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3 observations from Sixers vs. Nuggets: the minutes distribution in Richardson’s return

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Rotation

Before his absence from injury (and excluding the game against the Sacramento Kings during which Richardson first tweaked his hamstring), Josh Richardson was playing 33.0 minutes per game. In the same span, Furkan Korkmaz averaged 22.5 minutes per game while Matisse Thybulle averaged 14.0 minutes per game.

Then J-Rich went down for six games. Despite starting in each of those six games, Furkan Korkmaz saw just about a minute more of playing time per game than he had in his first 18 appearances of the season. Remove the game against the Knicks, the first of the stretch without Richardson, and Korkmaz’s MPG (22.6) is right in line with his season average before last night’s game (22.8). James Ennis III saw his minutes rise during Richardson’s leave by about 5/6 minutes. Some crumbs were split between Shake Milton, Trey Burke, and Raul Neto. But by far, the biggest recipient of Richardson’s 33.0 minutes was Matisse Thybulle, who saw his minutes go from 14.4 per game to 23.0 per game. If we discard the blowout against the Cleveland Cavaliers (when Shake Milton saw all of his 12 minutes of play for the month of December), Thybulle’s minutes began building upon his career high with each passing game: 25:32 vs. Utah, 30:58 at Washington, 31:33 vs. Toronto. Thybulle took advantage of the opportunity (which he actually pounced on in the 2nd half of the Sacramento game that Richardson left early), finding spots to contribute and displaying an abundance of confidence on the offensive end. His performance culminated with a 20-point game against the Raptors.

Richardson made his return to play last night against the Denver Nuggets. And while the Sixers welcomed him back with open arms, he was on a minutes restriction with just 19 minutes of action. So unfortunately for us, we don’t yet know for sure how Brett Brown’s rotation will adapt to a fully healthy J-Rich, a surging Matisse Thybulle, and a cooled-off Furkan Korkmaz. But if the game against Denver is any indication, Thybulle has leapfrogged Korkmaz in the rotation. The rookie played 26 minutes to Kork’s 16.

We’re talking about a one-game sample here, and it immediately followed what was Thybulle’s biggest game of his young NBA career. We also have known Brett Brown to ride the hot hand and we have known him to put younger players in the corner for mental lapses or cold streaks. But you can also read it like so: as long as Matisse Thybulle is consistently contributing on offense, the coach is prepared to effectively utilize him as a sixth man.

Tobias Harris, the Martyr

This observation was pointed out for me, not by me. It comes via Marty Teller (@mwteller). (Marty is a great follow for Sixers fans).

I haven’t been in love with Tobias’ season so far, but maybe I need to change how I view his role and I think Marty makes a compelling case here. Tobi takes some of the more difficult shots on the team, yet he still has an eFG% that’s slightly above average at 52.7%, especially given the shot profile. One line of thinking may be that if he would eliminate some of his midrange shots, his efficiency may rise. But what Tobias offers the Sixers is a sort of relief valve for the offense. Against the Nuggets, I noticed multiple occasions when the Sixers ran an action, the Nuggets snuffed it out, and with less than 10 seconds on the shot clock the team defaults to Tobias to go get a bucket. Interestingly, on the season, only Joel Embiid (5.4) takes more shots than Harris (3.7) that are classified as ‘late’ or ‘very late’ in the shot clock. Harris is sub-38% eFG% in both scenarios.

He’s been one of the few handoff and pick-and-roll ball handler options for the team and he’s willing to iso. Even as far as midrange shooting goes, he’s been one of the more efficient scorers from there (48% in the midrange, per Cleaning The Glass). And when I look at Tobias’ numbers, I realize that what I see is a guy who in the midst of shaking off a slow start shooting from three to round into one of the league’s more efficient, multi-dimensional scorers. Moving forward, I’ll be paying close attention to how Harris is ending up in these late-in-the-shot-clock situations, whether they are frequently his own doing (pounding the rock, trying to get a look from iso, etc.) or the team looking to him for a bailout. Because at nearly 4 attempts per game and under 38.0% eFG%, Harris’ teammates may just need to help him out some.

Air ‘Tisse

Matisse Thybulle just continues to impress. I’ve been surprised by ‘Tisse’s hang time on a couple occasions this season. It’s not just his length that allows him to throw down some emphatic dunks, he sort of glides through the air like he’s levitating. At this rate, I’m expecting big things from Matisse on a nightly basis, but like I said, he continues to impress and I did not know he was capable of this dunk:

Things are really coming together for Thybulle. Steals, blocks, transition corner threes, and double clutch dunks on centers.

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