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Matisse Thybulle looked like he belongs in NBA debut

Sixers fans have to be encouraged from what they saw from the team’s first-round pick on opening night

NBA: Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Stepping on the court in an NBA debut can be a daunting experience for any rookie. Now imagine that NBA rookie’s first assignment is trying to stop a three-time All-Star who made All-NBA Third Team last season. Such was life for Philadelphia 76ers rookie Matisse Thybulle, who went toe-to-toe with Boston Celtics star Kemba Walker in his first-ever NBA game. In the post-game locker room, Thybulle acknowledged the significance of the experience:

“It was intimidating at first, just to think this was someone I’ve watched for years, played with on 2K, and so I know what he’s capable of. And so to get out and actually guard him mano a mano was a pretty cool experience, but also it was good for me just to see how I matched up against one of the best in the league.”

It was a bit of a rocky start for the young Sixer against the sage veteran. Thybulle picked up two quick fouls in succession less than two minutes into his debut. Partly, that result was just a product of nerves in his first regular-season NBA action, as Matisse admitted when asked what he was thinking upon first stepping onto the court:

“Just trying to catch my breath. Really. It’s like those first few minutes, we’ve had a good turnout for preseason, but this was like nothing I’ve ever seen. The adrenaline was pumping, the nerves were going, so just to get out there and gain my composure.”

The fouls, of which the rookie finished with five in just under 22 minutes, are going to be something Thybulle learns to navigate as he works his way through his first season in the league. Head coach Brett Brown has given his young charge license to operate within his gambling style, knowing the positives will outweigh the negatives. Still, Thybulle recognizes he has some progress to make in that area:

“I have to learn to play to how the refs call the game, I think, and, I mean, I got a lot of ticky-tack fouls where I was just trying to be overambitious. And just learning to play around that and just finding that fine line, because that’s been my thing this whole time. Gambling is something that I do and something where I have success, but just trying to find the balance of being too far out of position to come back and make the play.”

As Thybulle settled in, however, the flashy defensive plays began to pop up. He finished with four deflections (per, two steals, and two blocks. While he was known as a disruptor, Thybulle’s on-ball defense was a little more of an uncertain proposition coming out of Washington, but Matisse did an excellent job here to stay with Marcus Smart on a drive and steal the ball.

Although Josh Richardson deserves the bulk of the credit as the primary defender on Kemba Walker, Thybulle certainly played a role in holding the Celtics guard to 4-of-18 shooting. Both of Matisse’s blocks came against Walker. On this play, his ability to disrupt Kemba’s initial shot attempt and recover from behind to block him in the paint is something few players in the league can do.

Offensively, things are more of a work-in-progress for Thybulle, who shot 1-of-5 for the game, including some missed easy shots around the bucket. He did finally get on the board with his first NBA 3-pointer, on a play where he was looking to draw a foul with the shot clock winding down.

Asked about his first NBA points, Thybulle joked, “I’m not sure how that one went in, but I think it was a foul.” On whether that was how he envisioned his first NBA bucket, he replied, “No, I was hoping one of my lay-ups would be my first NBA bucket, but, you know, you can’t get ‘em all.”

As encouraging as Matisse’s debut was, the even better news for those in Philadelphia is this performance represents a floor of sorts for the rookie. He is only going to grow more comfortable on the court and more knowledgeable about how to succeed at the NBA level, as Thybulle himself mentioned after the win:

“I think that’s a huge advantage a lot of guys have on me is just the experience, like knowing [what] guys’ tendencies are and stuff. You can watch film, but you don’t know what it looks like until you’re standing in front of him. So I think this was a good one to build on.”

Asked what his flashbulb memories were from his NBA debut, Thybulle joked, “I just wish I would have made a couple more shots.” A few missed shots or not, Sixers fans couldn’t be happier with what they saw from the team’s rookie first-round pick.

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