The Curious Case of Matisse Thybulle and the 76ers

Matisse Thybulle
LOS ANGELES, CA – MARCH 01: Philadelphia 76ers Forward Matisse Thybulle (22) looks on before a NBA game between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Clippers on March 1, 2020 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

Philadelphia 76ers‘ wing Matisse Thybulle is one of the most unique and polarizing players across the NBA. To some, he is a game-changing defensive talent whose ceiling is sky-high. Thybulle was recently named to his second-straight All-NBA second-team. He averaged a career-high 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks per game this season. He was the only player in the NBA to reach these averages and did so in 25.5 minutes per game.

The Washington product also led the NBA in blocked three-pointers with 23, which is seven more than any other NBA player. Thybulle tallied 60 blocks in his first 60 outings and is the first guard since Dwayne Wade to do so in consecutive seasons. The 25-year-old was the only player in the NBA to tally over 110 steals and 70 blocks in a season this season and just the seventh player in NBA history to reach these numbers.

In his three-year career, Matisse Thybulle has racked up 313 steals and 189 blocks across 196 games. He is one of eight players to reach these numbers since steals and blocks were first recorded. Thybulle has played 4,270 career minutes and is the only player on this shortlist to record these statistics in fewer than 5,000 minutes.

Shooting Regression

While the stats are eye-popping, they overshadow the massive holes in his game. Thybulle saw his most time on the court this season in 25.5 minutes per game and starting in 50 games. In total, he averaged 5.7 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.7 blocks, and 1.1 blocks. Even with the additional time on the court, he has attempted just 0.4 more FGA’s, and his three-point attempts have decreased since his rookie year.

As a rookie in the 2019-20 season, he averaged 2.4 three-point attempts per game and connected at a 35.7% rate. During this past season, Thybulle attempted 2.2 three-pointers per game and was just 31.3% on three-pointers. The regression in his perimeter shooting makes it impossible to give him extended time. While Thybulle did a better job cutting to the basket and getting out in transition, he is oftentimes a zero in the halfcourt.

Is Thybulle the Trevon Diggs of the NBA?

Similar to Matisse Thybulle, Trevon Diggs has a polarizing style of defense on the football field. The Cowboys corner led the NFL with 11 interceptions. He took two of these interceptions back for a touchdown and racked up a total of 142 return yards which also both led the NFL. Diggs was named to the first-team All-Pro for this impressive effort. He also had the second-most passes defended in the NFL and secured a Defensive Player of the Month and Pro Bowl Honors.

While these numbers are great, Trevon Diggs also led the NFL in receiving yards allowed. He was one of only ten cornerbacks to allow over 1000 yards in the past ten years. He allowed a first-down on 45% of the targets thrown his way and allowed 10.6 yards per target. These yards per target ranked 90th among the 91st qualifying corners.

Similar to Trevon Diggs, Matisse Thybulle is very feast or famine in his defensive approach. He relies on his freakish 7-foot wingspan to jump passing lanes or block a shot from behind. Rather than be content playing solid defense, Thybulle oftentimes allows a man in front of him in order to hunt for a turnover.

It looks terrific when it works, and both Thybulle and Diggs capitalize on these risks at a high level, but when the attempts are missed, it has consequences on the team. In the NBA, team defense is far more important than an individual effort. A gamble gone wrong by one guy puts added responsibility on the other four players on the court.

Can Matisse Thybulle Handle More Minutes?

These tantalizing defensive numbers make it appealing to put more on Thybulle’s plate, but the reality is he simply is not ready. There has been little growth in his three years in the league and an offensive regression that is troublesome. There was so much talk about the excitement of the spacing issues that would be solved with Ben Simmons no longer on the team. Defenses play arguably less attention to Thybulle than Simmons demanded. While each player has notable offensive holes, Thybulle does not possess any of the playmaking or ball-handling skills that Simmons does.

The weaknesses of every player are magnified in the postseason. In all three seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers, Thybulle has seen his minutes cut down in the postseason. The most notable rotation change occurred this year as he went from his 25.5 minutes in the regular season to just 15. 2 minutes per game in the postseason.

It also is clear that Thybulle’s unique defense is not made for the postseason. The two remaining teams in the NBA Finals ranked first and second in defensive efficiency this year. Both teams are incredibly connected and on the same page with each other. Matisse Thybulle is a fascinating individual prospect who still holds great value around the league. However, if the 76ers hope to reach their true championship aspirations, it may be best if he is flipped for a better fitting complimentary piece.