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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