The Embiid Dilemma: Examining the Effects of the NBA’s 65-Game Rule

Joel Embiid's injury shows how the NBA's new 65-game rule can drastically affect futures markets in the league.

February 2, 2024

Philadelphia 76ers All-Star and reigning NBA MVP Joel Embiid has caused a major interruption in NBA futures markets.

For those who may not know, Embiid sustained a left knee injury that caused him to miss the Sixers’ game in Denver on January 27. At the time, many people took on the narrative that Embiid didn’t want to go head-to-head against his biggest contender for the MVP award, Nikola Jokic. But as more information has surfaced, the truth proved to be something of higher impact to NBA Futures bettors.

Now, the MVP favorite is unlikely to meet the threshold of 65 games played to qualify for the award, a rule that is being instituted for the first time this year. And the ripple effect goes beyond the MVP market when it comes to futures betting as a whole. 

The New Rule

Let’s take a step back. The only reason we’re having this conversation right now is because last offseason, the NBA approved a provision that players must participate in at least 65 games for a minimum of 20 minutes to be eligible for the MVP award and All-Pro honors at the end of the season. There are a few more fail-safes in the rule that protect players who nearly hit these marks, but for the most part, it’s pretty cut-and-dry.

The rule comes as a counter to teams practicing “load management.” Too many teams were resting their stars without an injury designation and the NBA regular season product was suffering. The new rule is meant to incentivize more participation, while also assuring that they’d be able to guarantee stars on the court while selling a new batch of television rights.

The Injury

But now with a new rule, we are seeing the first major consequence for a player. Joel Embiid was the favorite to win MVP as of January 27. His price at Tipico Sportsbook sat at a prohibitive -100, with two-time MVP Nikola Jokic and up-and-coming star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander trailing him. There was already apprehension that Embiid was going to play 65 games, as he missed a few contests earlier in the season — but when he missed back-to-back games against the Nuggets and Trail Blazers, the market reacted as if there was a major issue. 

Tensions eased slightly when he returned to action against the Golden State Warriors on January 30, but the knee proved to be such an issue that he couldn’t finish the game and was declared out for the next matchup with the Utah Jazz.

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The Impact

Now, Embiid’s odds to win the MVP award this season sit at +2000, with Nikola Jokic as the new favorite at -130 just four days after Embiid was a -100 favorite. We’ve also seen the Sixers odds drop in markets like Eastern Conference Winners, Top Seed in the East, and Most Regular Season Wins.

The thought here is that the Sixers will punt MVP and All-Pro honors for Embiid with the hopes that they can get healthy for a deep playoff run. The Sixers are the fifth seed in the East at the time this article was written, with a 17.5-game lead over the 11th seed (7-10 seeds subject to the Play-in Tournament). You can’t cement the Sixers into the playoffs, but you can expect to see them there with the pieces they have aside from Embiid. But what should you do now if you’re trying to bet on the Sixers, the MVP award, or other futures?

What To Do

If you want to buy the Sixers, now might be a good time. The “bad thing” that will lower their prices has already happened and you’re probably nearing the bottom of how low things like “Sixers to win the Eastern Conference” or “Win the NBA Finals” will go. And the Sixers are signaling that they don’t want Embiid to play through this injury anymore and they’re willing to put him on the shelf until he’s fully healed.

Of course, if you take this approach as a bettor, you still run the risk of Embiid’s injury popping back up once he’s on the court again. This could happen down the stretch, or during a playoff run. His injury risk will likely be higher than the field’s for the rest of the season.

Of course, if you take this approach as a bettor, you still run the risk of Embiid’s injury popping back up once he’s on the court again.

If you’re looking to bet on someone to win the MVP, then you have to take a shot on which price will be the next to drop. Embiid was +1000 earlier in the season before he was the favorite. Nikola Jokic is having a stellar season, but he seems to be the safe option people are writing in now that Embiid is potentially out of the race. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has gotten some buzz for the award, and the Thunder are competing for the top seed in the Western Conference, but his price is only +285 at the moment.

If you’re trying to take a riskier wager on a potential price drop, it’s probably on Giannis Antetokounmpo at +700. The Bucks have an elite offense this season, and although his first few games with new head coach Doc Rivers have not gone smoothly, the Bucks can push for the top spot in a seemingly wide open Eastern Conference. 

Sam Bloomquist
Sam Bloomquist is Tipico's Social Media Manager.