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May 23, 2019

Nikola Jokic beats out Joel Embiid for All-NBA First Team honors

Joel Embiid did not make the cut for first-team All NBA this season, narrowly missing out on the honor in a battle with Denver's Nikola Jokic, the league announced on Thursday afternoon.

The full teams were as follows:

It marks the second consecutive year Embiid has finished behind another big man on the ballot, having finished behind New Orleans' Anthony Davis last season. That race was not particularly close, with Davis finishing on 96 first-team ballots compared to just 11 for Embiid, but this was a different sort of race altogether this season, with Davis' absence creating room for debate about what style of center you prefer. Jokic only beat Embiid out by 36 points on the ballot.

Those in Embiid's corner — which is to say, people like me — would point to his transformative impact on Philadelphia's defense on top of the insane workload he was asked to shoulder on the other end of the floor. He is, at worst, one of the five most impactful defenders in the league, and this year we saw a glimpse of what Embiid looks like when he is able to get his body in tip-top shape. He was an MVP candidate for much of the first half of the season, and he imposed his will on the game in a way we hadn't seen him do consistently before this year.

Jokic, on the other hand, is great because he basically creates Denver's entire offensive style. He is a system by himself, essentially, and though he trails Embiid in several traditionally important categories (points, rebounds, blocks), he is an entirely different weapon on the offensive end. And while he has limitations on defense Embiid does not, being the hub of an elite offense helps to offset his issues there. When an opponent is constantly taking the ball out of the net, it's harder for them to generate points on the other end.

Insofar as this matters, Jokic also ended up playing 16 more games than Embiid this season. That's not nothing, though I believe it is worth noting that even with the games played advantage, Jokic's Nuggets only managed to win three more games than a Sixers team that basically threw out the end of the season.

Perhaps this is worth noting as part of a pattern at this point — Embiid is going to struggle to make his way to the top of year-end awards ballots unless his yearly health struggles fade from view. Embiid is fighting a two-front war here. Those games missed are numbers on a page that people are happy to point out when they happen. But whenever he misses any sort of time or is banged up, the media conversation is louder about him than it is for another player because of his history. It's a cycle that won't end until/unless he can play something like 70+ games in a year.

There are still plenty of people out there who see and want to reward him for what he does while he's on the floor, but within the context of rewarding excellence over an entire season, I completely understand those who dock him for it.

Of course, the important thing here is not whether he wins individual hardware, but whether he is in a better position to lead the Sixers to playoff glory. That was a big topic of discussion at exit interviews, and Embiid hinted himself there may be a different plan next season.

"We've already talked about it. Looking at the way Toronto managed Kawhi last season, obviously I don't want to miss that many games but when you start thinking about back-to-backs and all that, obviously having a good team around you helps," Embiid said, "I think as long as I think we got it all covered and I feel like we have an opportunity to win games without me I'm up to it. Definitely got to take a better approach. Just got to keep working on my body, it's only going to get better.

Elsewhere, Ben Simmons received seven votes for All-NBA third team, with Tobias Harris picking up two votes for the third team. Jimmy Butler was not included on any ballots.

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