Philadelphia 76ers rotation: Zhaire Smith vs. Matisse Thybulle

Zhaire Smith, Matisse Thybulle | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)
Zhaire Smith, Matisse Thybulle | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers have two young promising players, but with only so many minutes available, who will see the floor most?

Zhaire Smith and Matisse Thybulle are both intriguing prospects. The Philadelphia 76ers executed draft day trades to acquire the two defensive-minded wings and believe (for good reason) that they are important pieces for their championship aspirations.

They each have their strengths and weaknesses, while appearing ready to contribute right away, but there is only so many minutes to go around. The question becomes, between Smith and Thybulle who will crack the Sixers rotation?

Before I go on, it’s almost certain that both prospects will be the regular rotation. The Sixers invested a lot to see these guys succeed, so it seems unlikely that head coach Brett Brown will not find a place for them in the lineup, especially after they each had impressive showings at the 2019 Summer League. However, it remains to be seen how they fit in with the roster and how big of a role each will have.

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Let’s start with Smith. After missing most of his rookie season with a broken foot and a medical emergency due to an allergic reaction, he worked his tail off and played in the final few games of last season. What fans saw in those games is exactly how he was advertised coming out of Texas Tech; an uber-athletic wing who excels on defense, but is still a work in progress on the offensive end.

Smith is still a long way away from being a reliable 3-and-D player, but the strides he’s made since we last saw him have been impressive. In the summer league, he showcased his superb athleticism, great perimeter defense and much improved ball handling.

He still doesn’t have a reliable jumper, shooting 31.2 percent from three on 16 attempts, stats per Real GM. He improved his shot selection, seen by his 48.0 percent field goal percentage (per RealGM), and is a very good off-ball cutter. His cutting ability and tendency to finish alley-oops could make him a very good pairing next to Ben Simmons. Those two would wreak havoc on defense and in transition.

Thybulle, on the other hand, projects as a more typical 3-and-D player than Smith. Thybulle, the 20th pick in this summer’s draft, has a knack for jumping passing lanes and anticipating where the ball is going to be, and also plays great perimeter defense.

His 6-foot-5 frame and 7-foot wingspan (per Tankathon) allows Thybulle to guard positions one-three easily and he may have some success against smaller power forwards. While he and Smith have many of the same defensive qualities, what separates Thybulle from Smith is his shooting.

Thybulle shot 39.3 percent from three on 5.6 attempts per game this summer (per RealGM), a mark that surprised many Sixers fans, including myself. With the Sixers in need of more shooting, Thybulle should see more minutes per game than Smith, especially if he can consistently knock down outside shots.

His shooting allows him to fit seamlessly alongside Simmons or Joel Embiid, where he would spot up outside for threes off of passes from the Sixers’ stars. If he shoots well throughout the season, then it’s not a stretch to think Thybulle could start seeing upwards of 20 minutes per game.

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Both Smith and Thybulle are great young defenders for the Philadelphia 76ers who will be an exciting duo to watch develop together. They seem to have already sparked good chemistry on the court and a good friendship off of it. However, Thybulle is primed to take up more minutes to Smith due in large part to his above average shooting, although fans will still undoubtedly see Smith and his highlight reel dunks nightly.