Joel Embiid’s bid for a second consecutive NBA MVP is in trouble, and it has nothing to do with the Philadelphia 76ers star’s on-court performance.
Embiid ranks first in the league in points per game (35.3) and sixth in rebounds (11.3), but he’s missed 12 games this season. A left knee injury suffered during the final minutes of the 76ers’ loss to the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday may result in more time out. Those absences could end his MVP defense due to a new rule on game minimums — colloquially, the 65-game rule — the NBA implemented for the 2023-24 season.
And he’s not the only one.
What is the 65-game minimum rule?
Players this season must be on the floor for 20 minutes in at least 65 games to be eligible for regular-season honors, including MVP and All-NBA teams. Simply put, if a player misses 18 games, he is not eligible for those awards.
There are protections against season-ending injuries (62 games), near misses in minutes (two games of at least 15 minutes) and bad-faith circumstances.
Relatedly, NBA executive Joe Dumars said in October teams’ general practice of resting players to prevent future injury and extend careers — commonly known as “load management” — is no longer supported by scientific data held by the league.
Dumars said American professional basketball needed to work to “re-establish” a culture of players attempting to play in most of the 82 regular-season games.
“Before, it was a given conclusion that the data showed that you had to rest players a certain amount, and that justified them sitting out,” Dumars said. “We’ve gotten more data, and it just doesn’t show that resting, sitting guys out correlates with lack of injuries, or fatigue, or anything like that.
“What it does show is maybe guys aren’t as efficient on the second night of a back-to-back.”
What that means for Embiid
It means he can only miss five more games over the final 37 to retain hopes of becoming the 14th player in league history to win back-to-back MVPs. Embiid has played at least 65 games only twice through the first nine full seasons of his career.
Amick: Joel Embiid deserved better, and the NBA’s 65-game rule game is flawed
He played 66 games during last year’s MVP campaign.
Other players who might miss the cutoff
Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton, who missed five straight games due to a left hamstring strain before returning Tuesday against the Boston Celtics, can only miss three more contests to remain eligible for an All-NBA selection. He wasn’t shy about sharing his opinion on the rule, which may cost him a multimillion-dollar bonus.
“I think it’s a stupid rule, like plenty of the guys in the league, but this is what the owners want, so as players, we gotta do our job and play in 65 games if we’re able to,” Haliburton said Monday.
Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving is already ineligible for any awards this season due to missing 20 games before the All-Star break.
Denver Nuggets point guard Jamal Murray, Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler, Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker and Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell are also on the brink of ineligibility.
Was the 65-game rule a mistake?
That feeling appeared to be the consensus in the Philadelphia locker room after the game against Golden State. As the Sixers’ Paul Reed and Kelly Oubre discussed, the pressure that has come with the league’s new rule could compel NBA stars to play when they shouldn’t.
Only Embiid can speak to whether that was the case here. But the 29-year-old center has been outspoken about his desire to be the MVP in years past, and it’s safe to assume his desire to defend his Michael Jordan trophy is strong this time around.
“I didn’t sign up for that (65-game rule),” Reed said. “I don’t remember signing no paperwork, you feel me? I guess the union okayed it. They probably didn’t have a choice though, to be honest. Yeah, it’s tough. It adds a lot of pressure to the players. We were just talking about that. A lot of pressure, especially dudes like (Embiid who are) trying to get MVP again.”
Add in the fact that Embiid was roundly ridiculed after his latest absence in Denver, and there’s a level of scrutiny that concerns his teammates.
“(You’ve got people) pressuring him to force being great when he’s 300 pounds, seven-feet-five?” said Oubre, who exaggerated Embiid’s listed size of 7-feet and 280. “Like, c’mon bro. Yeah, he has to do what he has to do. I think this year, people will really understand that his whole career he’s been having to make sure his body’s right. This is like NASCAR, right? If their cars ain’t working, and their mechanics ain’t really able to get the job done before the race, then what can they do? They can’t race.
“This is our bodies. Our body is our car and we have to treat it with respect. He’s 350 pounds, bro. So you know, I’m praying for him for a speedy recovery, so he can come in and give himself the best chance. But at the end of the day, that’s not important. His body and his career are most important.” — Sam Amick, senior NBA writer
(Photo: Trevor Ruszkowski / USA Today)