All of a Sudden, Matisse Thybulle Looks Like an Elite Three and D Player

Sixers Cavs pick
Photo Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Normally, we wouldn’t go overboard after wins against the Bulls, Wizards, and Spurs.

But in the case of Matisse Thybulle, it looks like something ‘clicked’ for him, as if he disappeared into the woods during the All Star break and emerged as an elite three and D wing player, molded perfectly for the contemporary NBA.

In all seriousness, the sophomore defensive specialist has been playing the best basketball of his career over these past three games. He’s cranked up the defense from 10 to 11, like Spinal Tap, and has ripped off eleven steals over this stretch, which amounts to 3.6 swipes per game. Thybulle was already tied for fourth in steals per game, but leads the league in steals per-36, so if he was playing starter minutes nightly, he’d be out-pacing the competition quite easily.

It prompted teammate Ben Simmons to say this on Sunday night:

“Defensively he’s been great, and I think if he played the amount of minutes as me, he would be Defensive Player of the Year, easily. But he’s been great and he’s getting better.” 

We all knew Thybulle was a defensive dynamo, but the most impressive part of this run is his offensive contribution. He’s had a very nascent three-point shooting game, which this week looks like it was put into the world’s largest incubator and dropped into a worm hole.

Case in point, he’s 5-5 from three over the last three games, and every single one of those attempts has been a catch-and-shoot look. Not a single dribble. And he’s spacing out into the corner and even got some work against the Bulls as a screener who showed the ability to slip and pop after reading defensive screw ups:

Going through that clip, Thybulle’s last 15 field goal attempts were:

  1. a steal and drive to the hoop for a contested layup
  2. trailing, catch-and-shoot three
  3. catch-and-shoot/spot up corner three
  4. slipped screen, catch-and-shoot three
  5. weak side backdoor cut, rebound and put back
  6. steal and run out for a dunk
  7. inside cut, contested layup
  8. contested put back
  9. catch and drive, reverse layup
  10. steal, drive, dunk
  11. transition drive and dunk
  12. floating backdoor, easy dunk
  13. catch-and-shoot corner three
  14. steal and run out for dunk
  15. catch-and-shoot corner three

That is incredibly efficient three and D play. Since the All Star break, he hasn’t missed a three, hasn’t taken a dribble before shooting a three, and knocked down all three of his looks from the corners. The only field goals he missed were a contested layup at the rim, and the ensuing put back.

Simmons noted that Thybulle seems more “comfortable” offensively, and has been doing more slashing and driving, which you see in that video clip. He’s been assertive in all phases, and it’s hard to say whether the automatic catch-and-shoot mentality has influenced driving and cutting, or if it’s a vice versa type of deal. Maybe both of those skill sets clicked at the same time.

Said Doc Rivers of Thybulle’s offensive growth:

“It’s been great, and it’s so important for us. We’re gonna need him to play in a tight game, with him on the floor. We don’t want to have to substitute offense and defense. We need him to be available offensively for us, and he’s starting to do that.”

Thybulle shot 35.7% from three as a rookie, one year ago. This year, he’s only up to 31.4%, but the shot chart looks good, because he’s taking the looks he should be taking as a glue guy wing:

Matisse is still below league average, which, for context, hovers around 36%. That’s where he’s been over the last 10-12 games, so he’s moving in the right direction while pumping up his already-excellent defensive numbers. Steals and blocks are up, turnovers are down, and personal fouls are flat.

When you think about three and D guys, go back and look at the numbers that Robert Covington was putting up a few years ago. Danny Green, Otto Porter Jr., Trevor Ariza, etc. Thybulle is playing as a sophomore right now the same way these guys were playing in years four, five, and six. It might not last, and the lights-out shooting certainly isn’t expected on every single night, but he’s showing us glimpses of an offensive game that could be very polished and smooth as he continues to find his NBA feet.

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