Could Philadelphia 76ers’ guard/forward Matisse Thybulle buck the trend and earn All-Defensive team honors as a role player?
In his sophomore campaign in Philly, Matisse Thybulle has been the exact type of defensive hound that the team hoped he could be when they acquired him in a draft-night swap. On a nightly basis, his twitchy athleticism, instinctive reactions, and lockdown defensive prowess stands out and has a major influence on the outcome of contests.
Each time he is on the floor, he is tasked with negating the opposing team’s most lethal perimeter threat, winning the bout more often than not. Thybulle, 24, is as fluid a defender as they come and has quickly put the league on notice. “He has the potential to be the best defender in the league,” Embiid said of Thybulle following a win over Houston, in which Thybulle had four steals.
Being projected as the best defender in the NBA is incredibly high praise to receive in any situation, but is especially notable when the compliments are courtesy of Joel Embiid, who very well could win DPOY of the year in his own right. A two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year during his time at Washington, Thybulle’s defensive traits have translated perfectly to the pros.
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Not only is he an excellent on-ball defender, one that suffocates ball handlers in half-court sets, but he also has a knack for interrupting the passing lanes and forcing turnovers. After leading all rookies in steals per game with 1.4 last year, Thybulle is once again collecting turnovers at a high rate and wreaking havoc on defense. As the regular season winds to a close, Thybulle ranks seventh in steals per game (1.6) and first in deflections per contest (5.6).
His ability to anticipate and intercept passes is uncanny and has been instrumental in helping anchor a strong Sixers defense. “When you play that zone, he kind of licks his chops and gets ready to do as he did in college,” said teammate Danny Green after a win against the Rockets. “Matisse is a mastermind and knows how to be active, kind of deceptively, messes with the offense’s mind and getting in those passing lanes and getting a lot of deflections.
Seeing him working that zone is amazing; it changed the game.” Changing the outcome of a game with his efforts on the defensive end has been the theme of Thybulle’s young career thus far. The former first-rounder is simply relentless in his defensive approach. Thybulle is seemingly never out of a play and is always actively seeking opportunities to poke the ball loose and create a turnover or missed shot.
Thybulle has compiled at least one steal in eight of those contests through his last ten games- including a five steal performance in his most recent outing against Detroit. Additionally, in that same span, the former Washington standout has blocked at least one shot in seven of the last ten games.
Of these seven games with at least one block, Thybulle recorded three different three-block performances, proving that his shot-blocking ability is no mere coincidence and stems from his high level of energy and anticipation. Astonishingly, Thybulle has swatted more shots 71) than he has surrendered three-pointers (60) this season.
According to Stathead, if the season were to end today, Thybulle’s 4.9% blocked field-goal percentage would be the highest mark for a guard in NBA history. When facing Philly, jump shooters have to be aware of where Thybulle is at all times or pay the penalty of having their shot denied.
Time and time again, Thybulle is able to cover ground and fully relocate his assignment in just seconds. He is rarely too far out of position to make a play and is adept at using his length and athleticism to his advantage.
It is quite rare that a player provides defensive highlights on a nightly basis, but that is exactly what Thybulle does in each contest en route to negating the opposing player.
Does Matisse Thybulle Belong In The Conversation?
The former first-rounder is a world-class defender and one absolutely deserving of one of the all-defensive roster spots. “There are not ten players in the league better than Matisse right now,” said Doc Rivers when asked if Thybulle belonged in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. “There might be a few guys that play more, but not ten better defenders.”
Perhaps his ability to make such a strong defensive impact and stuff the stat sheet in limited action is what makes Thybulle so deserving of an all-defensive nomination. Despite logging the 167th most minutes league-wide, Thybulle ranks in the top ten in both steals and deflections per game and top 20 in blocks per night. Additionally, he leads all NBA players in games with at least one block and one steal.
This type of defensive production would be beyond satisfactory for a starter, so getting this type of output from a role player is almost unimaginable. Amazingly, though, that is exactly what the second-year player out of Washington brings to the table.
In just 20 minutes per game, Thybulle is snagging more steals per game than two-way stars Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Giannis Antetekounmpo, all of whom are playing far more minutes as starters. Thybulle has also recorded more total blocks than notable rim protectors Draymond Green, DeAndre Jordan, Karl Anthony-Towns, Anthony Davis, and even Joel Embiid, all while coming off the bench.
A HOF Comparison
According to Stathead, the last guard to average 1.5 steals and 1.0 block in a full season was Dwyane Wade, who went on to make three All-Defensive Second Team appearances in his Hall of Fame-worthy career. Currently boasting slightly better metrics in fewer minutes, it isn’t radical to think that Thybulle deserves an all-defensive spot. Every time he steps on the floor, Thybulle drastically elevates the Sixers’ defense, frustrating opposing scorers along the way.
His instincts are second to none, and he is not shy about using them advantageously as often as he can. For lack of a better word, he is a menace on defense and one worthy of all defensive honors. His defensive impact is so immense that it both jumps off the charts yet remains largely unquantifiable. Guarding the ever-evolving NBA talent pool is no easy task, yet Thybulle is excelling at doing so in only his second season.
Already one of the ten most prominent defenders the league has to offer, Matisse Thybulle deserves serious all-defensive team consideration, despite not being featured in the Sixers’ starting lineup.