James Harden would like to think he knows an MVP when he sees one, having won the award himself in 2018 and played alongside two others: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. And in Harden's book, new teammate Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, "deserves" to win the award this season.
"He deserves it, man," Harden told ESPN. "I've only been here for a few weeks, but I already see his mindset. He wants to win. Some guys just want numbers, but he has both. He has the mentality of winning, and he scores the ball at a high level. I think he's prepared himself, especially coming off last year, for this year to be one of his best years."
Harden said that, in his mind, an MVP should be "dominant" on the court and "impactful in terms of winning," which gives Embiid and the Sixers (45-27), who are 1½ games back of first place in the Eastern Conference, an edge over his chief rival for the award, Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets (43-31), who are sixth in the West.
"Most of the games he's played this year, we've been fighting for the No. 1 seed," Harden said of Embiid. "And he's not only top 2, top 3 in scoring but he's impactful to our team winning."
Embiid is second in the NBA in scoring (29.8 PPG); Jokic (26.2) is 10th. Jokic is second in the league in rebounding (13.5 RPG); Embiid (11.3) is seventh. Jokic leads the league in efficiency (37.6); Embiid is third (33.0). Embiid leads Jokic in defensive rating (107.4 to 109.1), while Jokic leads Embiid in assists (7.9 to 4.3).
Initially, it was believed that Harden's trade from Brooklyn to Philadelphia on Feb. 18 would diminish Embiid's statistical prowess and, thus, his MVP case. However, Embiid has averaged more points (30.6) and rebounds (11.8) since the trade than before it.