The Whiteboard: 3 big questions for the NBA MVP race and more

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Most of the NBA is preparing to take a break for the All-Star festivities but everything else is popping off — awards races, budding rivalries, and more. To break down some of the biggest questions in the NBA this week, I tapped in two of the best minds from The Step Back and FanSided’s NBA network.

1. The NBA MVP race seems to have winnowed to three players — Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Give me the perfect pop-culture metaphor to understand the relationship between these three MVP candidates.

Jack Simone, Hoops Habit: This was a tough one for me. I don’t often dabble in pop-culture references. But I’ll just go with the one show I do know a bit about — The Office.

These three candidates are Jim, Dwight, and Andy.

Joel Embiid is Dwight. Nikola Jokic is Andy. Giannis Antetokounmpo is Jim.

Embiid (Dwight) does not care at all about what other people think. He’ll put his feelings out there with no regard for the repercussions, most of the time because he doesn’t feel as though there should be repercussions. He is stubborn, hard-nosed, and never afraid to battle. And in terms of the MVP race, the feud between Embiid and Jokic (Andy) should be real. They are the top two candidates and very clearly don’t like each other (or shouldn’t, from a competitive perspective.)

Jokic (Andy) is just goofy. He’s the type of dude you would look at and think — how did this guy win an MVP? (Or how did this guy become manager?) He’s obviously going to put the work in because he NEEDS to be the best, but expect some oddities along the way. (Plus, let’s not forget about the anger management courses… sorry Markeiff Morris.)

Antetokounmpo (Jim) just kind of does his own thing. Sure, he’s not afraid to step into the fray and mess with Dwight and Andy, but at the end of the day, he’s all about Jim. All Antetokounmpo is worried about is getting back to the NBA championship. He’s got other guys by his side in ways that the others don’t (Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday vs. Pam and… Karen?). He’s just off in his own world. Plus, I mean, with the dad jokes and humor it’s hard not to compare the two.

Aaron Kellerstrass, Pelican DeBrief and Piston PoweredThese three players are all unstoppable and terrifying for defenders, but all three have different attributes, much like the villains in horror movies. What do you like in your villain?

Nikola Jokic is Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th. Both these guys are big, scary and don’t talk much. They lumber around in slow motion but still somehow beat you to the spot. Watching Jokic “run” a fast break is like watching Jason chase a camp counselor in the woods. The victims are sprinting at top speed while he just ambles around and gets there first anyway. He’s brutal, effective and underrated as a villain because he doesn’t say much. I also think Jokic probably knows how to wield a machete but that’s just a guess.

Joel Embiid is Freddy Kruger from Nightmare on Elm Street. Freddy is a villain with a little more swagger. It’s not enough for him to simply kill you, he also has to drop a joke on you while he does it, usually a bad pun. He’ll smash a TV over your head and say “Welcome to prime time!” adding corny insult to injury. It’s not enough for Embiid to destroy you on the court, but he’ll hit you with the Twitter troll afterward, dropping a cheesy meme that makes you cringe but there is nothing you can do because he lives in your head.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is Michael Myers from Halloween. Much like Michael Myers, Giannis is way too athletic for his size. He can cover the whole court in three steps like Myers chasing a babysitter up a flight of stairs. How does a 7-footer cover so much ground? A couple of freaks. Also like Myers, Giannis refuses to die in this race, as I’ve thought him out of it a few times only for him to have a few huge weeks and remind us that he’s the reigning champion. Don’t turn your back on him or he’ll rise up out of focus in the background just when you thought it was over.

Do you like the slightly better scoring of Joel and Giannis? The better playmaking of Jokic? It’s machete vs. claws, creepy white mask vs. hockey mask and might just come down to preference or which team has the best record.

Dan Gilinsky, King James GospelWith how all three of the MVP candidates have traditional big qualities with their interior games but are unicorns in their own respective ways off that, I have to go modern prehistoric here. This is the NBA’s version of Jurassic Park.

2. What happens on March. 10 when the 76ers and Nets play each other for the first time since the James Harden for Ben Simmons trade?

Jack Simone, Hoops Habit: Fireworks. Fireworks will happen. If both James Harden and Ben Simmons play, there will undoubtedly be some on-court antics that are not of the basketball variety. There’s no way that Joel Embiid likes Simmons, just like there’s no way that Kevin Durant likes Harden. It’s going to be an extremely fun game from the viewer’s perspective, but for the players, this will be the chance to prove themselves.

What I am looking forward to, even more, is the possibility of a playoff series between the two. Going back and forth from the Wells Fargo Center and Barclays Center will provide some top-tier content.

Aaron Kellerstrass, Pelican DeBrief and Piston Powered: When the Nets and 76ers play in Philly for the first time the booing is going to be epic. I honestly don’t know if anyone has ever been booed the way Ben Simmons is going to get booed. It might be audible from space. But it would be great if Simmons went like 8-of-10 from 3-point range while the entire city of Philly melted in rage.

Dan Gilinsky, King James Gospel: This should be a fascinating game for NBA fans to tune into. First off, there’s of course how raucous the Philly fans will be with Ben Simmons coming to town as an opponent for the first time. I can just imagine the boos; my goodness. As far as the game itself, I think the Sixers get out to a strong start, but as this one progresses, I believe the Nets stay the course and ultimately have a big run in them at some point. I’ll go with Brooklyn in a close one where Seth Curry gives them an added boost.

3. What are you most excited to see during All-Star Weekend?

Jack Simone, Hoops Habit: Ever since they’ve changed the rules of the All-Star Game, I’ve actually been a big fan. It just makes for a better viewing experience. Plus, the newly-formatted Skills Challenge and Rising Stars Challenge will be great too.

But if there’s one thing I want to see more than anything, it’s Myles Garrett in the Celebrity Game. I mean, how unfair will that be? If he can poster anybody from the opposing roster, I’ll be a happy, happy guy. (And somehow, please let it be Machine Gun Kelly. That would just be the peak of entertainment, and I like MGK.)

Aaron Kellerstrass, Pelican DeBrief and Piston Powered: As a Pistons’ fan, I am most excited for the Rising Stars Challenge, as there are actually some Pistons in it. Youth-based hope is all we have at the moment. I also think the format change is cool and it will inject a little more competition into the games. Excited to see Cade Cunningham throw a lob to Evan Mobley.

Dan Gilinsky, King James Gospel: I personally live in the Cleveland area, so I’m pumped to walk around with the surrounding All-Star festivities in general. Cleveland is, and has always been such a sports-centric city, and that should make for an awesome host for All-Star Weekend, for one. Regarding the events, I’m really looking forward to seeing how Darius Garland and the “Tower City” duo of Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen do in the Skills Challenge.

Other NBA stories:

To celebrate the NBA at 75, we’re launching a new months-long series looking at the players, teams and moments who helped make us what we are as NBA fans. I kicked things off with a look at the supremely weird and supremely fascinating 1996-97 Phoenix Suns.

As part of the same series, the Over and Back NBA history podcast is rewatching some of the most pivotal Slam Dunk Contests in NBA history. They’ve already reviewed the 1984 (inaugural) and 1986 (Spud Webb goes off) contests. Check these out and stay turned for more.

It’s never too early to start dreaming about the ideal first-round playoff matchups we want to see. Lakers vs. Warriors and 76ers vs. Nets, please and thank you.

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