Durant, who won the award during the 2013-14 season, said that while there were plenty of deserving candidates, he felt Embiid’s season was a cut above the rest.
“If I had to choose, I would go Joel Embiid,” the Brooklyn Nets star forward said after Tuesday’s walkthrough. “He led the league in scoring, double-doubles, his team won 50 games this year. Numbers were incredible. It’s a great year.
“But you can just close your eyes and just pick any one of the guys out of the top six or seven, and you can have a good MVP this year. That shows how great our league is right now and how talented our league is from top to bottom, but I would go with Embiid if I had to choose.”
Embiid has expressed disappointment with the way he is viewed by some voters — a theory that Durant backed up while discussing how narrative plays into the MVP voting.
“It’s unfortunate,” Durant said. “There’s a lot of players that have been controlled by their narrative. Some of it has been because of the player, some of it just has been because of the perception of other people about that player. In Joel’s case, more people just like Giannis and Jokic. It’s as simple as that. They just prefer them more than Embiid’s personality or his story, I guess.”
Durant said that from a basketball standpoint, Embiid’s numbers stand up against everyone else’s — even those of Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, the player who many in the league believe will win his second straight MVP after the season.
“As a basketball player, people that look at just the game and what happens on the floor, narratives and who you are and your personality, that stuff really doesn’t matter,” Durant said. “It shouldn’t matter when it comes down to awards like that. But [with] Joel, [voters] probably just like those other guys better that you personally. That’s not fair at all, but that’s just usually how it goes sometimes. But if I had a vote, I would choose Joel.”
In Durant’s mind, if a player wins a second straight MVP award, they have to do something even more extraordinary than what they did before.
“I feel like if you’re going to win back-to-back MVPs — like look at Steph Curry,” Durant said of the Golden State Warriors‘ star guard who won back-to-back MVPs in 2015 and 2016. “He averaged what his first MVP, like 23 points, seven rebounds, but his next one he stepped up such another level — if you’re going to get two in a row, you can’t duplicate the same thing you did before, in my opinion. That’s just how I feel. I’m not saying this is the holy grail. I’m saying this is how I feel.
“If you were to say Steph come back the next year when they won 73 games and average 23 points again, it just wouldn’t hit that well. [To] get two in a row, you got to go up and do something way bigger and better than you did before, in my opinion. If you’re going to get it. If you’re going to do the same thing you did before, you might as well go ahead and have another winner. So I think back-to-back MVPs are special and the season that you have to have team-wise, individual-wise, all has to come together in order for you to win back-to-back [MVPs] in my opinion. So I feel like Jokic has an incredible season, but Joel’s season was just as good, if not better. So I think he deserves MVP in my opinion.”
For his part, Durant said he played well enough to be in consideration for the award this season, but he understands that an MCL injury, which cost him 1 1/2 months of the season while he recovered from mid-January to February, is the reason why he isn’t getting more of a push for the award. He understands that “there’s a lot of what-ifs” throughout the course of a season.
“I see why I’m not in that conversation,” Durant said. “But I’m sure there’s a lot of guys in the league that play MVP-caliber basketball for their clubs. That help their clubs reach heights that they probably reach this year [without them], but when it comes to the whole league, there’s just so many great players playing right now, it’s hard to choose. But I can really say, it’s 10 or 12 of us maybe that can be in that conversation. That’s pretty cool to see that in our league.”
Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash, who won back-to-back MVP awards in 2005 and 2006 as a member of the Phoenix Suns, agreed with Durant’s assessment.
“Kevin would be my MVP for sure,” Nash said. “I don’t know how many games someone has to play to be it, but obviously I just think Kevin’s incredible, what he does, and what he’s able to do to affect the game in so many different ways.”
To Durant’s point about winning back-to-back awards, Nash said that his 2006-2007 season was actually his best season — a season he didn’t win the award for.
“A lot of it is circumstantial,” Nash said. “Is the time, the year, the story, the narrative. My best year was the third year [in 2007] and Dirk got MVP. Every year there’s always a case for someone else so it’s just not a linear thing where the best player gets it every single year. It’s always kind of more, how does the season go? How many games did they miss? Who else had an exceptional year? What’s the narrative? So it’s one of those things that’s not linear.”
In Durant’s mind, the biggest key to winning the award is the “narrative” push that each player gets throughout the season. It’s a sentiment shared by many throughout the league.
“I had this conversation last night with a couple friends,” Durant said. “I’m not huge into narratives and I feel like that’s the main factor in winning MVP. Because when you look at all of these guys’ numbers, and their team records, it’s all pretty incredible — that three or four guys on that list are averaging 26, 27 a game. Rebounds and assists numbers are up. Their team numbers are 15 to 20 games over .500.
“When you’ve got four or five guys like that it’s tough to choose an MVP. So it’s always probably going to be about a preference about who you want personally, individually, what story fits the best for you as a voter. Because when you break down all the factors, it’s way bigger than basketball at this point.” Durant was quick with answer when asked if the league should just vote on who the best player is every year.
“But who defines the best player?” he said. “What do you look at as your best player? What’s the criteria for you as a best player? Everybody’s is different. People view the game different. They consume the game different. It makes them feel a certain way. Certain stories hit them a little different than other stories. It’s mainly, like, who are these guys picking? Who are making these decisions? That should be the question.”
Durant believes that there should be a mixture of players, media and executives voting on the award — and while he wasn’t sure what the right solution was right now, he felt like some tweaks to the voting system are in order.
“Obviously a lot of people don’t like the criteria right now,” Durant said. “So something should change, right? We’ll see. It’s a good conversation to have for basketball fans.”