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How reigning MVP Joel Embiid managed to make another leap

After finishing second in the NBA’s Most-Valuable-Player voting in back-to-back years, Joel Embiid finally earned his MVP award last season.

Embiid had one of the best scoring seasons in NBA history, particularly by a big man, as he averaged the most points by a center since the 1980s. He made a significant leap forward, which wasn’t necessarily expected given that he was already one of the most dominant players in the NBA.

Embiid led the Philadelphia 76ers to 54 wins and the third seed in the Eastern Conference, averaging 33.1 points, 10.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.7 blocks, 1.0 steal and 1.0 three, while shooting 54.8% from the field, 33.0% from three-point range and 85.7% from the free-throw line. 

Now, more than a month into the 2023-24 NBA season, he is taking the next step in his development: becoming a terrific playmaker.

Embiid’s scoring is obviously his strong suit and what garners the most attention. He has won back-to-back scoring titles over the last two seasons, and he’s on pace for a third this year. However, this season, perhaps the most impressive aspect of Embiid’s game has been his playmaking abilities.

The big man recorded his first triple-double of the season in just three quarters against the Los Angeles Lakers. A 30-point triple-double is impressive in itself, but accomplishing this feat in three quarters is just ridiculous. Embiid is currently averaging a whopping 6.6 assists to go along with his 33.4 points, 11.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. Prior to this year, he had never averaged more than 4.2 assists per game.

While there has been a lot of talk about how James Harden’s departure has impacted Tyrese Maxey, it has also done wonders for Embiid’s playmaking ability. Both Embiid and Maxey are currently top-13 in the NBA in assists per game, and both are averaging more assists than Harden. Embiid is once again leading the league in scoring (32.0), while Maxey is averaging the 12th-most points per game in the NBA (27.0). This duo has just clicked this season, complementing each other perfectly while creating for themselves and others.

Even during Harden’s stint in Philadelphia, Embiid would regularly record six or more assists and flex his playmaking abilities whenever Harden was out of the lineup. While many believed that these performances were just flukes, he’s proved himself once more this season.

Embiid’s dominant all-around offensive game paired with his elite defense could make him a favorite for the MVP award once again. Embiid currently has the third-best MVP odds (+750) behind Nikola Jokic (+150) and Luka Doncic (+500).

The biggest knock on Embiid was his playmaking; now, he’s got that in his bag too.