As a basketball player, Matisse Thybulle is best known for one thing — he’s endorsed the nickname “Mathief,” after all.
On Wednesday night, he added to his rookie lead in steals with two and blocked four shots in the Sixers’ 117-106 win over the Nets (see observations). He chased Brooklyn sharpshooter Joe Harris around screens and stuck with — and also blocked — Nets star Kyrie Irving, a notoriously dextrous ball handler.
THATS 👏 OUR 👏 ROOKIE 👏— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) January 16, 2020
Matisse Thybulle comes up with a block on Kyrie Irving and finishes with a triple on the other end. pic.twitter.com/lDJ8MrTglO
Thybulle has no preference for the type of player he matches up against. He prefers being able to handle whoever he's asked to defend.
“I wouldn’t say so. Each is like a different challenge,” he told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “Guarding Kyrie is nothing like guarding a Joe Harris. They’re both hard covers. For me it’s just being able to step up to the plate. It’s exciting to be versatile, not just like a one-trick pony — being able to guard multiple positions, multiple types of players. I like to take pride in doing that.”
Brett Brown had, before the game, explained his decision not to play James Ennis at all Monday against the Pacers by saying he was determined to “try to grow Matisse more.” Ennis played 15 minutes vs. the Nets, but Brown followed through on his pregame statement about Thybulle by starting the rookie for the fourth time in the regular season, and the first time since Nov. 29.
Thybulle was not expecting it.
“I didn’t know I was starting until maybe a couple minutes before the game, hour before the game,” he said with a smile.
Wednesday’s game was Thybulle’s fourth back after a seven-game absence because of a right knee sprain and bone bruise. He talked on the day before his return about learning through a different perspective on the sidelines. Now, he seems to have a greater clarity on how he wants to approach the game.
“I think one of the things was just watching people make mistakes that I was making," he said. "It’s one thing to do it yourself, it’s another thing to watch somebody do it and see how it’s wrong, why it’s wrong and how you can correct it. I think for me a lot of it is off the ball, try not to foul and staying down on pump fakes. Being OK with a late contest and making the shot difficult as opposed to having the mentality that I need to block everything."
One area where Thybulle still seems a bit perplexed is the subtle manipulation of the referees that’s prevalent across the NBA. He did earn one offensive foul call Wednesday when he was crushed by a Jarrett Allen screen in pursuit of Harris and fell to the floor, but he was adamant that it wasn’t because he’s getting better at selling calls.
“No,” he said. “If you watched it, I got hit really hard on that play. I didn’t want to fall down — that wasn’t a choice. And I had five fouls today.”
In Brown’s opinion, not all of those fouls were the correct calls.
You want to polish him up, not wind him up, and he doesn't need to be wound up,” Brown said. “He's a ball of energy. ... I thought he did a pretty good job for the most part of stalking and had some that weren't fouls. He still hit people as they will rising up into a shot. But we saw after he played seven, eight, nine, 10, 11 games, we saw the progressive growth and his judgment and not leaving like Joe Harris in a corner and trying to make a play off the ball, as an example.
"And I think that his length and his bounce, I want to try to just polish that up and encourage him to make plays. And he did tonight. We just got to make sure that it's done not at the expense of whacking people and sending them to the line.
Offensively, Thybulle’s primary skill, as he knew entering the season, is the three-point shot. Though his percentage has fallen a bit after only hitting 2 of 12 threes since coming back, he’s still at 41.8 percent. He’s also been good about not venturing past the simple play lately and has three turnovers in his last 93 minutes.
Twenty-eight minutes Monday night and 27 Wednesday didn’t look beyond his capacity. Does he expect he’ll have an extended run as a starter?
“Don’t know, don’t really care,” he said. “It’s really just about doing my job when I get out there. You see across the board, we have guys like Trey [Burke], Raul [Neto] that don’t know if they’re going to play but when they come in they make a huge impact on the game. Obviously I know a little bit more about what my minutes are going to look like but it’s still the same mentality across the board. It’s what you do with your opportunity, and everybody wants to be able to go out there and help us win.”
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