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Joel Embiid could be first MVP center since O’Neal

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid is having one of the most dominant seasons by a center in recent history, which could just lead him to become MVP.

There hasn’t been a purely dominant center in the NBA since the prime years of Shaquille O’Neal when he won the MVP in the 1999-2000 season. Dwight Howard never was the lower scoring threat that O’Neal was and DeMarcus Cousins‘ dominance was marred by losing and a bad attitude. Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid has become just as unstoppable as O’Neal was back in his day.

Let’s be clear, other big men have won the MVP since O’Neal: Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki also were awarded the honor. However, all of them were power forwards at that point in their careers, so in that regard Shaq has been the last true center to win the award. Even so, the MVP has gone to a perimeter player ever since Nowitzki won it back in 2006-07 season. Winning the award has been difficult for any big man in recent memory.

With Shaq being the last true center to win the award, it seems like it’s time for another center to get that honor. Enter in Embiid, who recently had 40 points and 21 rebounds against the Indiana Pacers. Embiid has scored at least 30 points in 17 out of 31 games he’s played in this season and has had a double-double in 26 games as well. On top of that, the Sixers are a contender and he has the same type of and over the top personality that made O’Neal such a polarizing player.

Comparing Embiid’s current season to Shaq’s MVP season, there’s clearly similarities in how much those two dominated.

Per Game Table
Rk Player Season Age G GS MP FG% 3P% 2P% eFG% FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
1 Joel Embiid 2018-19 24 29 29 34.4 .471 .292 .523 .504 .794 2.4 11.1 13.6 3.6 0.6 1.9 3.3 3.5 27.0
2 Shaquille O’Neal* 1999-00 27 79 79 40.0 .574 .000 .575 .574 .524 4.3 9.4 13.6 3.8 0.5 3.0 2.8 3.2 29.7

Shaq was a slightly more dominant scorer and shot blocker, but Embiid has to play more on the perimeter so he can’t post up as much as O’Neal did. On the flip side Embiid can rely on the 3-point shot, something Shaq never could do, but that is partially due to how much the game has changed. Defensively, the NBA is different than back then, so expecting Embiid to be as good as Shaq on defense is a little unrealistic.

Still the similarities between the two players is undeniable. Both are unstoppable in the post and scary on defense. They are polarizing figures in the game and like Shaq did, Embiid plays for a very good team. However, let’s make it clear, Embiid doesn’t have easy competition. Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard are some of the players Embiid will have to contend with for the MVP honors.

Next: Why can’t the Sixers guards actually guard anyone?

It’s yet to be seen if the Philadelphia 76ers big man will be the first center to claim the MVP title in 19-years, but there’s no denying the similarities between Embiid and the last center to win it. Producing similar numbers to when Shaq won the MVP puts the Sixers center in a good place within the race.

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