A very popular “sports, pop culture, and tech” outlet called “The Ringer,” founded by one Bill Simmons (you may have heard of it), released its top 125 player ranking.
You may not be stunned to hear this, but Joel Embiid didn’t fare very well.
We knew there was some “they really do hate the process” stuff out there, but usually the extent of that these days ends with someone saying something like “Joel Embiid is only my second-Most Valuable Player in the NBA,” or “because of positional eligibility requirements, even though I have him as the second-best player in the NBA, the reason I don’t have him on my All-NBA First Team is because he’s a center and Jayson Tatum is a guard or forward therefore….blah blah”
That’s the kind of “hate” we’ve grown accustomed to.
But we’ve reached a comical new low.
In the latest straw poll for ESPN back in mid-February, Nikola Jokic was leading the way for MVP, followed closely by both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Embiid. But if you’ve paid attention to the discourse evolving over the last few weeks, you know the race has tightened substantially.
In fact, Ringer Founder Bill Simmons just went on his podcast and said he has voted for the player who has wound up winning MVP almost every single year since 2009, except for the one year Russell Westbrook won it over James Harden. Bill admits he voted for James “The Beard” Harden in 2017 (the objectively correct choice that season, if you ask this humble blog boy without a vote).
Simmons says that we tend to have consensus among MVP voters, but this year is different, and on his most recent podcast the former ESPN, ABC, and HBO personality adds “if anything, I might be a slight lean towards Embiid [for MVP] right now…. Embiid had an awesome game-winner the other day, and Jokic had a chance to have a game-winner today and missed it. Tiny moment, but it matters a little bit.”
Per Simmons and Ryen Russillo, just yesterday:
Basketball-reference.com has the Philadelphia superstar, who is averaging a league-leading 33.4 points, to go with 10.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game, just behind Jokic in their MVP tracker, and just ahead of Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The Ringer’s perhaps most reputable current hoops writer, Kevin O’Connor, is certainly taking note of Embiid’s recently phenomenal play:
If you pop onto “LEBRON” data at BBall-Index you’ll also see the three consensus MVP candidates atop that list as well. Over on DunksandThrees, their EPM has Joker and Process as the top two players. Of course, these advanced metrics don’t factor defense into their analysis very well, so that tends to give a slight edge to Joker.
But that’s where the eye test should help people.
Oddsmakers whose job it is to predict the sports future, and do so better than all but the very best gamblers, clearly believe that Embiid is making a real game out of this contest. How about the odds for MVP? According to Oddschecker.com, Embiid’s chances of winning his first ever MVP have rocketed up recently, and he’s now +200, eating into the heavy favorite Jokic was for the last six weeks or more. Jokic’s lead is now just -190, per markets.
As ESPN’s Zach Lowe recently pointed out on his Lowe Post pod, there are three players in the top tier: “there are three candidates for MVP right now. [Nikola] Jokic, Giannis [Antetokounmpo] and [Joel] Embiid, everyone else has fallen off behind them….”
So the gist is basically this: almost everybody thinks that one of Jokic, Embiid and Giannis is the best player right now. Giannis, Embiid or Jokic has been the prevailing discourse. Joel has played more games and a whole bunch more minutes than Giannis. Joel averages nearly 10 more points per game than Jokic.
And yet somehow, someway, The Ringer has Embiid ranked just sixth in the NBA “right now.”
I can’t stand Barstool but at least when they do a ranking with something deliberately ridiculous to drive traffic, they make it funny. Like lean into the bit and put Tatum #1 already.
I honestly can’t tell if this is lazy SEO optimization or this writer is truly clueless. https://t.co/Sz2KgChiSL
— Palmer (@Palmer2theMax) March 14, 2023
If you saw their list and wondered how it might deviate so far from everyone else’s, including the top NBA voices at The Ringer, including basically every sports bettor, talking head on television, credible and non-credible commentator alike, you’re not alone.
Perhaps the folks who cooked up this ranking looked at past playoff performance though?
In that case, maybe LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and Steph Curry should be much higher? No. Apparently, as their criteria states, they’re focused on the immediate present.
“Welcome to The Ringer’s Top 125 Players in the NBA, a year-round, around-the-clock ranking of the players making the biggest impact on the league right now. Throughout the regular season and into the offseason, our triumvirate of analysts—Rob Mahoney, J. Kyle Mann, and Michael Pina—will update this list based on recent results.”
So this is a ranking of what’s happening “right now” based on “recent results,” and you’ve got Kevin Durant and Steph Curry above Joel Embiid? Really? I love KD but he’s played three games since Jan. 8. Steph has played five games since Feb. 4. And the Warriors have lost three of those. The defending champs have just the 12th-best record in the league.
Luka Doncic is absolutely sensational but his defense isn’t in the same realm as Embiid’s, he’s dealing with a thigh injury, and his team literally has a losing record (33-34) in the mild, mild West no less. Dude, with the 16th-best record, Dallas has the same record as the Atlanta Hawks.
literally not a soul in the world…
The Ringer’s top 125 rank: “Joel Embiid isn’t even a top-five player in the league right now.”
Intending no disrespect to Mahoney, Mann, and Pina, one does’t get the sense they’re entrenched in the same analysis and debates as the rest of the basketball obsessed world. They should probably listen to Simmons and O’Connor’s recent podcasts to help fill in the gaps.
Durant certainly has the playoff resume. But KD has only played in 42 games this season. No one who watches their own favorite team and an embarrassing heap of other teams on League Pass would say KD is playing better ball than Joel Embiid currently. We’re just hoping Slim Reaper can regain the MVP-caliber form he had when he was last healthy back in early January. Curry has also played in just 43 games.
Embiid just won Eastern Conference Player of the Week, and reduced in half what his MVP odds were mere weeks ago. If that’s not a clue that you might want to stick this guy into your (again, current) top three, like basically every other major outlet, then I’m not sure what to say.
If the Ringer’s ranking had said something like “here are the guys we feel most comfortable with heading into the playoffs,” then there would be much more subjectivity to it all. Maybe they could make a claim like “until we see Embiid avoid a freak elbow to the eye-socket, we’ll just never believe he can make a Final Four,” yadda yadda yadda. We’ve even got Sixers fans saying stuff like that, so it would at least be a bit more relatable.
But to not even have a guy who may well win MVP in a few weeks, and become the first center since Kareem to lead the league in scoring in back-to-back seasons, in your top five? At the risk of contributing to a false binary where you’re either right or a moron, as Zach Lowe recently put it when criticizing Daryl Morey, you can’t not have Joel in your top five. You just can’t. Sorry.
Mr. Simmons, if this whiney blog lands on your lap, I promise I can help fine-tune The Ringer’s top 125 ranking, and keep it a little bit more inline with the current NBA landscape. I consume the data. I watch the damn games. I listen to Ringer pods whenever I can. I remember KOC was right about Brandon Ingram over Ben Simmons. I can admit it. If you’ve personally voted for every eventual MVP since 2009 except Harden, and are currently leaning towards voting for Joel, help your guys out with their list so we don’t have to write these things.
(Unless the plan was to make a silly list so dupes like me would draw even more attention to it, if so well played. Well played indeed.)