CLEVELAND — Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid declared “the way I’ve been playing speaks for itself” when asked why he should be the NBA’s Most Valuable Player this season.
“I don’t want to push for the whole thing, but the way I’ve been playing speaks for itself,” Embiid said Saturday afternoon during his All-Star Weekend media availability. “Especially with everything we went through, the drama this whole year, obviously missing a big piece, and then everything that happened to our team, and the way our team is set up.
“So, I knew had to take my game to another level, whether it was offensively, defensively or playmaking, and I’ve got great teammates that are coming in every single day and giving their all on the floor. But it always goes back to winning. As long as we win, I’ll be at that level and have a chance to win it all and win the MVP.
“But to answer your question, the play speaks for itself. Every single night, that’s what I’ve been doing offensively and defensively and I don’t plan on stopping.”
Embiid has been dominant all season for the 76ers, leading the NBA in scoring entering the All-Star Break at 29.6 points per game to go along with 11.2 rebounds and a career-high 4.5 assists. And he’s done it all with the specter of Ben Simmons‘ trade demand hanging over his team all season.
That, however, is now gone, thanks to last week’s trade that saw James Harden come to Philadelphia in exchange for Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and a pair of first-round picks. Embiid, however, is still very much front and center in Philadelphia’s hopes to win its first championship in almost 40 years.
It’s also put Embiid in position to win his first MVP award, after coming in second in the voting last season. In ESPN’s most recent NBA Straw Poll, conducted within the last week, Embiid has a slim lead over fellow big man Nikola Jokic — who finished ahead of him in last year’s voting.
The fact the Sixers have managed to stay in the middle of the East playoff picture even without Embiid’s co-star is due, in large part, to the way he’s played this season — which Embiid said is the best year of his career to this point.
“When you look at it, yes, so far,” Embiid said. “There’s still another level that I can get to, that I believe I can get to. And I plan to keep working to reach that level. Last year was great, [but] this year, I really had to take my game to an even higher level than last year.
“[So] I would say yes, so far, but [there’s] still another level I can get to.”
When asked directly what it would take to get to that final level Embiid thinks he can get to, he pointed to his conditioning. While he said he’s pleased with the progress he made with his body, he said he feels to make the final step toward being a complete two-way player, he has to continue to improve that part of his game.
He also said that would allow him to get further recognition at the defensive end of the court — something he thinks he doesn’t get enough of.
“That level is the last two years I really worked on my body and the results are showing,” Embiid said. “I still feel like I’m not there. I’m not close to where I want to be when it comes to my body, so I feel like once I get to that level, a lot of times, most of the time, I play, I’m 100 percent, but to be asked to do everything offensively and defensively, it takes a toll, it’s hard.
“There’s not a lot of guys that can do that in the league, so I really believe once I get to that level … I don’t get a lot of respect when it comes to my defense. So, I want to be able to be this great offensive player and I already think defensively I’m up there but I really want to earn that respect when it comes to defense, but it takes a lot. It takes your body to be in the best shape possible and I think that’s where I got to get to.”
Source: ESPN NBA