Sixers’ rookie Matisse Thybulle is poised to become dominant on defense


If you watch Matisse Thybulle’s game, you’ll notice just how important defense is to him. He is a defender through and through and that’s what he hangs his hat on. Like most quality defenders, Thybulle worked tirelessly to become the stopper that he is.

Named after artist Henri Matisse, Thybulle was born on March 4th, 1997, to Greg and Dr. Elizabeth Thybulle. He wasn’t initially seen as a future 1st round NBA talent as he was ranked as a three-star recruit by ESPN.

Playing at the University of Washington for four years, Thybulle had a chance to work on the small details of his game. When he first committed to Washington, he played under former NBA player Lorenzo Romar. After the 2016-2017 season, Romar was fired after failing to make the NCAA tournament for the sixth consecutive year. In came Mike Hopkins, bringing with him a lockdown 2-3 zone defense from Syracuse University.

Playing in this scheme, Thybulle thrived defensively. Racking up steals and blocks, he quickly went from a quality defender to one of the best in the nation. Some may say this is due to the nature of zone schemes in a college setting, and there may be some truth to that. When we watch Thybulle, we see the beauty of his game and how it will translate to the next level.

Thybulle uses his length and athletism to disrupt the opposing offense any way he can. He is always active and always looking for a way to disrupt defensively. By being constantly aware, Thybulle is able to clog lanes, stop penetration, and close-out more effective against shooters.

The anticipation and hustle that Thybulle plays with are what any coach would want from their players. Always on the lookout for holes in the offense or for the opponent to make one mental miscue. Thybulle is playing checkers when the offense is playing chess. The ability to read the opponent’s next move is invaluable, especially in the half-court setting. This is a huge area for potential improvement for the Sixers.

Last season, we watched as time after time, opposing guards would cook against us. Four guards in particular who killed us are still in our division; Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Caris LeVert. By all expectations, these four players will be in the playoffs. With that being the case, the Sixers MUST solidify their defense in order to reach the Finals. Thybulle by himself is not the solution, but he will be part of it if he continues to defend as he has.

Again, the NBA doesn’t utilize zone defense like in college ball Last year, now NBA champion coach, Nick Nurse implemented the seldom-used “box-and-one” defense. The box-and-one involves four defenders playing zone with two defenders in the low post and the other two playing around the foul line. The fifth defender plays man-to-man defense usually against the best offensive player.

It was this defense that slowed Steph Curry and helped the Raptors clinch their first NBA Championship. The defense has its flaws as there is essentially a large gap in the middle of the court, but with the right kind of active defenders, rotating properly would solve this. Imagine a lineup with Embiid and Horford down low, Richardson and Thybulle defending at the free-throw line, and Ben Simmons as the man-to-man defender. This is a nightmare-inducing defensive lineup.

Thybulle is one of these defenders. With his size and athletism, Thybulle can theoretically defend against both guards and forwards. Thybulle is also a “twitchy” defender, and what I mean by that is that he doesn’t stop moving when he’s on the court. This is part of the beauty of Thybulle’s game. His activity and awareness are key for disrupting the opposing offense.

For Thybulle, it’s the small details that make him such a dangerous defender. His affinity for off-ball impact, ability to create turnovers, and the ability to switch defensively all add to his versatility which will at some point equate to minutes in the NBA season.

Thybulle has the ability to dissect an NBA offense. In a moment he can find the weakness and strike at the opportune time. He has spent years honing his craft, working hard to achieve more and more since he first picked up a basketball. While I can’t account for his talent with a paintbrush, I can vouch for his artistry defensively. In that sense, he has certainly earned his namesake.

Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports