Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder mailbag: A puzzling season for Joel Embiid

Fielding your questions on Luka Doncic, James Harden, LeBron James and more

Joel Embiid’s strange season took a historic turn Monday, when the Sixers’ center had his first scoreless NBA game.

Embiid shot 0-for-11 (including 0-for-4 on 3-poiners), was 0-for-3 on free throws and had 13 rebounds in the loss to Toronto.

“I can’t have this type of production,” Embiid told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I would have never thought I would be here talking about zero points in an NBA game. But it is what it is. Some nights you make shots, some nights you don’t.”

It’s just one of several strange performances from the player many believed to be the best center in the league.

Embiid simply isn’t playing to last season’s level, when he averaged career highs in points (27.5), rebounds (13.6), assists (3.7) and minutes (33.7) in leading the Sixers to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

His production to date – 21.7 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 2.9 apg in 29.7 mpg — is a head-scratching dip for a player who has the tools to be the NBA’s most physically dominant player.

It also explains why Embiid has been noticeably absent from the top 10 of the Kia Race to the MVP Ladder in recent weeks.

The Sixers remain one of the top teams in the league — at least in theory. They have the size, defensive prowess and talent to challenge for a title. But it’s hard to see them as a legitimate title contender without Embiid playing better.

Who made Magic’s list?: Even Magic Johnson is diving in on the MVP fun these days …

He’s on one: The OG, TuffJuice (aka Caron Butler) himself, gave a shout out to the work being done by Wizards guard Bradley Beal. He would be on anyone’s MVP top 10 list if his work wasn’t being done in vain.

Players of the week: Luka Doncic earning Western Conference Player of the Week honors was no surprise. He’s been shredding the competition for weeks. His Eastern Conference counterpart, Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie, found his groove in a 3-1 week. That had to make Nets fans feel good with Kyrie Irving out of the lineup. Dinwiddie was at his clutch best against the Cavs, drilling an elbow jumper with 1.9 seconds left to seal the Nets’ fourth straight win. It was his second career game-winner in the last five seconds of a game. Dinwiddie, Irving and Caris LeVert must all work together this season if the Nets are going to solidify themselves as a playoff squad.

Now, let’s get into your comments about last week’s Kia MVP Ladder.

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Time running out on LeBron?

From: Željko Puharić

Nov. 23, 2019 | 9:41 a.m.

Dear Sekou,

Greetings from Croatia. My man Kevin Durant is out, but some pretty good guys are still there. Luka Doncic – who’s from my neighborhood — or Kawhi Leonard or “The Beard” as usual are in the mix. LeBron is like old wine but not good enough for a second place spot on the MVP list. To me, he’s not even amongst the three best players at the moment.

Sorry, LBJ, but time is running for all of us. And here’s a suggestion for the MVP award: it must be for the season and playoffs (remember last year’s Giannis or even Harden compared to Durant or Leonard in the playoffs?) and there should be one MVP for The Finals.

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My response: Some things translate easily, Zeljko. And trust me, LeBron is all in on the fine wine reference (he popped the cork on a 33-point, 14-rebound gem as the Lakers won their eighth straight game Monday night). I’d respectfully disagree with you about him not belonging in the top three of the chase right now, though. As for the suggestion that we only have one MVP award encompassing both the regular and postseason, we covered that ground previously. Fair points were raised. Still, I can’t imagine things changing any time soon. And a hat tip to you and all the NBA fans in Croatia.

A vote of approval

From: David Spahr

Nov. 22 , 2019 | 4:51 p.m.

The list looks pretty spot on now.

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My response: I’ll sleep better this holiday season David knowing you approve.

A nod to Mr. Davis

From: J.A. Diaz

Nov. 23, 2019 | 4:41 a.m.

How can you possibly have Anthony Davis any lower than 6th? His two-way play this season is just studly. Even on non-stat plays he impacts opposing players’ drives to the hole. You might wanna watch his defense a bit closer. I have him 2nd in defensive POY race.

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My response: You bring up a great point, J.A., where AD’s two-way play is concerned. Few in the NBA do it better on both ends. The hiccup, for me, comes in the form of trying to decide whose play is more critical to the Lakers’ bottom line: LeBron’s or AD’s? That’s the real dilemma where MVP consideration is concerned.

Another week, another list

From: Landon Bangerter

Nov. 22, 2019 | 11:07 a.m.

