Matisse Thybulle: The NBA’s Hidden Defensive Gem
The Philadelphia 76ers are a team that thrives off the talent of their two unique superstars. Joel Embiid has cemented himself as the most impactful two-way player in the league and only games missed due to injury have cast doubt on his MVP campaign. Ben Simmons, who recently returned from an illness (non Covid-19 related), is a versatile playmaker who leaves fans guessing whether his game-high total will come in points, assists, or rebounds on any given night.
The powerful common denominator both players share is high-level commitment on the defensive end of the floor. That sustained effort has propelled this Sixers team to 2nd in the entire league in defensive efficiency, an advanced metric that takes the number of possessions into account when assessing a team’s number of points allowed. But Embiid and Simmons haven’t been without help, as evidenced by the Sixers defense remaining solid even in contests without one or both of these allstars. Matisse Thybulle, a second year guard, has emerged as an absolute defensive gem for Philadelphia.
The Disruptor. Spiderman. Mathief. These are the three nicknames applied to Matisse Thybulle per Basketball Reference, and all of these monikers reflect his penchant for getting his hands on the ball on the defensive end of the court. Thybulle’s 1.6 steals per game is good for sixth in the league (a spot he shares with teammate Ben Simmons among others). But consider that Thybulle is achieving these steals in just 20 minutes of playing time per game! Every other player in the top 40 for average steals per game has significantly more playing time than Thybulle, with most hovering around the 30 minutes per game mark.
But steals are only half the equation because Thybulle is also skilled at racking up blocks from the guard position. He averages a full block per contest and is the only guard listed in the top 40 league average leaders per ESPN statistics. True to his nickname, Thybulle is nothing short of a disruptive menace. When Philadelphia really wants to throw the clamps on an opponents backcourt, they employ Thybulle alongside Simmons. These matchups give the Sixers a distinct size advantage no opposing guard would look forward to. While Ben Simmons has gotten buzz about being a candidate for defensive player of the year, teammate Danny Green actually lauded the duo of Simmons and Thybulle. “Before I got here, I thought [Thybulle] and Ben were a pretty good tandem. They could be better versions of me and Kawhi when we were younger.” said Green.
However, Thybulle still leaves a lot to be desired on the offensive end of the floor. He hasn’t fully developed those skills and has only averaged 4.7 points per game on 42% shooting from the field. Especially as Simmons isn’t a shooting threat, it can be dangerous to play both of them at the same time without sacrificing much needed offensive spacing. Still, Thybulle’s undeniable contributions on defense will continue to earn him minutes as rosters tighten up in the playoffs. He could prove especially useful in a series against the Brooklyn Nets where the Sixers will need all the concentrated defensive energy they can muster to keep up with that explosive backcourt.