Sixers: the enigma of Matisse Thybulle


“Matisse Thybulle is a problem”. You hear this all the time from players and coaches, both the Sixers and the opposition. This is usually in reference to his stellar defensive play and the chaos he can wreak on an opposing team’s offense. And by now it should be obvious to everyone that he is on his way to becoming the most feared perimeter defender in the NBA, so these compliments are well deserved. However, the point is, this statement also has a second meaning. As amazing as Thybulle is on defense, it’s how weak and limited he is on offense. He is his own yin and yang.

In professional basketball the emphasis is on scoring and defense can be an afterthought. Most players don’t give maximum effort on the defensive end until the game is on the line. Thybulle is an anomaly because he always knew his special gift was defense, so he has always been the downside of most players across the board. He gives 100 percent of the effort on defense and always took his breaks on offense, preferring to step aside and let the other guys shine and score while he specialized in the dirty work.

He became a superstar in hard work and in the mud. You better set a good hard screen because Thybulle is going to fight. Don’t be sloppy with the ball even for a second as Thybulle is still watching and will take it from you right away. Think you’re open for a sweater? Thybulle falls from the sky like a parachutist to repel fire from which it was far away. So if he’s that good, what’s the problem?

The “Matisse Thybulle Conundrum” once had another name. We called it “The Ben Simmons Dilemma”. Part of the reason the Sixers are currently pushing to move Simmons is because for all of his wonderful athletic, passing and defensive gifts, he poses no threat on offense. Ben is predictable and often drives long, long journeys without even looking at the rim. During those stretches, the opposition can keep Simmons with anyone and it feels like the Sixers are forced to play four-on-five in half-court. Not all of his talents on D seem to make up for his negative impact on a half-court attack. It became Matisse’s concern.

How should the Sixers deal with Matisse Thybulle’s offensive limits?

There are many glaring differences between Simmons and Thybulle, which is why this is currently only a minor concern. The main reason is that Ben Simmons came in with all the fanfare and expectations of a number one pick, and a salary to match. Simmons was also the point guard, which means his usage rate is sky-high. The ball is literally still in his hands and the whole attack starts with him. All eyes – players, fans, coaches and the media are on him all the time. You can’t hide a player like this. Thybulle plays off the ball and rarely needs it so it’s possible to ‘hide’ him for long periods of time as the attack can go through the other four guys and you almost forget he’s there. Until he’s wide open in the corner and has a hold of the ball, dribble and throw it again. Then his refusal to shoot begins to look like Simmons’ dilemma again.

That’s what the Sixers need to spend every second dealing with Thybulle. It takes years to build good habits and often just as long to undo bad ones. Matisse has spent the last eight or nine years developing a mindset that he doesn’t need to shoot, he just needs to focus all of his energy on defense. It worked so well that he got a scholarship to play ball for the Washington Huskies and became a first-round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Last year he was named to the NBA All- Defensive Second Team, which was all the more impressive as he only played 20 minutes per game. This year, he’s averaging no more minutes due to injuries and Covid issues that have made them scramble for the players. When Danny Green plays and their roster is reasonably healthy, Matisse goes back to his 20 minutes per game. Why? Because as finicky as he may be in defense, he’s still a reluctant shooter and that hinders the course of the attack.

This is where the other big difference between Simmons and Thybulle comes in. Matisse hasn’t starred all his life and is perfectly happy not to be considered a star. He is entirely egoless, which means that when the coaching staff gives him constructive criticism, he is able to deal with it. He has thicker skin than Simmons. When asked to work with coaches to develop and develop his ball handling and shooting skills, he doesn’t push back. He is able to see the areas of his game that need to be improved and recognize that he needs to be better.

This is the crux of the matter. Now it’s the job of Sixers staff and coaches to take the work they do in games, shootarounds and practices, and start planning for the future. They’ll be happily living with growing pains now if there’s any reason to believe he might become an aggressive offensive threat in the hopefully not too distant future. For example, in each of the Sixers’ last two games, he had possession where he got the ball and aggressively tried to beat his man up and head for the hoop, looking for his own shot. If there is reason to believe that he can do it 2-3 times per game and take 5-6 lines per game, open or contested, then he has the potential to become a truly special player. The kind of 3-and-D specialist who is consistently considered Defensive Player of the Year, plays 35 minutes per game and is the most dangerous player on the pitch in times of crisis because he can be a playmaker. on both sides.

The point is, Thybulle never needs to be a spectacular shooter. If he can learn to get out of contested shots and develop the mindset that he needs to shoot the ball to help this team, being an average shooter will suffice, even a few ticks below par. If he’s a constant threat to score, that will pave the way for Joel Embiid and the other players around the perimeter. He tries to break down his old instincts that tell him not to shoot and build new instincts that tell him to let it fly and live with no matter what. It is incredibly difficult to change a player’s natural instincts. Not everyone can do it.

If Thybulle can make these changes and slowly develop his attacking game until he is helping the team more than hurting them, it will become nearly impossible to keep him off the ground. These are his defensive gifts. If the team thinks he can do it, he shouldn’t be included in a Ben Simmons trade in any way, and he should be a staple that a championship is built around Embiid on. However, if there is reason to believe that his instinct to let open shots go is too deep, and that he’s likely always going to be a guy who relies on the other four players on the pitch, he should be used as a an advantage. Now before it’s too late. His value as a Unique Defender makes him a valuable trade piece in a Tobias Harris Trade or a Simmons Trade.

It is unfair for both Matisse Thybulle and the Sixers organization to believe that they can look into a magical crystal ball and project how much it will grow and develop over the next 3-4 years. But this is a high stakes business, and people’s jobs and futures depend on evaluators making decisions like these. A player like Furkan Korkmaz doesn’t have the mentality or the physical tools to be a defender like Matisse, but shooting like you have no conscience like Furk can be learned.

By next season, the team will need to have a good idea of ​​what kind of attacking player Thybulle will eventually become and how long it will take him to reach that potential. Hopefully Ben Simmons is moved before the trade deadline, or at the very least by this year’s NBA Draft. Whether or not Matisse is included in that decision will likely depend on whether the team has Thybulle’s ability to become an offensive threat. If he stays, they will likely see positive growth and believe in his future. If they don’t see a reason to believe that he can become a guy who shoots 10-12 shots a game and puts pressure on a D, then he’ll likely be out of place. Is he more valuable to the team as a business asset in the return of a superstar or is he more valuable as a centerpiece who can be a full time starter? The Matisse Thybulle enigma rages on.

About Jimmie T.

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