Sixers: Should Matisse Thybulle be on table in Bradley Beal trade?

Matisse Thybulle, Sixers, Bradley Beal rumors (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Matisse Thybulle, Sixers, Bradley Beal rumors (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

With the Feb. 10 trade deadline quickly approaching, the Sixers are still seeking a resolution to the ongoing Ben Simmons saga. While it feels less and less like a trade will happen, Daryl Morey is still canvassing the league — and teams still have interest in the beleaguered All-Star, who by all indications is staying in shape and staying ready to play for a new team.

One name the Sixers have been connected to since the very beginning is Bradley Beal. After starting the season hot, Washington has tumbled to 12th in the Eastern Conference with a 23-27 record. Beal can enter free agency this summer, and the noise around his future refuses to subside, no matter how often he halfheartedly voices his commitment to the Wizards franchise.

While some rumors suggest Washington will pursue a second star at the deadline — Domantas Sabonis or Jerami Grant being the obvious candidates — there is also new reporting connecting Beal to Philadelphia. According to David Aldridge and Josh Robbins of the Athletic, the Sixers still have Beal on the “short list” of players they would accept in a Simmons trade. An important nugget, however: Philly will not include Tyrese Maxey or Matisse Thybulle in a potential package built around Simmons.

Should the Sixers reconsider keeping Matisse Thybulle out of Bradley Beal trade talks?

The gist of Aldridge and Robbins’ reporting is that, while the Wizards remain adamant about building around Beal, he remains conflicted about his future. That seed of doubt is notable, and the NBA trade deadline is historically unpredictable. A lot can change in the next eight days.

That keeps the hope alive for Philadelphia. The Sixers, even with James Harden’s looming free agency, would doubtlessly love to acquire Beal’s services in advance of the 2022 postseason. Just one game outside of first place in the East, the Sixers look good enough to contend by sheer force of Joel Embiid’s will. Adding another top-20 or 25 player to the mix would boost Philadelphia’s title odds considerably.

For the sake of conversation, let’s say Beal does inform Washington of his desire to leave. Per Aldridge and Robbins, it is believed that Wizards ownership can’t stomach a rebuild. The best way to avoid a rebuild would be to acquire the best possible player in return for Beal. Odds are that player is Ben Simmons, who we know can lead a winning team.

Should the Sixers consider throwing Tyrese Maxey into those trade conversations? No, of course not. Maxey has been too electric when given the opportunity. He’s already the second-most important player actively playing for the team, and his growth potential is widely acknowledged. Very few 21-year-olds work harder than Maxey, and the Sixers are wise to cling tightly to him.

That said, I’m not sure Matisse Thybulle deserves the same untouchable designation. It has been a strange season for the 24-year-old wing, who has dealt with injuries and COVID while simultaneously seeing his role grow. Despite myriad hurdles, Thybulle is playing 26.1 minutes per game and is widely considered a darkhorse candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. That speaks to just how special he is on the defensive end, with quick-twitch athleticism and preternatural instincts allowing him to blow up passing lanes, suppress ball-handlers, and block shots on the regular.

Thybulle is possibly the most impactful wing defender in the NBA, but he is conversely a severe negative on the offensive end. The Sixers are notably better with Danny Green in the starting five than Thybulle, almost entirely because Green takes (and makes) a healthy dose of 3-pointers. Thybulle does not shy away from the 3-point line, to his credit, but he’s hitting only 29.5 percent of his attempts this season (a new career low).

With Joel Embiid at the center of Philadelphia’s offense, shooting is perhaps the most important skill for players elsewhere on the roster. Thybulle has grown tremendously as a backdoor cutter and at-rim finisher, making him more useful than in season’s past, but the defense’s ability to completely ignore him beyond the arc is an unavoidable Achilles heal — especially when projecting toward the postseason.

Enter Bradley Beal, one of the NBA’s most gifted perimeter scorers and a decidedly bad defender most nights. You can get away with him and Tyrese Maxey manning the backcourt, mostly because Maxey has worked his tail off to get better defensively. But by shipping both Simmons and Thybulle to Washington, the Sixers would trade their only reliable on-ball wing defenders.

It is justified for the Sixers to want to cling tightly to Thybulle, but Beal’s trade value is higher than Simmons’ trade value. It’s hard to imagine Philadelphia wanting to mortgage its draft future for Beal on an expiring contract. That only becomes more true if James Harden is genuinely open to leaving Brooklyn in the offseason. You have to add something to sweeten the package, and Thybulle is the less “important” of Philadelphia recent draft steals.

When push comes to shove, it takes real risk to win championships in the NBA. You don’t reach the top of the mountain without sacrifices and a healthy dose of luck. Just ask Milwaukee, who traded almost a decade’s worth of picks for Jrue Holiday on an expiring contract. If the barrier between getting Beal and getting nothing is Matisse Thybulle, it’s hard for me to say the Sixers are justified in that stance. Thybulle is great, but there’s an inherent ceiling on modern NBA players who are so limited offensively. Thybulle might win Defensive Player of the Year, but the Joel Embiid-Bradley Beal tandem is torching defenses at every level.

This isn’t Kyle Lowry, who is in his mid-30s and on the decline. It’s Bradley Beal, a 28-year-old in his prime who has spent the last two seasons averaging over 30 points per game. It has been a less fruitful 2021-22 campaign for Beal, who hasn’t quite found his rhythm next to new teammates, but one has to expect his percentages to regress to the mean eventually. Beal is widely accepted as a special, top-20 talent, and that’s the exact kind of player Philadelphia needs to truly bolster its championship pursuit.

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