Matisse Thybulle was his usual bubbly self Friday. The Sixers’ rookie literally hopped — like he actually jumped into his seat — on a video conference call with reporters. He signed off by calling all of us nerds.
The 2019 first-round pick was having a standout first season before play was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. Though his playing time had fluctuated, head coach Brett Brown said earlier in the season that he was grooming the young wing for the playoffs.
Still, Thybulle won’t take anything for granted as the team prepares to leave for the Disney World “bubble” next week.
“For me, every time I get out on the court, it’s a challenge to maintain, to keep my spot on the team,” Thybulle said. “And then with keeping the spot, you can never be stagnant.”
On opening night, Thybulle was asked to defend All-Star guard Kemba Walker. Walker had given the Sixers problems in the past and the rookie didn’t get off to a great start, committing two quick fouls. As the game went on, Thybulle settled in and showed the defensive prowess the Sixers drafted him for.
All season long, Thybulle has done well to take things as they come during a bizarre rookie year. He’s planning to take that same mentality to Florida.
Nobody really knows what’s going to happen," Thybulle said, "nobody really knows what to expect, or how things are going to go, or what anybody or any team looks like. Instead of setting expectations for myself or what I think the experience is going to be like, it’s been just trying to take each new step of this process as a new challenge, and then figuring out, when I get there, how I’m going to get through it.
"If you want to look at all the unknowns, you’ll just go crazy. Taking what I know and what I can control and trying to make the best out of that.
What we know about Thybulle is he has a propensity for disruption on the defensive end. He leads all rookies in steals — by a healthy margin — and is fifth in blocks. He’s one of only eight players in the NBA to have at least 80 steals and 40 blocks.
In order to get so many deflections and wreak havoc defensively, you need to be in top shape. If you’ve seen Thybulle’s Tik Tok adventures from early in the quarantine, you know that he lives in a small apartment and didn’t have the opportunity to keep up with basketball activities.
So, he turned to the only form of exercise he thought could help — even if he didn’t enjoy it.
“I don’t like running. I really don’t like it,” Thyulle said. “But through the quarantine, it was like my only choice. ... It’s obviously not basketball-type conditioning, but it kept me at a cardio fitness level to where now that we’ve come back and started, and I’ve started doing my basketball workouts, I have a really solid baseline to build off. In a matter of two weeks, I feel like I’ve gotten back into really good shape and I think it’s going to be easier to build on after this.”
Thybulle has been given a bunch of tough assignments this season. While he’s looked like a rookie at times, when he’s kept his fouls down and his three-point percentage up, you see a player that should be able to help come the postseason.
And in a year where nobody knows what the NBA playoffs will be like, it could be to the rookie’s advantage during his first postseason run.
“I think what I’ve heard about the playoffs is a little different than what the playoffs are going to look like this year,” Thybulle said. “Obviously, I’ve heard amazing things. Especially playing in Philly, I’ve heard so many great things about having our fans behind us.
"We’re finding ourselves in a situation where that’s not going to be the case, so I think it’s going to be new for everyone, even vets who have been part of the playoffs, trying to get a feel for what this is going to be like. But I’m open to the challenge and I’m excited for what’s in store.”
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