Matisse Thybulle, who reminds Joel Embiid of Robert Covington, could be key piece of Sixers' colorful bench

Matisse Thybulle, who reminds Joel Embiid of Robert Covington, could be key piece of Sixers' colorful bench

The regular members of the 2019-20 Sixers’ bench are yet to be fully determined, but there are no shortage of colorful descriptions for the group.

James Ennis called them “bulldogs.”

Brett Brown said Tuesday night he wants his bench to “try to create a bomb squad mentality,” and he added Wednesday he hopes the second unit plays "with that kamikaze spirit.” 

Through the team’s Blue x White Scrimmage on Saturday and preseason opener Tuesday against the Guangzhou Loong-Lions, the bench player it seems everyone is raving about is rookie Matisse Thybulle. He had 10 points on 4 for 6 shooting (2 for 4 from three-point range), three steals and two blocks in his debut at Wells Fargo Center.

Joel Embiid must not be listening into his teammates’ chats with the media, but he had high praise for Thybulle after practice Wednesday.

“I don’t know why no one is talking about him,” he said. “He gets his hands on everything. He reminds me of [Robert Covington] when Cov was here. He’s only going to get better. I love playing with him. Defensively, he’s going to help us a lot.”

Covington, traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves last November as part of the Sixers’ deal to acquire Jimmy Butler, is an interesting comparison for Thybulle. In the short term, the Sixers would probably be thrilled if Thybulle can be a version of Covington, a selection to the All-Defensive First Team in 2017-18 known for his instincts, length and nose for the ball.

Without Covington, the Sixers’ defense didn’t have much success tallying up deflections, recording steals, forcing turnovers or generally causing much discomfort for opponents last season.

Below are the team's deflections, steals and opponent turnover rankings over the past two seasons. Covington, who led the league in deflections in 2017-18 and was sixth in steals, was dealt after the 13th game of last season.

Deflections: 4th
Steals: 7th
Turnovers forced: 15th

Deflections: 18th
Steals: 19th
Turnovers forced: 27th

Brown and new assistant coach Ime Udoka have expressed a desire to make the Sixers more of an irritant defensively this season, with an attacking, physical style.

In the preseason opener, Brown ordered more full court, trapping defense than we typically saw last season.

I feel like when you look at the course of 82 games in the regular season, I think that our second team can establish that type of identity," Brown said Tuesday. "But I've said a lot, I want to play aggressive defense. I want our defense to be the launching pad to our offense, not the other way around. And I think that our length and mentality can help me achieve that.

As a senior at Washington, the 22-year-old Thybulle broke Gary Payton’s all-time Pac-12 steals record. He’s aligned with that brand of defense, both in attitude and skill set. 

“I'll just say, for me, the most important thing was I just wanted to feel like I belonged out there,” he said Tuesday night. “And I feel like I was able to feel that.”

Though Zhaire Smith is also talented defensively, Brown framed his situation Wednesday as being centered on development, likely not immediate contribution to the Sixers. Brown said the 20-year-old Smith, who missed the majority of his rookie season after a Jones fracture in his foot followed by a severe allergic reaction that caused him to lose about 35 pounds, has “got a lot more to learn and grow.”

Thybulle, a four-year college player with an unambiguous, three-and-D identity, looks like he might be ready to help right away. Regardless of how his career ultimately compares to Covington’s, it’s remarkable that, at this early stage, his teammates view him as a key piece of the bench and enjoy sharing the court with him.

“Matisse has been playing so great [on defense] — we’re going to need that from him all year,” Trey Burke said Wednesday. "I think when you've got guys that want to lock in on defense, want to play defense, want to play with a lot of energy, it’s fun. You’re not out there uptight. It’s fun, and you get easy buckets. I think that’s what happened last night and we’ve got to continue to build off that.”

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A sneak peek at the Sixers' 2019-20 City Edition jerseys


A sneak peek at the Sixers' 2019-20 City Edition jerseys

It appears we got our first peek at the Sixers’ 2019-20 City Edition uniforms.

