This season has been a weird one for the Philadelphia 76ers, and that’s not even accounting for the fact that there hasn’t been an NBA game since March 11. Heightened expectations coupled with uninspired performances and underwhelming free agent signings is the perfect mixture for an overall bad year. Even with the team dealing with all of those factors, they were still right in the middle of the playoff picture before the league shut down, so things aren’t all bad in Philly. Ben Simmons has taken another step towards being a full-fledged superstar, Joel Embiid continues to be the best center in the league, and several of the younger players on the team have grown before our very eyes, helping to fill important bench roles.
Shake Milton and Matisse Thybulle had very different journeys to make it to the Sixers’ rotation this year. Thybulle was a first-round pick known for his defense and was given an opportunity from day one to come off the bench and wreak havoc. Milton had to fight for his opportunity; he was mainly used in a mop-up role during blowouts before injuries forced Brett Brown to play him more consistently. With the additional minutes came a more confident Milton, as he became one of the more reliable options on offense in the recent stretch before the league suspended play, something that the team needed desperately from their bench unit.
Due to the front office’s miscues last offseason, it is even more important that the Sixers have young players on small deals that can help contribute. Having a smaller contract not only makes it easier for the team to navigate their way through cap space troubles, but it also makes those players even more attractive in potential trades. Liberty Ballers’ Harrison Grimm recently wrote about potential trade packages for Buddy Hield and how to offset Al Horford’s contract, and the easiest way to do so would be to add young players with tons of potential.
When looking at both of these players, you have to realize that while they have shown glimpses of a possible ceiling, the Sixers or any other team looking to acquire them is banking on their potential. Neither player is a finished project — Milton is still figuring out how to be the backup ball handler and struggles from time to time on defense, while Thybulle’s offense is relegated to primarily corner 3s and putbacks. If either player can continuously grow, his value will skyrocket from where it is now.
What Matisse Thybulle has that I believe makes him the more attractive asset is a true standout feature in his game. While only averaging a shade under five points, whenever he is on the court, Thybulle has his fingerprints all over the game defensively. Per 36 minutes, Thybulle is leading all Sixers regulars in steals per game (2.6) and is fourth in blocks per game (1.3), only trailing the three centers on the team. His defense is what keeps him on the court, and if he can figure out how to bring a bit more than catch-and-shoot 3s (35 percent from 3), he should be able to press for an even bigger role. For as much as his offense lags behind, his defense is a winning trait and one I’m sure the Sixers would love to hang onto.
Shake Milton’s offensive game is head and shoulders above Thybulle’s right now, but it’s not an elite talent like Thybulle’s defense. Over time, it could potentially grow into one. Right now, though, I think he’s still seen as a guard who’s had a handful of good games, but for the most part, is still unproven. If the Sixers can hold onto both Shake Milton and Matisse Thybulle, they could end up being rewarded big time for their patience. But if they want to strike while the iron is hot, this offseason could be the time to do so. Both look to have lengthy careers ahead of them, but at the moment, I think Matisse Thybulle is the player more likely to have teams lined up to grab him.