76ers

This is the moment Sixers traded up to get Matisse Thybulle for

This is the moment Sixers traded up to get Matisse Thybulle for

Over a year ago, Elton Brand was about to preside over his first draft as the Sixers’ GM. Sure, Brand had a role in previous years, but this was his chance to have final say.

A few days before the 2019 draft, Brand spoke to reporters about what he was looking for in potential prospects.

"We definitely are looking for players that can compete for a spot to be in our top-eight right now," Brand said.

Though he had to trade up to make it happen, Brand did acquire that type of player in Washington’s Matisse Thybulle. The NCAA’s Defensive Player of the Year has looked like a draft-night steal for the Sixers and should be in line for a big role in Brett Brown’s playoff rotation.

After the Sixers drafted Thybulle, they touted his defense and his ability to create turnovers. It was fair to wonder how much of Thybulle’s gaudy block and steal number were his ability and instincts and how much were the result of the system he played in at Washington. The Huskies played a 2-3 zone, deployed by head coach Mike Hopkins, a former Syracuse assistant.

It was at the Sixers’ annual Blue x White Scrimmage back in October where it looked like Thybulle had the potential to be a disruptive force that was ready for NBA minutes. In a game where everyone was eager to get a look at the new starting five, the second quarter became the Matisse Thybulle Show that afternoon at 76ers Fieldhouse in Delaware. He stripped Ben Simmons on a fast break and came out of nowhere to smack a Josh Richardson transition three into the seats.

From there, Thybulle earned a mostly steady role and looked like arguably the most dangerous defensive player in his draft class. He leads all rookies in steals and is fifth in blocks. 

There were times when issues with defensive discipline would get Thybulle into trouble. He'd pick up cheap fouls by being overaggressive or go after a steal and leave his teammates out to dry, causing Brown to refer to Thybulle as a “stallion that’s wild” back in November. Offensively, Thybulle was hot and cold with his jumper and didn’t produce much off the dribble.

Still, Brown saw Thybulle as someone that could contribute in the postseason.

“What I always remind myself of is you have to start with the end in mind,” Brown said. “If the end in mind is the playoffs, I think he can be a playing player in the playoffs.”

If you think back to last postseason, the Sixers essentially brought three players off the bench: Mike Scott, James Ennis and whichever backup big would hurt the team the least when Embiid sat. Scott and Ennis played well during that run, but Ennis found himself out of the rotation this season and was then traded to the Magic at the deadline. Scott looks to be on the outside looking in at the rotation.

With Shake Milton being inserted into the starting lineup, Al Horford will have an obvious role off the bench as Joel Embiid’s backup and occasionally playing power forward playing next to the All-Star center. Thybulle is still in a fight for minutes with the sharpshooting Furkan Korkmaz, the athletic and steady Glenn Robinson III and the shot creating Alec Burks. 

Each player boasts different strengths and matchups will certainly be a factor, but this is the moment Brand had in mind when he sent a second-round pick to the Celtics in order to land Thybulle.

"You're looking for a guy that can contribute right now," Brand said ahead of the draft, "which starts with a specific skill where Brett [Brown] can look down that bench and say, 'All right, I need defense. … Oh, I need some shot making. The defense might not be there or something else might not be there, but I know I can get this from this rookie.' Just something that they can contribute right away, and they might not be elite at it, but they'll be good at it."

Thybulle is already an elite disruptor and should wreak havoc on opposition offenses all postseason long. He just needs the opportunity.

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Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons reportedly had clean MRI on left knee

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons reportedly had clean MRI on left knee

When Ben Simmons flexed his left leg after lobbing a pass for Al Horford and immediately headed off the floor Wednesday during the Sixers’ win over the Wizards, it was logical to be concerned. But, according to a report, Simmons’ knee injury is not as severe as one might have feared watching him walk toward the locker room. 

An MRI on Simmons’ knee was clean and he’s expected to be day-to-day, per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium. It's worth noting this is not an official update from the Sixers, who Brett Brown said postgame he expected to issue an announcement soon about Simmons' status. 

The 24-year-old recovered from a nerve impingement in his lower back over the NBA’s hiatus, and he felt strong and explosive heading into the league’s restart. He’s now serving as the Sixers’ starting point forward, an adjustment Brown thinks he’s approached well.

“I do feel like Ben has been amazing,” Brown said before Wednesday’s game, “in regards to just being mature on ‘Put me wherever you think I can best help the team.’ At times maybe he hasn’t gotten a touch the way he needs to get a touch, sometimes — which was easier when he was always the primary ball carrier. And so I applaud him tremendously on being a great teammate, trying to accept a new type of ecosystem that we’re trying to use him in.”

Simmons looked for his shot often in Wednesday’s game, though with little success. He missed an open corner three-pointer in the first quarter, his first legitimate regular-season try from long distance since Dec. 7, and made 2 of 10 field goals overall in 23 minutes. 

