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Matisse Thybulle came in like a wrecking ball on D, but what about his offense?

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Dallas Mavericks v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Sixers GM Elton Brand moved up in the 2019 NBA draft in order to snag two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year winner Matisse Thybulle 20th overall. The rookie from Washington came into the NBA like a wrecking ball on defense. Heading into these upcoming playoffs, the Sixers are going to want Thybulle out on the court in large doses because he unleashes so much havoc on an opposing offense. His mere presence muddies up a game into this deflection-happy, pinball like transition fest; an environment that can quickly devolve an All-Star like Kemba Walker or Kyrie Irving into unrehearsed versions of themselves. That type of controlled chaos also tends to turbocharge Tobias Harris’ transition game and really unleashes the beast that is Ben Simmons:

Thybulle’s menacing ways have only blossomed since his meteoric bubble rise to dashing Pop-Vlog icon. [1] But in order to stay out there vs. a Miami, Boston or Milwaukee, Thybulle is going to have to piece together an efficient offensive repertoire. He’s shown an ability to do some things in choppy spurts here and there this season. But he will need to become more consistent in order for the team to win a playoff series or four. The extended hiatus may have served as a “free” off season for this year’s rookie crop. Hopefully Thybulle can show some “second year” development for the bubble run. Because he’s already proven his strengths can help at least bother the league’s very best:

Offense

A couple of days ago Kyle Neubeck of The PhillyVoice observed the following after the team’s second scrimmage vs. the Thunder:

“With players around the league still reclaiming their sharpness, Thybulle’s ability to deflect passes and disrupt ballhandlers is sensational for a player of his age and experience level.

One downer: offense continues to be a work in progress. He had more turnovers than turnovers forced on Sunday, and he simply can’t be asked to do a whole lot on the other end.”

So even if we’re not asking him to do a whole lot offensively, what can we reasonably expect? Let’s break down the elements of his game.

3 point shooting

Markelle Fultz’s former teammate at Washington (yes, Matisse was a starter for the Huskies in 2016-2017 also) has some stark splits when it comes to the three point line. Notice how much better he shot this season from either corner compared to the other areas:

His favorite spots:

A combined 21/47 comes out to roughly 44.7 percent on corner 3s, a clip any head coach would be thrilled with from such a vicious defender. On all 3 point shot attempts when his defender was at least 4 feet away Thybulle shot 35.3 percent (47 of 143 per NBA.com).

Defenses know all of this too and occasionally allow him to test his range from the wings. Here’s a sample of some 3s:

I’d say that Thybulle’s shot looks its cleanest when 1) his feet are set upon the catch parked in a corner 2) he’s reasonably open 3) he doesn’t jump very high (avoids the subtle hip turn he sometimes has 4) he gets a lot of arc under the ball, and 5) he freezes his follow through.

If you’re really a form fiend I did a deep dive on his shot earlier this season.

Finishing

Per NBA.com Thybulle was 41/70 on looks from 5 feet out or less, basically at the rim, good for 58.6 percent. A fair amount of his offense is the kind that comes directly from his defense as in pick six variety. He also sprinkles in some “organic” half court finishes by using his basketball IQ and athleticism. He’ll sneak in for a tip jam or backdoor cut. A few mostly from recent scrimmages:

I included above an instance where he causes a turnover and rips an outlet to Kyle O’Quinn who hits Furkan Korkmaz for a crunch time slam. Plays like that demonstrate that our traditional counting stats (buckets and dimes here) don’t sufficiently capture a sizable chunk of The Disruptor’s offensive value.

His steals and deflections often mean team offense if not ‘Tisse offense.

As a cutter, notice his connection with his teammates, often reading them for cues on where to go. He likes to make eye contact with Simmons before lunging for a lob. And he spots up in the corner during a post up, then as soon as his defender turns his head, ‘Tisse peek-a-boos baseline for a backdoor cut Al Horford rarely misses:

You may have spotted that there is room for improvement as a finisher. Coaches talk about how the game “slows down” for veterans. Thybulle needs to literally slow down sometimes. In transition run outs where Thybulle has a head of steam he can miss the chance to mix in some deceleration, euro-steps, changes in direction, or foul-drawing.

Thybulle has a near 40 inch vertical, but you wonder if he’s actually neutralizing that advantage a bit when he doesn’t sufficiently slow down to finish:

Sometimes the best move is to just blaze by everyone and win the race to the cup. But other times, like below, a bit of deceleration and change of angle leads to a slick casual reverse. More of this stuff mixed in with the sprints would go a long way:

Passing

Thybulle isn’t an advanced passer. He has tossed some deft lobs and bounce passes to rollers but we won’t get carried away here. His assist to turnover ratio is 2.3/1.5 per 36. Some of his challenges as a passer are tied up in his difficulty shooting off the dribble and ball-handling, both weaknesses. Not an issue of court vision or awareness. Defenses can sag off of him when he doesn’t have the ball and are often unthreatened when he puts it on the floor. So they don’t need to leave a man open in order to help when he attacks.

But he makes up for much of this with sheer energy, hustle, selflessness, sound b-ball IQ. Above all, Matisse trusts his teammates, and gets them the ball as soon as possible and it kind of works for everyone. It’s not hard to imagine how a coach might enjoy working with him based on his love for defense and his willingness to quickly defer with the pass:

Amphibious footwork

There’s an old broadcasting joke where you pretend to accidentally call an ambidextrous player amphibious. Most of the time, the broadcaster is kidding and you can tell because he’ll get a chuckle from his partner on the air and they’ll do it again weeks later. I didn’t watch Matisse much in college, but I’m beginning to think he’s not quite as left-leg dominant as most righties are. We already know this helps him defensively, as he can not only bait bad passes, but he can react almost instantaneously in all directions generating power from either leg. A cornerback or safety you can lineup all over the field. But notice at the 47 second mark below, the unique footwork on the step back:

Yes, Thybulle usually gets his first-step burst from his left leg, but occasionally he’ll flip it on us and use his right. Notice he’ll occasionally “switch stances” using boxing parlance and jab with the left, drive from the right leg:

Warriors and Knicks fans will recall one of their all time favorites who often displayed some switch-stance amphibious footwork:

I suspect a better version of those awkward step-backs Matisse is doing could help him get a shot off after a fly-by with more economy of motion. Notice these masters of the craft and how subtle their side step 3s look with the more orthodox footwork:

Welcome to playoffs in the bub rook

Matisse oozes charisma and hints of that Shane Battier “that guy is just a winner” aura; plus he exhibits the accompanying off court passions, that Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich famously nurtures in his players. Thybulle is a fiery, emotional player (he is a photographer, and what artist isn’t after all) whose pathos can galvanize the Wells Fargo Center in a way that is usually reserved for one of Joel Embiid’s “give it to me” gestures following a monster and-one in crunch time. The team will miss the energy he brings to the home crowd. But hopefully he can make it up in other ways on the offensive end in his first playoff appearance. He’s not the type of lightning you want to keep bottled up.

Footnotes

[1] Feel free to read that last sentence to a loved one who merely tolerates your Sixers obsession and insist upon a response. We suggest a mom. Might make for some fun questions or quotes in our reply section. On a family vacation my mom asked me the other day what I was writing about and I said “Korkmaz and Thybulle.” She asked me if they were the two “old muppets who make fun of everyone.”

Behold Korkmaz and Thybulle...