Six games into the season, the Philadelphia 76ers have struggled defensively, and their record indicates as much. They give up an unimpressive opponent field goal percentage of 46.6 percent, and their transition defense remains a major issue. The irony of this revolves around the fact that they’ve had a two-time NBA All-Defensive second-team player riding the bench up until last night’s win against the Raptors. Why doesn’t Matisse Thybulle get more minutes?
One theory is that Doc Rivers already knows what he has in Thybulle and wants to give the new roster acquisitions a chance to show what they can do. The low-hanging fruit could simply be that Matisse Thybulle’s offensive game just hasn’t developed enough to balance his overall value as a player. Whatever the case, Thybulle’s shooting is likely the emphasis of the decision not to play him. What if his shooting, though, is actually not as glaring an issue since James Harden put on a Sixers jersey?
Going back to the sample of games after James Harden was traded to Philly last February, Thybulle’s shooting percentages were actually better before his vaccine status turned him into a pariah. In the games Thybulle played before the trade, he shot 49 percent from the field and just 28 percent from beyond the arc. When Thybulle played with Harden after the All-Star break up to the Toronto series, his shooting increased to 52 percent and 39 percent, respectively. Could his exile be misguided, given he did see a spike in shooting while playing alongside Harden?
What are the Sixers missing since Matisse Thybulle’s role has been diminished? It is as pronounced as the collar on one of Brian Colangelo’s dress shirts. The disruption that Thybulle caused over his three-year career would help the Sixers tremendously right now. Leading the league in steal percentage last year (3.4) and block percentage for guards (3.8) while being at the top of the NBA in pass deflections should be enough case for him to get steady minutes. If you look at what recently added players bring, Thybulle is much more impactful.
Daniel House’s overall numbers are horrid at this point, while P.J. Tucker, whose toughness and grittiness are commendable, hasn’t been lighting the world on fire from three or even defensively. The only player who has been stellar off the bench has been De’Anthony Melton. Can you imagine if Thybulle and Melton shared the floor for 20 minutes a game? Can you say “Swipe City?”
The frustrating part for fans who are still in support of Matisse Thybulle is that we’ve all seen what he can do. Picking the pocket of opponents. Blocking shots when the shooter seems wide-open. Knocking the ball away during a key possession and causing a critical turnover in the process. Is he deprived of playing time just because he’s not an above-average shooter?
There are some who speculate that Matisse Thybulle sealed his fate with the Sixers when he did not get his second COVID-19 shot prior to the 2022 postseason. It caused him to miss away games in the Raptors series and slowed any momentum he had after getting a Harden boost. It may have even caused a rift in the locker room, letting his teammates down when they needed him most. Regardless of what happened last year, it is a new season, and Thybulle’s defense could add a jolt into the team that nobody is capable of doing besides him.
Perhaps Doc Rivers already has a plan to re-insert Matisse Thybulle into the rotation? Maybe recently signed players are getting a trial run? The question then becomes, when does this trial end? Thybulle’s stingy defense could make a difference in tight games. Causing more fast breaks for the team will help the Sixers get easier buckets in transition. His notorious ability to creep up on shooters will cause them to hear footsteps, making them cautiously aware of his presence. Just ask Stephen Curry the last time he played the Sixers.
Remember when Golden State came to Philadelphia, and Matisse Thybulle was in Curry’s jersey while flustering the recent NBA Finals MVP? Performances like that are what earned him the most second-place votes (71) out of the other nine players who made an All-Defensive team. Now, imagine a pattern with last season’s top ballhawks and rim protectors and think of what their team records share. Ready for this? Of all the players who made the 1st and 2nd All-Defensive teams, each played for a top contending playoff team.
With the exception of Utah and Rudy Gobert, every other elite defender’s team advanced to the second round or beyond. What’s the point? Matisse Thybulle was an important piece to the Sixers’ success last year, and he is now riding the bench when his unique skill set could help the team rectify its defensive woes.
Ja Morant has dunk highlights for days. Stephen Curry has more 3-point play highlights than a database can store. And Matisse Thybulle has as impressive a defensive highlight reel as any wing player in recent memory, full of insane steals and remarkable swats. If Thybulle can keep shooting as he did versus the Raptors last night, his 3-and-D status will catapult, and you can add spot-up threes to his defensive specialty highlights. Ideally, it won’t take another teammate’s absence for him to get playing time.
Doc Rivers needs to fix his team’s defensive problem, and Matisse Thybulle could be part of the solution. Should he ignore the freakish abilities and extraordinary instincts of Thybulle, the team’s defense will keep suffering from poor defensive performances, and the wheels will continue to slowly but surely, fall off the wagon.