Philadelphia 76ers rookie Tyrese Maxey has improved significantly through his first season in the NBA. It’s impressive just how many areas he’s grown in, such as trading some tricky floaters for more finishes at the rim, growing more comfortable from three-point range, and generating more free throw attempts (I recently wrote about all of this and more here).
Another area of development for Maxey has been his defense. Of course, he’ll still have ups and downs like any rookie. But he’s been sharpening up his off-ball positioning, applying some good pressure on the ball with his energy and lateral quickness, and increasing his playmaking with smart digs at the ball for steals and even some rearview blocks.
Fortunately for Maxey, one of his teammates is a master of those rearview rejections.
Matisse Thybulle has proven himself to be one of the very best defenders in the NBA this season. His impact at the perimeter and game-changing defensive playmaking is special. After becoming even more disruptive off the ball, showing more discipline with fewer unwise gambles and fouls, and improving his on-ball defense, Thybulle is easily an All-Defensive level player this year, despite playing only 20 minutes per game. And on his way to reaching this level, Thybulle has continued to stun countless opponents by rejecting their jump shots and floaters as he trails them on drives and around screens.
One of the ways Maxey has been studying defensively is by watching a lot of Thybulle’s film.
“I just learn so much in a little span of knowing [Thybulle] and just talking to him and watching that film, and just how to get better and better every single day,” Maxey explained recently.
Thybulle hasn’t watched film with Maxey yet, but they talk about defense off the court and when they’re sitting on the bench together during games.
“Especially just being on the same end of the bench together, it’s been fun being able to point out situations where he can make some of the plays that I’ve become notorious for making,” Thybulle said at the Sixers’ practice on Wednesday.
“At least two of the last three games he’s gotten those rearview contests I get where guys try to shoot floaters and you block it from behind,” Thybulle says. “I think he’s got two of ‘em.”
Maxey can’t match Thybulle’s reach at 6’5” with a 7’0” wingspan or remarkable ability to teleport around the floor, but he’s still quick, persistent, and eager to learn as much as possible. If Thybulle can at least guide Maxey with where to pick his spots to go after the ball on defense, it can help. And based off recent results, Maxey is starting to get the hang of things.
You can see Maxey putting his speed, high motor, and near 6’8” wingspan to use in the play below. The Detroit Pistons use some Chicago action (where a player comes off a pindown screen to receive the ball from a dribble hand-off) for their 6’5” point guard Killian Hayes. Maxey trails Hayes around Jerami Grant’s screen, approaches as Hayes starts dribbling into a floater, and then waits until the second Hayes releases the shot to accurately swipe the ball away:
Here’s another example of what Thybulle is talking about. Kelan Martin dribbles into a pick-and-roll and Maxey does well to fight around a physical screen from Goga Bitadze. Maxey stays in the play, calmly trails Martin, and perfectly times a block to reject Martin’s attempted pull-up:
“I feel like a proud parent there on the bench just rooting him on, because it’s the same stuff that we talked about,” Thybulle says when recalling Maxey’s recent rearview blocks.
“The best part — and in no ways am I, like, a teacher or a mentor at this point — just as a teammate, it’s so cool to see how we’ve talked about some of these things and then in the last two or three games where he had significant minutes, he actually went and made the plays that we talked about,” Thybulle adds. “And I think that just speaks a lot to him as a player, and just like a young kid being able to learn on the fly and adapt.”
Maxey is in a great environment to learn in Philly. He’s known for being the hardest worker on the team (“he’s so far ahead of everyone else [in extra practice time], it’s unbelievable,” according to Doc Rivers), so the Sixers’ development coaches and training staff ensure Maxey finds a good balance with his workouts so he isn’t overdoing it. Meanwhile, the team’s terrific coaching staff, star teammates like Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, and experienced veterans like Danny Green and George Hill can help Maxey with the nuances of playing in the NBA.
As Maxey continues to work on his game moving forward, there may be no better perimeter defender he can learn from than Matisse Thybulle.