Though the uniform won’t officially come out until Wednesday morning, team president Chris Heck gave us a sneak peek Tuesday during the last night of the 76ers Crossover: Art Exhibition.

The design is similar to the 2017-18 version, but with “Philadelphia” written and the copper stripe down the side. The copper stripe appears to be an ode to the Liberty Bell. Before Heck entered the exhibit, he said the jerseys would “tell a story.”

Apparently, that story is America’s. We’ll likely get more info when the uniforms are officially released.

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Sixers' imperfect fit has led to growing pains offensively

Sixers' imperfect fit has led to growing pains offensively

CAMDEN, N.J. — Through 13 games, the Sixers’ offense has been far from a well-oiled machine.

There are plenty of factors contributing to that. Joel Embiid missing four games hasn’t helped. Ben Simmons missing two hasn’t either.

But the biggest factor — other than perhaps Simmons’ unwillingness to shoot — is time.

Brett Brown, who slyly remarked, “I have no idea what you're talking about” Tuesday on reports that he’s in talks to coach Team Australia in 2020, has often cited Christmas as a time when he expects things to start to come together. Though he was vocal about his disappointment with the team’s defense in their loss last Friday in Oklahoma City, Brown is feeling good about that end of the floor.

But offensively, with his team’s size, it can be an awkward fit. Al Horford is figuring out how to play with a center as dominant as Embiid. Josh Richardson is learning how to play next to a 6-foot-10 point guard that doesn’t shoot from the outside. And Tobias Harris is still figuring out exactly what his role is.

It’s up to Brown and the players to figure it out, but it won’t happen overnight.

“But at some point, when somebody claims that part of the floor, other people have to react to like, well, that real estate's bought,” Brown said. “That takes time. And forget the coach on the sideline saying it, I bet if you ask the players, they'll give you heartfelt -- I hope -- answers on the truth and this is my point: You don't just click your heels [and win], even with talent. 

“This is a different type of team. It's not like you got a traditional point guard, a bunch of shooters, you know Joel Embiid and a stretch four — it's not that. It ain't that at all. I like what I got. I like the people, I like the talent, but it's not a perfect fit that happens straightaway. And that's not an excuse. That's just the way I truly see it.”

Horford’s struggles while playing next to Embiid are evident. His best minutes as a Sixer have been when being used at the five with Embiid out. He’s also shooting just 31.6 percent from three after connecting on 38.2 percent of tries during three years in Boston.

Though he wasn’t as willing to give a timeframe for things to come together, he echoed his coach’s sentiments about the team’s offense — and defense.

“I think we're just a unique team,” Horford said. “We want to play a certain way and it's more in the paint, bully ball and scoring at will with that. We need to continue to find ways to be efficient scoring in the paint but also hitting shots. But I always go back to defense. The more comfortable that we feel defensively I think that'll take us out of a lot of jams and put us in good position.”

There’s little doubt this team was built more for April and May than it was for November. We’ve seen stretches of how good they can be defensively when all five guys are engaged and on the same page.

One area where they should certainly be better and that can help them when the games get tougher is getting to the line. They're 21st in the league in free throw attempts per game. With their size, this should be a team that lives at the line.

Why is there such a disparity on a nightly basis?

“It's a trick question. I don't want to lose no money so ain't going to say nothing,” Harris said. 

When the reporter clarified that it was not a trick question, Harris gave a layered response.

“Look, my whole career I've haven't been really able to get to the free throw line at a consistent rate that I would like to. I've watched film, done a lot of studying how to draw those files and whatnot. It's still a work in progress. I'm not a flopper so I think that kind of like hinders me sometimes a little bit. 

“I think we can find some more ways to kind of get to the free throw line a little bit more [as a team]. Maybe that's limiting some midrange jumpers and getting all the way downhill. Maybe being more physical. But we'll work at it.”

Like everything else with the 2019-20 Sixers, it’s a work in progress.

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