Matisse Thybulle

Four main issues to consider for Sixers with Ben Simmons to undergo knee surgery

Four main issues to consider for Sixers with Ben Simmons to undergo knee surgery

A rational response to the news Saturday that Ben Simmons will have surgery to remove a loose body from his left knee is that it’s time to recalibrate expectations for the Sixers. 

The notion of a championship run naturally dims with the loss of an All-Star. With four seeding games to go before the playoffs, the Sixers will have to address the myriad of concerns raised by Simmons’ absence.

Let’s dissect four main issues: 

Guarding stars 

When games this season have been on the line, Simmons has often helped the Sixers seize control with excellent defense on the opponent’s best playmaker. His versatility has also enabled the Sixers to give other players favorable matchups.

Who takes on the job of defending top scoring threats late in games? It will presumably be dictated by matchups — for instance, you’d think Joel Embiid and Al Horford would guard Giannis Antetokounmpo, while Josh Richardson and Matisse Thybulle would split time on Jayson Tatum. There’s no default answer anymore, and it’ll be a bigger challenge to “hide” players like Furkan Korkmaz.

Horford in the spotlight 

The instinctive reaction when a team loses a player of Simmons’ caliber is that everyone else needs to "step up." That’s fair enough, and yet much of the attention will shift specifically to Horford.

He started in Simmons’ place on Friday and played well, scoring 21 points and grabbing nine rebounds. His much-scrutinized pairing with Embiid is the only Sixers duo with at least 300 minutes together this year to have a negative net rating. In 60 Horford-Embiid minutes at Disney World, though, the Sixers have a plus-9.2 net rating. 

Notably, the presence of Simmons has had a negative effect on the Horford-Embiid pairing, at least offensively. The team has a 98.7 offensive rating when Horford, Embiid and Simmons have played together, by far the worst of any three-man group. Perhaps removing Simmons from the equation and losing another player whose preferred territory is near the rim in the process will help Horford-Embiid lineups score efficiently. 

When Brett Brown was asked what he found out about his team Friday night with Simmons sidelined, Horford was the first name that came to his mind. 

“You can’t help but feel an emerging Al Horford,” he said. “It’s clear that he understands we need him more than we ever have needed him.” 

Post-ups and 3s 

During the eight-game stretch in late February and early March when Simmons was out with a nerve impingement in his back, the Sixers fired up 35.8 three-point attempts per game and converted 42.3 percent. They’ve posted up far more than any other team and have the league’s best high-volume post player in Embiid. Without Simmons, a blend of Embiid post touches and more three-point attempts from players such as Richardson and Tobias Harris would make sense. 

Brown has requested throughout the year that Harris and Richardson “hunt threes." The Sixers, however, are 20th in three-point attempts per game out of the 22 teams in Florida. There has to be a collective willingness to shoot from beyond the arc, and a reduction in the low-efficiency plays where an open three turns into a contested two. 

Embiid’s averages at Disney World are 30 points, 13.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists. He’s attempted 11.4 free throws per game and facilitated for teammates well when powering through a double team isn’t the smart play.

“(He has) the willingness and unselfishness, born with the confidence of ‘I know where my teammates are coming,’ under a backdrop of a poise and a patience — it’s ball to chin, tuck it in stuff you’d teach young players — and he’s figuring stuff out quite quickly — like real quickly,” Brown said before Friday’s game.

“All of those things, when you add them all up, equal a team offense. Arguably the best play that J-Rich can have or Tobias can have is throw the ball into Jo and they’re probably going to double, and then it’s coming back out.” 

Creativity required 

The Sixers’ unofficial mantra this year has been “built for the playoffs.” They maintained faith that talent, size and defense would prevail in the postseason. 

Being down a star should change that. Against the Celtics, Bucks or Raptors, Brown may need to adopt unorthodox strategies if feeding Embiid, relying on the big man to protect the rim and asking Thybulle and Richardson to shut down perimeter scorers is ineffective. 

That could look like blitzing the pick-and-roll if Kemba Walker is giving Richardson trouble. It could mean calling some double drag actions with Embiid and Horford if the defense is denying the Cameroonian and Horford is knocking down jumpers and distributing sharply as a pick-and-pop guy.

