76ers

Matisse Thybulle continues to crush every opportunity Sixers give him

Matisse Thybulle continues to crush every opportunity Sixers give him

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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How to watch Sixers vs. Magic: Storylines, live stream, game time and more

How to watch Sixers vs. Magic: Storylines, live stream, game time and more

Updated: 2:10 p.m.

We’re waiting for a timeline on how long Ben Simmons, who suffered a left patella subluxation in Wednesday’s game, will be sidelined. Meanwhile, the 41-27 Sixers will play their fourth seeding game on Friday night against the 32-37 Magic.

Here are the essentials: 

When: 6:30 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6 
Where: HP Field House 
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

One of the impacts without Simmons 

Before sustaining his injury, Simmons attempted a corner three last game, his first legitimate long-range try since Dec. 7. The Sixers will likely miss his passing to three-point threats far more than his own three-point shooting. 

That said, the team took 35.8 threes per game and made 42.3 percent in its eight games before the hiatus, with Simmons out because of a nerve impingement in his lower back. Through three games at Disney World, the Sixers have taken 28.3 threes per contest (20th of 22nd teams) and converted 40 percent. The offense without Simmons should revolve around Embiid, but firing up more threes than they have so far will also need to be an emphasis. 

We reviewed several other potential ripple effects of Simmons’ injury, including options for the new starting lineup and the expected reliance on Joel Embiid, here

Other key injuries 

Simmons’ injury isn’t the only notable one affecting this game.  

Orlando’s Jonathan Isaac suffered a torn ACL on Sunday. Michael Carter-Williams (tendon strain in left foot) and Aaron Gordon (left hamstring strain) are also out. Center Mo Bamba has only played 11 minutes at Disney World. He told The Athletic’s Josh Robbins that’s because he had COVID-19 in June, which impacted his conditioning. 

For the Sixers, Mike Scott is available after missing the team's first three seeding games with right knee soreness and Glenn Robinson III remains out with a left hip flexor. 

Former Sixers watch 

In addition to the aforementioned Carter-Williams, former Sixers Nikola Vucevic, James Ennis and Markelle Fultz are members of the Magic. 

An All-Star for the first time last season, Vucevic should have a challenging matchup against Embiid. Ennis, who was traded in February, starts for the Magic and has averaged 7.3 points and 4.2 rebounds for the team in 16 games. Fultz has only missed one game this season, posting 11.9 points, 5.1 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game, and is 4 for 5 from three-point range after the hiatus.

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Trying to answer initial questions with Ben Simmons' knee injury

Trying to answer initial questions with Ben Simmons' knee injury

Updated: 8:42 p.m.

Ben Simmons is out for the Sixers’ seeding game Friday against the Orlando Magic with a left patella subluxation and there's not currently a timeline for his return as he considers treatment options. That news is clearly significant in the Sixers’ world, and it raises a range of questions. 

Let’s run through some of the bigger ones: 

What exactly is the injury? 

A simpler way to classify the injury is as a partial dislocation of the kneecap. 

How long will Simmons be out?

This is the largest question and still murky. Brett Brown on Thursday said “stuff is still being evaluated” and that he wasn’t in a position to offer a timeline. Presumably, factors such as the state of the ligaments around the knee could play a key role in determining how long Simmons is out. 

Outside of Simmons’ physical status, the team’s approach will be important. There’s no reason to put Simmons back on the court before he’s healthy. 

Shake Milton is hoping for a speedy return.

“It’s tough for us,” he said Thursday. “Ben is an incredible player, an incredible athlete. I don’t know, he’s like a freaking superhuman, so hopefully he’s able to heal super fast and get back on the court, because we definitely need him.”

How will the starting lineup change?

On March 11, the Sixers’ final pre-hiatus game, the team started Milton, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid. That’s one possibility. The Horford-Embiid pairing is still the Sixers’ worst regular duo in terms of net rating despite having a plus-15.6 net rating in 40 minutes together at Disney World.

If Brown wants to prepare for a scenario in which Simmons is available and in the postseason starting five, he could keep Horford as the sixth man. He could instead turn to a wing such as Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz or Glenn Robinson III, all of whom have started games for the Sixers this year. Robinson, who has missed the Sixers' first three seeding games with a left hip pointer, is doubtful for Friday's game. 

What about the rotation?

Robinson’s health is a relevant issue with the rotation, which Brown shrunk to nine players when the Sixers played the Wizards. Raul Neto didn’t play against Washington after seeing time in the first two seeding games.

It’s interesting to note that Neto started in Simmons’ place on Nov. 8 and Nov. 10 when the Australian was out with a shoulder injury. The circumstances were very different, however, as Milton was sidelined by a bone bruise and left knee sprain, leaving Neto and Trey Burke as the two main ball handlers on the roster. Trade deadline acquisition Alec Burks now appears ahead of Neto in the backup point guard pecking order, and Simmons’ injury should increase Burks' value a touch. 

As of Wednesday, Brown said his plan was still to have a nine-player rotation for the playoffs. 

What’s the intangible impact? 

When Simmons suffered a nerve impingement in his lower back on Feb. 22, Brown recalled him vomiting because of pain. He’s lauded Simmons often for the diligent rehabilitation he did to recover from that injury and be ready to go when play resumed amid a pandemic.

Injuries aren’t anything new to Brown, but he admitted it hurt some to learn about this one after witnessing the process of Simmons’ back rehabilitation. 

“It’s the life that we've lived since I have been in Philadelphia,” he said. “I’m sure every coach has some level of a similar story. This one stings, for sure. We all felt with the pandemic and are we going to play again, it obviously bought time for Ben — had the season kept going, it’s anybody’s best guess. In relation to being incredibly down about it, I’m not. When I think too long about it, probably I can go there.

“But I feel numb to it. I feel conditioned, that we’ve gone through this type of thing before. There is a level of faith that I have in the rest of the team that we can hold the fort until we hopefully get him back. But snakebitten, woe is me, I don’t go there.”

In addition to dealing with the disappointment of a star going down, the Sixers will have to tinker with ingredients like leadership that aren’t necessarily evident to an outsider.

“It’s going to be kind of everyone has to step up by committee,” Richardson said. “I think we have a few guys that can step up as leaders, who can step up and have big games for us. We don’t really like to put too much pressure on one or a few guys. Everybody’s going to step up in his absence.”

Can the Sixers manage without Simmons? 

Again, the lack of a timeline looms large here. We can say without question that the Sixers are 6-5 this season without Simmons and don’t have direct replacements for his elite defense, transition talents, creative passing and more.

It’s also logical that the Sixers will rely on Embiid defensively and feed him frequently in the post. His 34.4 percent usage rate so far in Florida may very well rise. 

“Offensively, he needs to get as many touches as we can get him,” Brown said. “And I think that one of the areas of most noticeable growth … is what he’s been doing passing out of the post. It’s maybe the single thing that stands out most to me offensively when you look at whether it’s Jo, or just us as a team — I like our post spacing.

“I like Jo’s unselfishness quarterbacking the gym. His ability to read where the double teams are coming from I think has been shown.”

Thybulle, Richardson, and perhaps Robinson when healthy could assume challenging defensive assignments that otherwise would have been Simmons’. Players like Harris and Korkmaz will miss Simmons’ ability to drive and set up three-pointers. 

Initially, the Sixers are coming to terms with the situation and hoping the injury doesn’t dent their playoff hopes.

“There’s a lot of moving parts right now and really we're all coming to grips with the news that we’ve received,” Brown said. 

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