Philadelphia 76ers: Matisse Thybulle must play a bigger role

Matisse Thybulle | Philadelphia 76ers | Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Matisse Thybulle | Philadelphia 76ers | Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

It seems that Matisse Thybulle’s rookie star has dulled. If the Philadelphia 76ers expect to have long term success, Thybulle must be allowed to shine.

The Sixers’ first-round draft pick two years ago, Matisse Thybulle, made a name for himself in his first NBA season. He did not set the world on fire with his scoring, but his defense turned heads. Last year, he led all rookies in steals (96), and he was fourth in blocks (49). Not bad for the 2019 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.

There were plenty of noteworthy moments in Thybulle’s rookie season. In his first game, he gave Kemba Walker fits. Against another scoring machine, Buddy Hield, Thybulle put the clamps on, picking Hield’s pocket and blocking his shot multiple times. Versus dunk extraordinaire, Zach LaVine, Thybulle made an amazing block at the rim.

My favorite highlight, a steal at half court against the Utah Jazz, Thybulle was like a bullet shot out the chamber of a .357 Magnum. The play ended with an exhilarating alley-oop to Ben Simmons. This season though didn’t start off with a bang like some had hoped for Thybulle. At this point, most Sixer fans are wondering what happened to Thybulle in the first few weeks of the season? Has he regressed? Is his confidence lacking?

In reality, like any organizational transition, evaluations are made and new routines are established. It is no different for the Sixers. The new coaching staff has assessed the talent on the team and formulated a rotation that fits the style of early play that Doc Rivers envisions. Thybulle, unfortunately, hasn’t been a constant part of that vision yet.

Matter of fact, his first significant minutes this year were at the very end of the Wizards game when the Sixers needed a defensive stop. Not quite the kind of second-year jump Thybulle or his fans anticipated. It initially appeared that the 76ers favored Korkmaz as a perimeter shooting threat to be more beneficial to the offense, creating more space. What can Thybulle do to regain his swagger and contribute at the same rate, or better, as last season?

To replicate his rookie year production, Thybulle needs minutes. To his good fortune, and not Furkan Korkmaz, Thybulle is getting those now, and he did not waste time maximizing his opportunity. While playing in the Orlando Magic game on New Year’s Eve, Thybulle had his best performance of the season.

In almost 18 minutes of action, he scored nine points and grabbed four rebounds. His signature trademark of being a defensive menace was felt by Orlando’s backcourt. Thybulle recorded a steal and two blocks, most notably against the Magic’s touted rookie, Cole Anthony. The cherry on top was his 3-point contribution, hitting two shots out of four from beyond the arc. If opportunity is what he needs, he has at least another week of quality bench minutes before Korkmaz is re-evaluated for an abductor muscle strain.

Should Thybulle re-establish himself in the rotation, it could help Philadelphia maintain itself as a defensively elite team. Currently, they have the top defensive rating at 97.7 and allow opponents only 99.8 points a game (third in the NBA). Thybulle would continue to form a stout wing defensive front that includes Ben Simmons. The havoc those two would have on other teams would be impactful statistically and in the win column.

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As Ben Simmons made the All-NBA Defensive Team last year, Matisse Thybulle is not far behind. If you look at games last season where Thybulle had four or more steals in a game, the Sixers went 6-0. In games where Thybulle had two or more blocks, the Sixers were 11-3. When Thybulle had a total number of blocks and steals more than five in a game, the team went 9-0. Those defensive contributions may not be the lone factor that secured those wins, but Thybulle’s stats, alone, do not tell the entire story.

When opponents are victims of Thybulle’s thievery, his agility, quickness, and instincts make him a threat to the collective psyche of an offense. As seen in many of his brilliant tip blocks, deflections, and steals, opponents feel his presence even when he switches or is off-ball. Players think twice before shooting. They experience a brief moment of hesitation that causes the offense to sputter, or worse, collapse. With Thybulle on the court, the Sixers’ goal is for opponents to want to take on Thybulle one-on-one. The idea is that if you joust with Thybulle, expect to fall off your horse.

"“He is going to be a key player for this basketball team.” Doc Rivers on Matisse Thybulle (December 2020)"

For those that see Matisse Thybulle as a flash in the pan, I beg to differ. For every rookie mistake he made, there’s a more impactful defensive play he made to help the team win. The good news is that he is a year older and wiser.

In addition, he won’t get the rookie treatment anymore from officials, meant to send a message to young players that dues must be paid with bottled pennies. The other aspect to Thybulle the person, and not just the player, is that his coachability is tremendous. His attitude, body language, and approach to his personal development provide the foundation for a successful future.

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Will Doc Rivers keep Thybulle in steady rotation when Furkan Korkmaz returns? It is a legit question that will have a huge impact on Thybulle’s growth and the team’s progress.