Perhaps Brown could ask for spurts of full-court pressure with Thybulle on the floor in an effort to force turnovers, spark transition offense and boost the rookie’s disruptive abilities. If Alec Burks is hot and Milton is making poised, intelligent decisions, Brown could play the two ball handlers together, as he did Friday at the start of the fourth quarter.

Philosophically, Brown likes letting his players figure things out for themselves and setting them up in “environments” over calling a ton of plays. He may now have to embrace greater proactivity and innovation. 

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Sixers protest racial injustice ahead of their 1st seeding game at Disney World

Sixers protest racial injustice ahead of their 1st seeding game at Disney World

All Sixers players and coaches kneeled Saturday night during the national anthem ahead of the team’s first game at Disney World. Indiana Pacers players and coaches also kneeled, in addition to the game's referees. 

The team decided to protest racial injustice after a tumultuous stretch of over four months since their last game that featured protests around the country after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others at the hands of police. The majority of players from other NBA teams have done the same ahead of their opening seeding games. 

Initially, six Sixers players chose to wear pre-approved social justice messages on their jerseys:

Alec Burks — Enough
Furkan Korkmaz — Equality
Raul Neto — Equality
Kyle O'Quinn — Hear Us
Josh Richardson — Say Their Names
Matisse Thybulle — Vote

Tobias Harris ("Say Her Name") and Al Horford ("Equality") later joined the list above. 

Head coach Brett Brown was asked before the game about the statement the team wanted to make during the national anthem. 

Where do you begin? One of solidarity," he said. “This topic, this attention, this racial injustice issue that we’re living and breathing in such a significant way and how it’s impacted everybody — not just the United States. And to show … that this is a unified message — the coaches supporting the players, the league supporting the players, the Philadelphia 76ers organization … supporting our players. It’s not something that we take lightly. 

“We have been talking about this as a topic for many, many months, with all the flashpoints that have happened along the way. And so I think that tonight, we’re not first in relation to playing a basketball game. That example with New Orleans and the Utah Jazz was placed right from the get-go. So tonight, it encompasses many, many things, but none more important than supporting the desire of our players.

In a YouTube video published Friday, Thybulle showed portions of a team discussion about the protest and the Sixers’ plans to address racial injustice. Harris, who is one of the players that’s used their time with reporters to call for action following the police shooting of Taylor, a 26-year-old Black emergency room technician, led the conversation and said “we should start with open dialogue.”

“If anybody is uncomfortable taking a knee, they can express their feelings on it,” he said. “We can just open that up and kind of get a gauge on how guys are feeling.”

Korkmaz shared his perspective.

Where I come from, Turkey, my flag comes first, and then national anthem comes second. … I’m from Turkey, but I live here and I earn my money here," he said. "That’s why I have the same respect to the American flag. But I know this is about human rights. What happens is unacceptable, and I will be with you guys 200 percent. There’s no question. I will also make more impact as a white guy to be (kneeling) with you guys out there. I want to also be part of it. 

"I come from a different country, 85 million population — people are going to watch. Just to think about kneeling, I didn’t feel comfortable to disrespect the flag or government or whatever, and Tobias told me this is not about disrespecting the flag, this is about reaction to what happens. That’s the part which I agree. That’s why if we kneel all together, I will definitely be in. 

Brazil native Raul Neto noted that, if asked about taking a knee, he would explain his protest was about “social injustice going on in this country,” not just support for his teammates. 

The Sixers in the video continued to talk about methods for activism and community service.

“However many points we score in a win, times it by 76 and we donate those funds to somebody’s organization or something they’re passionate about,” Harris said during the discussion. “We could actually do that.”

Brown is on an 11-member committee of NBA head coaches that is focused on racism and police brutality headed by Lloyd Pierce, one of his former assistants and the current Hawks head coach.

He is encouraging his players to be thoughtful and passionate about these issues even as games resume amid a pandemic.

“I think it’s very important we don’t forget about everything that’s going on with the restart of basketball,” Glenn Robinson III said on July 3

Though no Sixers opted out of the restart, some players considered not participating under these circumstances.

"I know there are probably plenty of guys who were thinking about not even coming to this bubble because of everything that’s happening right now, me included," Richardson said Thursday. "We’re here, we love basketball, we’re trying to win a championship, but at the same time, there’s a bigger thing going on that we’re all honestly here for. So I’m happy that it’s happening.”

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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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