Love the list as always, Sekou. And I love that you respond to our emails and tweets. It makes things much more interesting.

I agree with mostly the top 4, and some scatter shots here and there. But I do think there are a few players that we need to consider:

Eric Bledsoe: With the No. 1 slot in the East for Milwaukee, Bledsoe hasn’t missed a single game and is at 17.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg and 5.2 apg — all great numbers, as he’s aiding “The Greek Freak.” He should be considered.

Jayson Tatum: Again, likely overshadowed by the best player on his team, but Tatum also hasn’t missed a game for Boston. He’s at 20.5 ppg and 6.9 rpg and certainly warrants a spot in the Ladder conversation.

Lou Williams: I remember you talking about how fantastic sixth men like Williams should not be a part of the MVP conversation should not be. I disagree. I think as a sixth man, you can be just as valuable on your team as any starter. Williams is the Clippers’ MVP so far this season. It would’ve been Leonard, but the man has load management issues. And that’s the biggest thing I disagree with you on. Leonard is way too high, considering that he’s missed two of the Clippers’ wins, and Williams has been phenomenal for them and hasn’t missed a game. Hence why Williams (and Montrezl Harrell, frankly) are in my MVP convo.

With that said, here’s my personal MVP ladder update:

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)

2. James Harden (Houston Rockets)

3. Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers)

4. LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers)

5. Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks)

6. Kemba Walker (Boston Celtics)

7. Pascal Siakam (Toronto Raptors)

8. Eric Bledsoe (Milwaukee Bucks)

9. Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics)

10. Lou Williams (LA Clippers)

And five more:Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat), Montrezl Harrell (Los Angeles Clippers), Kawhi Leonard (Los Angeles Clippers), Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz), Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota Timberwolves)

Keep up the good work as usual, Sekou!

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My response: You keep this up, Landon, and we’re going to be old school hoops pen pals. Seriously, I appreciate the feedback and your willingness to put yourself out there on a consistent basis. But I should warn you, there are quite a few people who won’t be happy to see where you have Luka on your list. Just saying …

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He’s still the one!

From: Rafael Testai

Nov. 24, 2019 | 1:43 p.m.

LeBron James is still the most athletic player in the NBA.

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My response: I don’t know if he can claim that anymore, not with 35 just around the corner. But he’s still up there. And he’s maintained his elite athleticism longer than should be allowed. He has it in flashes now as opposed to in 30-minute intervals. But you’re not far off in your assessment.

Not so funny now, right?

From: Marko M.

Nov. 22, 2019 | 7:41 p.m.

Luka ahead of Harden?

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My response: Doesn’t look so crazy after Sunday night, does it?

Best of both worlds

From: Janez

Nov. 25, 2019 | 7:36 a.m.

As a 20+yrs Slovenian Spurs fan it’s tough right now. I basically root for a Luka Doncic triple double every night and a Mavericks loss by one point … Seriously though Go Spurs Go! and fair play to you Dallas – enjoy your success.

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My response: You can’t lose, Janez. The Spurs have been legit your entire life and now you get Luka.

Don’t disrespect the boss man

From: Max Steves

Nov. 22, 2019 | 8:38 p.m.

I am not a Mavs. Fan. never have been because of Mark Cuban. But the Mavs have the MVP for this Season — the 20 year old, LUKA DONCIC!

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My response: The greatest success in Mavericks history has come on Mark Cuban’s watch, so I have a hard time with anyone taking unnecessary shots at a guy who has done what he has during his time owning the team. As for your second part, we shall see.

Look closely, my friend

From: Daniel Fripp

Nov. 24, 2019 | 6:06 p.m.

Can you stop pretending Luka Doncic doesn’t exist? How is he not the top player on your list?

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My response: Since when does a top 3 spot equate to acting like the man doesn’t exist?

Where’s respect for Harden?

From: Ggs

Nov. 22, 2019 | 7:47 p.m.

The man is averaging 39 ppg and brought his team on a 8-game win streak out the slump they had.

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My response: There are two sides to the game. Scoring isn’t everything. It’s a huge part of it and the part Harden does better than anyone else. But he’s in the thick of things will guys who are arguably much, much better two way players (save for Luka, who is every bit the impact on the Mavericks that Harden is having on the Rockets this season).

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Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.