The debate of who the best center in the league is took another step forward in these 2023 playoffs. Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid took home the MVP award for the first time after finishing as the runner-up to Nikola Jokic in both 2021 and 2022.
In the 2023 playoffs, fresh off his MVP coronation, the Sixers were ousted in seven games by the Boston Celtics. Embiid shot 5-for-18 in Game 7 as the Sixers were unable to overcome the Celtics on the road.
Meanwhile, Jokic has led the Denver Nuggets to the first finals appearance in their franchise’s history after they swept the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals. The playoff performance by Jokic has taken the debate to another level as a Hall of Famer has more to say.
Legendary NBA big man Shaquille O’Neal is now taking Jokic as the best center in the league on “The Big Podcast with Shaq”:
Joker is the best center…He’s changed the game of basketball, but he is playing like, I think a new wave center should play. Five years ago all the centers were just shooting jumpers…Joker is the best big man and he’d proven that. He’s still here…listen, there was a lot of people that were MVP over me, ain’t no way they’re better than me. Some people got three MVPs and I got one and Kobe got one so would you say those players are better than me and Kobe? I doubt it. Matter of fact, I know they ain’t. Embiid is the MVP, but in those playoffs, all the highlights we showed was him shooting jumpers. That’s the definition I think of what a new age center should do. I see him and it’s not 3s, 3s, 3s, pick-and-pop, pick-and-pop. Joker? You see it all.
In the playoffs, Embiid averaged 23.7 points and 9.8 rebounds while shooting 43.1% from the floor and 17.9% from deep. Those numbers were a serious drop from his regular season numbers, but he also was dealing with an LCL sprain in his right knee. He came back from that injury in two weeks rather than waiting for the full month it takes to recover from such an injury.
Jokic is averaging 29.9 points, 10.3 assists, and 13.3 rebounds while shooting 53.8% from the floor and 47.4% from deep during this postseason run. Embiid is obviously the MVP, but it is hard to argue against the notion the Jokic is the best center in the game considering his dominant playoff run and his path to the finals.