The trades for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris were blockbuster deals, but both hurt the Sixers’ depth.
GM Elton Brand did manage to get veterans Mike Scott and James Ennis, both of whom played significant roles during the Sixers’ playoff run. Still, the team had no viable backup for Joel Embiid and Brett Brown was essentially going with seven players by Game 7 in Toronto.
By bringing back Scott and Ennis, trading up in the draft to acquire Matisse Thybulle and bringing in veteran big Kyle O’Quinn, Brand seemed to fortify the team’s depth.
So much for that.
We’re 42 games into the 2019-20 season and the Sixers are looking for answers off their bench.
We're trying to establish a little bit more consistency from that area,” Brett Brown said after practice Thursday. “And at times that you can't, you better have answers. And although we have the answers, not really anybody has just stamped their foot and said, 'This is mine.' And you hope over time, that happens. In the event that it doesn't, we're going to play this thing out and try to be wiser and smarter in the final third of the year as the run to the playoffs gets closer.
There have been times that we’ve seen flashes.
Thybulle has shown elite disruption abilities at the defensive end, but still looks like a rookie every so often. Furkan Korkmaz’s hot stretches have helped carry the team at times, but he’s been inconsistent and has shortcomings on the defensive end.
Even the stable veterans haven’t been so stable. Though he hasn’t necessarily played poorly, O’Quinn is essentially fourth on the depth chart at center behind Joel Embiid, Al Horford and two-way player Norvel Pelle. Scott and Ennis, who gave the Sixers what they needed in the series against the Raptors, haven’t quite been the same players.
In fact, with Scott struggling so much recently, Brown opted to use Ennis at the four just a game after Ennis was a DNP-CD in Indiana.
Oddly enough, the rookie may be the one player that has a rotational spot locked up.
Wednesday night’s win was a perfect example of what you get when Thybulle is at his best. While he’s made momentum-shifting defensive plays, what stood out against the Nets was just his ability to defend.
He was tasked with guarding the super slippery Kyrie Irving and the sharpshooting Joe Harris. He did quite well as both players were victims of Thybulle’s four blocked shots.
It hasn’t always been a smooth process. Brown has admitted that he’s had to increase his tolerance level with the 22-year-old’s gambles. For his part, Thybulle understands why his playing time was so up and down early in the season.
Brown has rewarded him by allowing him to close out games and take on tough assignments.
It's kind of been a process of just earning his trust,” Thybulle said. “I think in the beginning I didn't deserve a lot of it. He's allowed me to play through a lot of mistakes, to make those mistakes, so that I don't have to make them at times like this in the fourth quarter of big games against talented players.
There’s no denying the impact Thybulle has had on this team. When he plays at least 14:29 this season, the Sixers are 20-4. Not the largest sample size, but a pretty decent one.
Part of Brown’s thinking for starting Thybulle Wednesday was to simply get him the experience. The other part of it is that he earned it.
“I felt like Matisse, two reasons,” Brown said, “would come in and give us a better base to start the game defensively, and second, it is most definitely on my mind to increase his role to give him more responsibility/minutes in whatever is a rational way to deliver him to the playoffs where he has an actual role. And I see that happening now.”
So Thybulle is in. But who else?
Ennis? Scott? Korkmaz? A player not on the roster that could arrive before the Feb. 6 trade deadline?
Not even the Sixers have that answer right now.
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