After choosing not to participate in the NBA Draft Combine, league insiders and executives have been under the impression that Mattise Thybulle has a promise from a team in the first round. As the rumor mill spins, the Sixers have emerged as one of the potential teams that Thybulle might have received said promise from.
The Washington senior is a near perfect fit for the oddly specific defensive-minded, older player prototype that Elton Brand said during his exit interview the Sixers are examining, and last week Sam Vecenie stated in his mock draft that he has not been able to disconnect the Sixers from Thybulle’s secret admirer.
The reigning National Defensive of the Year, it should come as no surprise that Thybulle’s defense is his game’s main attraction. Operating at the top of Washington’s 3-2 zone, the only thing that moves faster than Thybulle’s mind are his hands. He excels at both jumping passing lanes and poking the ball out as a helper on unsuspecting drivers. His uncanny timing and positioning are what helped him finish the season with the highest steal percentage in the nation.
Detractors will be quick to point out that Thybulle operated exclusively out of a zone at Washington and will use this as a way to question his NBA on-ball defense. Personally, I don’t worry about that when projecting his NBA defense, especially when it comes to his potential fit with the 76ers. Although we haven’t seen Thybulle go one-on-one versus high-level shot creators and scorers, we have seen that he has an excellent first step and great quickness. In my evaluation, the transition from zone to man defense is quite overblown, as so much of NBA defense can be quite similar to zone. He has a Covington-esque ability to poke the ball loose or block shots from behind when a smaller defender is able to sliver by him.
The question of strength with Thybulle is real. For all his physical attributes (speed, quickness, length), he has small hips and is quite lean — not to say we haven’t seen players of his build put on muscle, but it’s hard to imagine him ever putting on Andre Iguodala-type muscle, leaving him potentially unable to guard wings with LeBron- or Giannis-level strength.
Should Thybulle find himself in Philadelphia, he’d be able to settle into a nice role where Ben Simmons and, hopefully, Jimmy Butler will draw the opposition’s top offensive threat. Such an arrangement would place Thybulle where he can use his length, speed, and positioning to be an absolute terror as an off-ball team defender.
The two plays above are the same whether Thybulle is playing man or zone. In the Toronto series, Brett Brown was clearly threatened by the Raptors’ outside shooting when constructing his game plan for Kawhi Leonard, knowing that if the Sixers helped too hard on Kawhi, he could find his open teammates for 3s. Part of this equation was also that the Sixers often had defenders on the court with less length or speed. Thybulle, with his 7-foot-0 wingspan, is quicker and longer than the likes of JJ Redick, James Ennis, Mike Scott, and Tobias Harris — while also possessing better defensive instincts.
While Thybulle’s defense was always a constant, his offense can seem to come and go. Some of his best offense will come as a direct byproduct of his ridiculous steal rate, as he will likely be able to steal a few buckets off turnovers each game. With a career usage rate of 16.9 percent (career-high 18 percent in his senior season), Thybulle was never the focal point of his team’s offense, taking a step back and letting lead guards such as Dejounte Murray, Markelle Fultz, and Jaylen Nowell run the show.
His shooting, both from beyond the arc and at the charity stripe, had abnormal fluctuations — with percentages of 36/71, 40/84, 36/71, and 30/85 during his four years in college. Part of this variance, especially at the line, is likely due to the lack of a large sample, as he never took more than 67 free throw attempts in any of his collegiate seasons. When it comes to his form, Thybulle lands somewhere between Philly’s two first-round picks last year: the smooth shooting Landry Shamet and the clunky form of Zhaire Smith.
According to Hoop-Math.com, 55.9 percent of Thybulle’s shots during his senior year came from beyond the arc, and another 29.6 percent came on shots at the rim — numbers similar to what you’d likely get from Thybulle if placed onto the Sixers. He would often find himself with open 3s off kickouts and ball movement, while also throwing in some opportunistic cuts.
While he did struggle with shooting consistency in college, he’ll likely find himself getting a healthy dose of wide-open shots, as defenses will not prioritize him over the likes of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Thybulle’s career shooting splits likely point to him being an average to good shooter, albeit likely a bit streaky.
Outside of a few select home runs (see: Williamson, Zion), where prospects land on big boards often can depend a lot on draft philosophy. As the Sixers seem ready to try and throw some big money in order to retain free agents Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, and JJ Redick, they are likely looking for A+ role players in the vein of P.J. Tucker or Danny Green, rather than trying to take a swing on a high risk, high reward youngster like Kevin Porter Jr. With that in mind, Mattise Thybulle seems like the perfect fit for a budding power looking to add some 3-and-D depth — don’t be surprised if he is a Sixer on June 20.