Just when you think that the Matisse Thybulle hype may be a little premature, the rookie gets his hands on another basketball.
The first-round pick has been wreaking havoc at every turn through four preseason games — including Tuesday’s 106-86 win over the Pistons at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations). He finished with four steals and two blocks in just 25 minutes.
From when he stole the show at the Blue x White Scrimmage in Delaware to his highlight-reel steals and blocks in games since, Thybulle has been as advertised. The Naismith Defensive Player of the Year has shed any concerns about coming from Washington’s zone in college and is earning his way into meaningful NBA minutes.
With Ben Simmons and Al Horford sitting out, Thybulle got the chance to start Tuesday.
Another opportunity he relished and crushed.
“It felt good,” Thybulle said postgame. “I’m lucky we’ve got great guys — they helped me feel comfortable out there so that I can get out there and just play my game, not be someone I’m not. Just step into my role and do my thing.”
That role is starting to look like it’s going to be a big one.
It’s not too often rookies get regular rotation minutes for a team chasing an NBA title. It’s a testament to how good Thybulle has been. This isn’t like last season when Brett Brown was desperately looking for someone to give him solid minutes.
This bench is loaded with veterans — and the 22-year-old doesn’t look out of place.
“When you talk to him, you don't feel like you're talking to a young kid at all,” Brown said. “In fact, I think that he's sophisticated at times, maybe beyond his years, and I think he's smart. He takes pride on trying to be smart. It means something to him to be studied and not make mistakes.”
Thybulle’s defensive numbers in college were video game like. His numbers through four NBA preseason games aren’t far off.
In a little under 20 minutes a night, Thybulle has averaged three steals and 1.5 blocks a game for the Sixers. Not to mention the ridiculous amount of deflections he’s racked up.
That style of play is not without its flaws. By taking chances, Thybulle will at times leave his team in precarious situations. On the other hand, those steals, blocks and deflections can be momentum-shifting plays.
“It’s a calculated risk,” Thybulle said pregame. “And that’s been a huge thing in these preseason games, just trying to find that line of how far can I push it before I’m going to put my guys in tough situations. And also, I don’t need to be super reserved because Coach has put me in a lot of good spots.”
While Thybulle tries to balance making plays on the ball against making sure he’s being responsible, Brown is happy to let the rookie try to figure it out.
“Yeah, he’s never told me to hold back on the defensive end,” Thybulle said. “I’ve made some reckless decisions on whether I should go chase the ball or not and have been out of position a lot, and he just continues to let me explore that and find that fine line for myself.”
Thybulle may look like a player that should’ve gone higher than his draft slot, but the Sixers did give something up to move up to get him. The second-round pick the Sixers traded to Boston to go from 24 to 20 turned into Purdue sharpshooter Carsen Edwards.
While Thybulle was flying around the court in Philly Tuesday, Edwards sank eight threes in the third quarter for the Celtics in Cleveland. The Sixers could’ve maybe used some of that offensive punch off their bench.
But if Thybulle continues to play at this level, there’s no telling how high his ceiling is. Perhaps it’ll be Danny Ainge and the Celtics one day regretting the fact that Thybulle was theirs for about five minutes.
“I think he's great, man,” Josh Richardson said. “I like his energy that he plays with every night. I think he has a chance to be one of the elite defenders in the NBA. He has instincts that you really can't teach. So I'm excited about him and I think he's going to be a great help for us.”
And it looks like he’ll be helping as early as opening night against Boston next week.
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