NBA awards eligibility tracker: Joel Embiid's MVP hopes end as surgery required for torn meniscus, per reports

The NBA introduced a new player participation policy ahead of the 2023-24 season aimed at reducing load management and “reinforcing that we’re an 82-game league,” commissioner Adam Silver said. “If you’re a healthy player in this league, the expectation is that you’re going to play.”

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the new rules is that in order for players to be eligible for major awards, they have to appear in at least 65 games. For a game to count, a player must have registered at least 20 minutes. Said honors include:

  • MVP
  • Defensive Player of the Year
  • Most Improved Player
  • All-NBA team
  • All-Defensive team

As the season approaches the mid-way point, here’s a look at which stars are either in the danger zone or already eliminated from contention for missing too many games. 

Irving has played well for the Mavericks, though with the elite young guards in the league nowadays he was always facing an uphill battle to make the All-NBA cut. In any case, he’s now ineligible. A fluke foot injury kept him out for nearly all of December and after a recent thumb problem, he’s now missed too many games. 

Beal’s first season in the desert has been stop-and-start due to various injuries. A back problem that began in training camp prevented him from making his debut until November, then almost immediately forced him back to the sideline for another three weeks. Upon his return from that issue, he sprained his ankle and was ruled out a further two weeks. All told, he’s already far surpassed the maximum number of games he could miss. 

The youngest Ball brother was off to an incredible start this season before suffering yet another ankle injury in late November. He has since returned, but not before missing 20 games over nearly two months. As a result, he has missed too many games to be considered for any postseason honors. 

Morant recently suffered a season-ending shoulder surgery, but he was ineligible for any awards before play even began. That, of course, was because the league suspended him for the first 25 games of the season due to multiple instances of brandishing a firearm on social media. Injuries and off-court matters kept him off ballots last season as well, so this will be two consecutive seasons without any honors for the 2022 Most Improved Player and All-NBA Second Teamer. 

Jimmy Butler, Heat: Missed 15/17 games

For someone who claims that he doesn’t start “playing for real” until after the All-Star break, Butler has made an All-NBA team five times, including three of the last four seasons. His odds of making the cut this time around are starting to look slim, though as he’s already missed 15 games. To that point, it’s worth noting that Butler has only played 65 games four times in his career.  

Joel Embiid, Sixers: Missed 14/17 games

The reigning MVP will not be going back-to-back. Embiid was diagnosed with a torn meniscus in his left knee earlier this month and will undergo surgery to address the issue, according to Adrian Wojnarowski. While no official timeline has been announced, the procedure will keep Embiid on the sideline for an extended period and end his MVP and All-NBA hopes. 

The Celtics are once again an elite defensive team, thanks in large part to the Latvian big man, who arrived in a blockbuster trade during the summer. It seems unlikely that he will have a chance to get into the All-Defensive conversations, however, as he’s already missed 14 games and has a lengthy injury history. The team has been preventing him from playing in both halves of back-to-backs lately, and figure to be cautious with his health down the stretch. 

The NBA’s assist leader this season has missed 13 games due to a hamstring strain he suffered on Jan. 8 against the Celtics. Ahead of his return to the lineup, also against the Celtics, he called the league’s 65-game rule “stupid.” The requirement could have major financial implications for Haliburton, as the value of the max extension he signed last summer will hinge on whether he makes an All-NBA team. 

The Heat have been severely banged up this season, with star center Bam Adebayo near the top of the list in missed games. A hip injury kept him out for over two weeks at the start of December, and all told, he’s already missed 10 games. While his impact on the defensive end is undeniable, his hopes of making a fifth consecutive All-Defensive team will rest on his ability to stay on the court in the second half of the season. 

Devin Booker, Suns: Missed 9/17 games

Booker got off to a slow start this season, missing eight of the Suns’ first 10 games due to an array of leg injuries; he hurt his foot, ankle and calf in the span of a few weeks. Since then, he’s been back at an elite level — he’s averaging a career-high in assists — and has missed just one game. However, because of all the absences early, he can only miss eight more games if he wants to stay in the All-NBA conversation. 

Mitchell made his first All-NBA appearance last season, earning a Second Team spot for helping the Cavaliers make the playoffs for the first time this century without LeBron James. He’ll need to stay healthy in the second half of the season if he wants to stay in that conversation, though. A hamstring injury and an illness that left him in bed for four days have kept him out of nine games already. 

The veteran forward has been the healthiest member of the Suns’ “Big Three,” and that’s saying something. He’s in the middle of another spectacular scoring campaign, but a few minor injuries here and there have kept him out of seven games so far. Given his health concerns in recent seasons — he hasn’t played 65 games since 2019, prior to his Achilles tendon tear — you have to wonder if he can hold up in the second half. 

CBS Sports will continue to update this story throughout the remainder of the season

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