired Butler to +800 immediately after they welcomed the four-time All-Star to the City of Brotherly Love.

2019 NBA MVP Odds


That’s the biggest jump of any player over the past week, and it surely isn’t a coincidence.  The reason why sportsbooks are bullish on Butler is that he demands so much attention on offense. Opposing teams will no longer be able to double and triple-team Embiid as they did so often when Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons were both on the court.

Butler’s impact was evident on Wednesday against the Magic, as Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross remained glued to Philly’s new shooting guard during his Sixers debut. Their preoccupation allowed Embiid to have his way with Nikola Vucevic, who, like most centers in the league, lacks the athleticism and lateral quickness to keep up with a player of JoJo’s caliber.

Philadelphia ultimately lost the game 111-106, but Embiid’s final stat line of 19 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists, and two blocks are an encouraging sign of things to come.

NBA MVP Top 5 Contenders at BetOnline

Player BetOnline Odds (11/16/18)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks) +200
LeBron James (Lakers) +550
Anthony Davis (Pelicans) +600
Kevin Durant (Warriors) +750
Kawhi Leonard (Raptors) +750

Embiid was already having an exceptional season before Philly added Butler into the mix, but he might be unstoppable now. The 24-year-old big man is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, field goal attempts, and three-point attempts. For the first time in his career, he’s also not on a minutes restriction. That’s a key consideration, as it will give Embiid the opportunity to produce the kind of eye-popping stats that MVP voters value.

Joel Embiid Statistics

2016-17 20.2 7.8 2.1 2.5
2017-18 22.9 11.0 3.2 1.8
2018-19 27.6 13.4 3.9 2.1

Is Embiid a Bona Fide MVP Candidate?

Embiid is an excellent value at +800, but he’s unlikely to win MVP honors because he plays alongside two legitimate All-Stars in Butler and Ben Simmons. The three players will ultimately split votes and diminish Embiid chances of winning the award in 2019.

Another reason to be leery of Embiid is his well-documented injury history. The Kansas product sat out two full seasons after being drafted, and missed 51 games in 2016-17 and 19 games in 2017-18. He appears to be healthy now, but it remains to be seen how his body will respond to his increased playing time.

In a season in which many players are having brilliant seasons, voters may chose to reward LeBron for his brilliant career.

If you’re looking for a safer bet, we recommend LeBron James at +550. The three-time MVP is averaging 27.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 7.2 assists per game, and recently passed Wilt Chamberlain to become the fifth highest scorer in NBA history. Unlike Embiid, LeBron is the unquestioned face of the franchise, and will garner a significant number of votes if he can turn LA’s mismatched roster into a title contender.

LeBron may not be a trendy, under-the-radar pick, but there’s simply no arguing with his sustained greatness. In a season in which many players are having brilliant seasons, voters may chose to reward LeBron for his brilliant career.

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Ryan currently serves as an Editor and resident Lead NBA and MLB Writer for SBD. He has authored his own column for both Fox Sports and AskMen, and has created campaigns for the WWE, the NHL, and the NFL. Ryan's critically acclaimed stories have been published in 20 books.