If Simmons misses any games, Brown will have a few options for reshuffling his starting lineup. There’s a case to be made for just about every member of the current rotation, which Brown cut down to nine players on Wednesday. Al Horford could slide into the frontcourt if Brown wants to work on the Horford-Joel Embiid pairing, which has a plus-15.6 net rating in 40 minutes together at Disney World after being the Sixers’ worst regular duo pre-hiatus.

Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz and Glenn Robinson III have all started games this year, though Robinson is dealing with an injury himself, having missed the team's first three seeding games with a left hip pointer. Perhaps Brown could go with Alec Burks if he’s looking for an extra ball handler and more time to evaluate his potential backup point guard in the playoffs.

The main takeaway here, however, is not the potential ripple effects on the Sixers' seeding game rotation. Rather, it's that a player the team will surely need to have available in order to make a deep playoff run reportedly has avoided a serious injury.

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Sixers squeak by Wizards after Ben Simmons exits early with left knee injury

Sixers squeak by Wizards after Ben Simmons exits early with left knee injury

Updated: 10:12 p.m. 

The importance of the Sixers’ 107-98 win over the Wizards on Wednesday pales in comparison to Ben Simmons’ status. 

The two-time All-Star suffered a left knee injury in the third quarter and did not return. Joel Embiid (30 points, 11 rebounds) led the way for the Sixers, who improved to 41-27 and next face the Magic on Friday night. His dunk with 19.3 seconds to go finally sealed the victory over the 24-44 Wizards. 

Here are observations on the game: 

Simmons’ early exit 

Simmons (eight points on 2 for 10 shooting, six rebounds, four assists) headed to the locker room in the middle of the third period. He flexed his left leg after throwing a pass for Al Horford and immediately headed off the floor. 

That injury clearly casts a shadow on the game for the Sixers given Simmons’ obvious, immense value as a versatile offensive piece and excellent defender. 

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Simmons has no swelling or pain in his left knee and that “early indications … are encouraging.”

"I’m sure the club will make some announcement about Ben’s departure from the floor soon," Brett Brown said after the game. "But as far as knowing more than that, I really don’t. I’m obviously very curious to hear what that news is.”

Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium reported Wednesday night that an MRI on Simmons' knee came back clean and he's expected to be day-to-day. 

Inconsistent (but better) defense 

As far as Brown is concerned, the explanation for most of the Sixers’ defensive issues in their first two seeding games is simple. 

“When we choose to play defense on a more repetitive, regular basis — not (just) the third period and don’t pay attention to the first half, as an example — when we get that disposition, that physicality, I think things are going to connect,” he said before the game.

The collective effort and focus was solid in the first quarter against the Wizards but lapsed at times afterwards. Shake Milton was beaten off the dribble on several occasions in the first half. Tobias Harris ceded an offensive rebound to Troy Brown Jr. early in the third quarter, and Brown laid it in to tie the game at 58 apiece during a 23-11 Wizards run to begin the third period. Overall, the Sixers are playing below their potential defensively and will pay in the playoffs if they don’t elevate their level. 

Simmons, of course, is a main reason why the team’s defensive ceiling seemed so high entering this season. 

Trimming the rotation 

Brown decided to cut his rotation from 10 players to nine against the Wizards, leaving Raul Neto out. Mike Scott (right knee soreness) and Glenn Robinson III (left hip pointer) remained sidelined. 

The Sixers’ head coach acknowledged there are still rotation-related questions he’s assessing ahead of the playoffs. 

“I think the desire to play 10 initially, I don’t regret,” he said pregame. “I’ve admitted I’m trying to learn stuff and keep the team’s spirit at a place that I think ends up important. I do think that it has been difficult to find real minutes for 10 players — it’s just so much that can go around. … Ultimately, you get to the playoffs, it’s certainly going to be nine.” 

Alec Burks was the sole backup point guard and also played on the wing in a lineup alongside Simmons, Harris, Horford and Josh Richardson. He had nine points, two assists and no turnovers in 19:34, with his playing time extended because of Simmons’ injury.

He knows what’s coming 

All of the double teams Embiid is encountering come as no surprise to the big man.

“I’ve just gotta keep on getting better because I know that every single game I’m going to get doubled,” he said Monday night, “so I’ve gotta just figure that out … and create shots for my teammates. If I’m open and I’ve got a duck-in, just go out and do it. But other than that, just try to make sure defenders attract a lot of attention, just for my teammates.”

Washington’s double teams were predictably frequent and aggressive, and Embiid again handled them reasonably well. With the exception of one first-quarter play where he turned toward the baseline on a fadeaway jumper attempt straight into Isaac Bonga, he took what the defense presented to him. 

And, when the Wizards couldn’t send an extra body, he recognized his advantage and went straight to work. 

Milton (14 points, four assists) and Richardson (15 points, three assists) helped Embiid out by hitting a couple of jumpers down the stretch. 

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