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How media networks lost Joel Embiid the MVP | The Triangle
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How media networks lost Joel Embiid the MVP

Kevin VanEmburgh Photography | Flickr

Media networks like Disney, Warner, YouTube and Apple have vowed to pay the NBA a collective 75 billion dollars over five years from 2025 to 2030. This new media deal benefits the players, who can sign lucrative multimillion-dollar contracts to play the sport that they love. However, these multimedia networks want to ensure that their investment is going to pay off and produce the best product for the viewers. That is why the NBA introduced a new rule that could alter the way seasonal awards are determined. 

The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) agreed that players are only eligible for end-of-season awards if they play a minimum of 65 out of the 82 games in an NBA season. Awards like the MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and All-NBA teams are only eligible for players who play a minimum of 80% of the season. This prevents teams from benching their star players to save them for more important games, and players themselves from sitting out for load management. So how would this new rule play out in its first season?

Halfway into the 2023-2024 NBA season, Joel Embiid was on pace to win back-to-back MVP awards. Embiid was averaging 35 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 assists a game, producing a seasonal performance that has never been done in the NBA. Embiid had the largest estimated plus-minus, an essential stat to measure a player’s importance, with 10.3.  This kept him ahead in the MVP race heading into their matchup with the Golden State Warriors. 

Late into the fourth quarter, Embiid took a hard hit on the court as Warriors center, Jonathan Kuminga, fell on top of him, causing him to leave the game. This would later turn out to be a left knee injury. The surgery will most likely have him miss more than 17 games and effectively eliminate him from MVP eligibility. 

Joel Embiid’s injury is the ‘worst case scenario,’ in which the best player in the league will miss out on an award because of not meeting the threshold of games played.  But is Embiid’s injury a mere minor drawback outweighed by the new rules’ benefits?

With 16 out of the 30 teams making the playoffs, 53% percent of the league will still be in continental to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Additionally, the ninth- and tenth-ranked teams can also make the playoffs by winning their play-in games. This has significantly diluted the importance of the regular season and the players know this, as shown in the amount of games they have missed.

Through the middle of the 2022-2023 season, the 15 All-NBA players missed a collective 117 games. This season, the same players missed a combined 76 games, showing the effect that the new rule has on the star players. This rule change is still effective for players who aren’t as negatively impacted by the change. The Top 50 players from last season missed a combined 595 games through the first half. This year, the same players have missed a combined 406 games.

A key benefit that is commonly overlooked is the fans. Fans can become more invested in the league by watching the star players on the court, rather than sitting out on the bench. It’s the fans who are the consumers that cause the league to become so successful. This new rule allows fans to more easily buy into the league by getting the best product the media networks have promised. 

The league’s new rule has caused a divide that could have a long-lasting impact on player’s legacies. Embiid’s case is an example of the drawbacks, as an all-time offensive season will amount to no recognition due to an injury that was out of his control. But what is never mentioned is the current positive impact that it is currently having. Players are playing more and the fans are now more invested as their favorite players are on the screen. Yet many questions have been asked regarding it. Should it be less strict? Should the league have it at all? Should there be exceptions for circumstances like Embiid’s? The lasting effects are currently unknown at the moment. With the rule only in effect for half a season, it is hard to grasp the effect it could have on the league as a whole. Is Joel Embiid’s injury a caveat to what is an ultimately league-benefitting rule? Only the seasons that follow can decide that.