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August 15, 2018

NBA MVP odds: Joel Embiid opens as ninth-highest favorite for 2018-19 MVP

Your ability to watch live basketball may be limited at the moment, but the good folks in Las Vegas are not any less interested in separating you from your money in the meantime. About two months out from the regular season, Bovada's oddsmakers are beginning to set preseason lines for some of the major NBA accolades, and a couple Sixers are high up in MVP discussions.

Their closest man to the top, naturally, is center Joel Embiid. Clocking in at the ninth spot with 16/1 odds to win the 2018-19 MVP, Embiid trails a who's who of All-NBA talent. In front of him, starting from the favorite: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, and Stephen Curry.

That's quite a group of players, and for Embiid to crack the top-10, tied with Celtics guard Kyrie Irving, says a lot about where he's at in the league hierarchy these days. I would probably quibble with some of these odds — I'm not a big enough believer in the Bucks to consider Antetokounmpo a serious threat to win MVP — but on the whole it's a fairly accurate reflection of where the league stands.

Embiid's odds feel like somewhat of a hedge, combining optimism for his and the Sixers' upside with the possibility of Embiid missing time due to injury. Last year was considered a runaway success for Embiid in the health department, but the facial injury he suffered on top of some early-season rest only allowed him to play 63 games. That's a major win from Philadelphia's perspective, but unlikely to be good enough to capture serious MVP consideration when it comes down to it.

So what does an MVP season even look like for Embiid? It probably wouldn't look all that much different from last year's production, but it would need to come on an even more prolific team. Outside of the Sixers pushing 60 wins and finding themselves in striking distance of the No. 1 seed, I'm not sure Embiid's individual production alone would be enough to sway the voting public. 

Defense is typically not valued to the degree it should in these discussions, and with Embiid not serving as a primary initiator on his team he's probably going to be judged with more scrutiny than some of his peers on the wing or at the guard spots. Unless Embiid improves his efficiency, cuts down his turnovers, and continues to raise the bar for his production, he'll be hard pressed to be the first big man to win an MVP since Dirk Nowitzki in 2006-07.

Lurking just below Embiid in the odds is Ben Simmons, who Bovada currently has listed at 35/1. That's ahead of perennial All-Stars like Damian Lillard (45/1) and Paul George (125/1), and a good bit ahead of players who don't understand the definition of rookie, like Donovan Mitchell (85/1).

In his current form, it's nearly impossible to see Simmons getting real buzz for the award. Unless his jumper rounds into shape, there's no real debate about who Philadelphia's best and most important current player is. Embiid is the center of attention, and without more scoring punch you need to have transcendent seasons distributing the ball and impacting the game elsewhere to get real MVP consideration.

The likelihood for either Sixers player to take home the top individual honor is probably even lower than these odds suggest, but it shows how far the franchise has come that they have two players who garner that type of respect from the oddsmakers, let alone the fans and the league at large. It seems insane to say now, but the team is only two seasons removed from finishing the 2015-16 campaign 10-72.

It's a shame, I guess, that The Process was a scam that ruined basketball in Philadelphia forever. Too bad.

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