In the latest of edition of the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, two big men elevated based on their play not just from the past week, but over the course of the first half of the season: Nikola Jokic climbed to No. 1 and Joel Embiid moved up to No. 3.
Both players are averaging more than 25 points and 10 rebounds per game and can hurt you in a variety of ways. Embiid has a strong face-up game, ranks ninth in the league in isolation scoring (9.0 ppg), can shoot the three with high efficiency (career-best 39.0% on 3.4 attempts per game), and he dishes out 4.3 assists per game (fourth among centers).
Jokic tops that list of passing centers at 7.6 assists per game, which also ranks 10th in the league overall. He also can shoot the three (36.3% on a career-high 4.2 attempts per game) and crash the offensive glass as he ranks fourth in second-chance points (3.8 ppg).
However, both players also excel at a more traditional skill for big men – scoring on post-ups – as they lead the top 10 scorers on post-ups through games played on Jan. 23. Not only does this top 10 list include three of the top four players in the MVP Ladder, but it also includes four of the top seven scorers in the league so far this season.
Joel Embiid: Since his rookie season in 2016-17, Embiid has never finished lower than third place in post-up scoring. He is on pace to lead the league for the third straight season and fourth time in his six NBA seasons.
- 2021-22: 7.8 (1st)
- 2020-21: 8.6 (1st)
- 2019-20: 7.4 (1st)
- 2018-19: 6.9 (3rd)
- 2017-18: 9.0 (1st)
- 2016-17: 6.0 (2nd)
Joel Embiid logged 14 post-ups in his 50 point game and scored 17 points on 9 shots, 6 points on 3 fouls, and his teammates scored 4 points on 2 passes.
— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) January 20, 2022
Nikola Jokic: Jokic is the second-leading scorer on post-ups (4.6 ppg) and the leader in assists off post-ups (31 total, no other player has more than 22). Jokic constantly puts defenses in a quandary – he’s so good scoring in the post (shooting 60.2%) that they want to send a double-team, but if they do, he is so skilled at passing out of the double-teams that it will likely send their defense scrambling to try to stop an easy basket or an open 3-pointer for a teammate.
Jonas Valanciunas: When Valanciunas was traded to Memphis before the 2018 trade deadline, he had averaged 11.8 points over his first seven seasons in Toronto. In 2 1/2 seasons in Memphis, Valanciunas increased his scoring to 16.4 ppg, with 3.4 of those points coming on post ups. Now in his first season in New Orleans, Valanciunas is averaging a career-best 18.3 ppg and 4.0 of those are coming on post-ups.
Anthony Davis: Davis has been sidelined since Dec. 17 with an MCL sprain, but is expected to make his return to the court on Tuesday when the Lakers face the Brooklyn Nets. In his first two seasons in Los Angeles, Davis finished third in post-up scoring, including career highs of 5.1 ppg and 51% shooting last season. Can he return to that level once he gets back on the court?
Robin Lopez: Among the top 10 post-up scorers, no player relies on post-ups for more of their offense than Lopez as post-ups account for 36.5% of his total points. Joel Embiid ranks second at 27.2%. Lopez (23.9) is the only player on this list to average fewer than 50 touches per game;
Kristaps Porzingis: Porzingis has improved his post-up efficiency during his time in Dallas, but his frequency of post-up shots has not matched what he did in New York. In 186 games with the Knicks, Porzingis shot 39.8% on 2.77 post-up shots per game. In 129 games with the Mavericks, Porzingis has shot 46.8% on 2.29 post-up shots per game.
Karl-Anthony Towns: Towns is averaging a career-low 2.6 points per game on post-ups so far this season as his post scoring has steadily declined over the past four seasons. Towns led the league in post-up scoring in his second NBA season (2016-17, 6.5 ppg) and his post-up scoring peaked two seasons later (2018-19, 7.0 ppg, 2nd in NBA). In the seasons that followed his scoring dropped to 4.4 ppg in 2019-20, 4.0 ppg in 2020-21 and now 2.6 in 2021-22.
Jusuf Nurkic: Nurkic is one of three players to rank in the top 10 in both post-up scoring (2.5 ppg, 8th) and pick-and-roll roll man scoring (5.1 ppg, 4th) along with Anthony Davis and Nikola Jokic. Nurkic has been much more efficient on roll man plays (shooting 64.7%) than he has on post-ups (shooting 47.8%).
Kevin Durant: Of the 21 players in the NBA this season that have attempted at least 50 shots on post-ups, none shoots a higher percentage than Durant at 63.0%. The league’s leading scorer simply has no holes in his offensive game – he can just as easily hit a pull-up 3-pointer as he can drive past a defender to get into the paint, or back a smaller defender down and rise up for a fallaway jumper (a la Dirk Nowitzki) that is essentially unblockable with his length and shot release.
LeBron James: Second on that list behind Durant is LeBron at 62.7%. LeBron is having his best offensive season in more than a decade; he’s averaging 29.0 ppg, his highest scoring average since 2009-10. Part of that is due to a rise in his 3-point shooting as he’s averaging career highs in makes (2.8) and attempts (7.9) per game. But he’s also posting up more than he has since joining the Lakers in 2018-19 (4.2 per game) and scoring more on post-ups (2.4 ppg) than he has in any season dating back to his final season in Miami in 2013-14 – the first season of player tracking data.