The Philadelphia 76ers’ early returns on Matisse Thybulle have been promising.
In June, Matisse Thybulle was the 15th-ranked prospect on our 2019 NBA Draft board. The Philadelphia 76ers traded up to select Thybulle at No. 20, adding another young, defense-first wing to a growing second unit.
Summer League was a series of flashes for Thybulle. He had special moments on defense, but looked the part of an unfinished product on offense. His 3-point shot was better than expected, but poor handles and a tendency to rush shots at the rim often prevailed.
Fast forward to the end of training camp and the Sixers’ annual Blue x White scrimmage. The White team — which featured the projected second unit — ran out of a starting five of Trey Burke, James Ennis, Mike Scott, Kyle O’Quinn … and Thybulle. That raised a few eyebrows.
All summer, the discussion revolved around Ennis and Zhaire Smith splitting backup minutes on the wing. Some had even thrown Furkan Korkmaz into the discussion after a strong FIBA World Cup. He’s a shooter and has the most experience under Brett Brown.
But it was Thybulle, the true rookie, who got the starting nod over Smith. Korkmaz was on the Blue team, where he played significant minutes and was impressive in his own right. But Thybulle shined, perhaps more than any other player on the roster, in Saturday’s scrimmage.
Unfortunately there were no official tallies kept, so much of Thybulle’s statistical production was left up to the imagination or beat reporters counting on their hands. The general consensus is Thybulle had somewhere in the vicinity of six deflections in the first half. He was everywhere.
Thybulle showcased his unique speed and anticipation on defense, bolting into passing lanes and providing a constant irritant for the White team. He contributed meaningfully to the White’s halftime lead, though it would evaporate early in the third quarter.
The Blue team was plagued with turnovers, and almost every one seemed to involve Thybulle. He got his hands on passes, picked pockets, and managed to rack up a couple impressive blocks as well — including one chase-down block on a Josh Richardson 3-point attempt. He spent most of his time guarding Ben Simmons, and doing so with extreme effectiveness.
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All week, teammates have raved about Thybulle’s performance. Al Horford praised Thybulle’s feel for the game, noting that defense “comes easy to him.” After the scrimmage, Simmons said he “hates” going against Thybulle defensively. It’s clear the 22-year-old is making a strong first impression.
Philadelphia emphasized defense all summer. It was at the core of every move Elton Brand made, from draft night to free agency. Al Horford and Josh Richardson are all-world defenders at their positions. Thybulle was arguably the best perimeter defender in college basketball. The Sixers have a clear-cut identity.
That identity could get Thybulle on the floor right away. It’s clear his performance in training camp has, at the very least, placed him in the conversation for minutes. Brown has historically shied away from rookies, but Thybulle was a four-year senior at Washington. He’s more polished, at least on defense, than one might expect from a Zhaire Smith, who was a freshman upon getting drafted.
Thybulle still has room to improve. His handles are subpar, his at-rim finishing lacks control, and his sample size as a reliable 3-point shooter is relatively unconvincing. But given the Sixers’ clear emphasis on defense and Thybulle’s high basketball I.Q., there’s reason to believe he could crack Brown’s rotation on opening night. The signs are all positive.
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