The summer of 2021 was an important one for Matisse Thybulle. For the first time, he suited up to compete in the Olympics, as he headed to Tokyo to represent Team Australia. He took on a valuable role for the Boomers and got to come home with a bronze medal, an achievement made even more special due to the fact that it was the first ever Olympic medal for Australia men’s basketball.
As questions regarding the ongoing Ben Simmons situation and his absence from training camp persisted throughout Sixers media day on Monday, Thybulle had some other interesting topics to discuss. Besides addressing what’s happening with Simmons (as pretty much everyone else did, including Joel Embiid), Thybulle was able to talk about his time at the Olympics and share what he can take away from the experience.
“It was a great opportunity to just play more basketball,” Thybulle said. “It’s rare once you get to this level to be able to play in a situation where you can kind of get out of yourself, you can have an opportunity to expand your role and experiment with other things in a game setting.
“So the Olympics was a great opportunity for me to do that, and also be one of the more focal points of the team. Handling that and then using that to learn more about myself, my game, and just push the boundary of what I was able to do this past season, and then just kind of used it as a place for growth.”
Thybulle did make a little offensive progress in a few areas last season. While his three-point shot stayed at a cool 30.1 percent on 2.2 attempts per game, he did flash a bit more ability to use his handle, beat the odd closeout, and find openings as a cutter. With his improved cutting came more efficient finishing as well, as he made a career-high 74.2 percent of his attempts within 3 feet of the basket (up from 65.3 percent as a rookie). Most of his attempts at the rim are still straightforward, but any continued growth in these areas will help him be more of a factor and earn extra minutes.
Of course, Thybulle’s three-point shot is still the most important skill left for him to develop. It’s something he remains focused on polishing as much as he can.
“It’s definitely an area of growth for me and a focal point in my game that I’m looking to improve,” Thybulle said. “The Olympics were a good opportunity for me to get out in a different setting and kind of grow my confidence, I guess. Because that’s such a big part of shooting, right? Believing in yourself to take the shot and make the shot. All players have ups and downs with it, but for me it’s just trying to have more ups than downs and then using that belief and turning it into confidence, and then turning it into results.”
Thybulle was one of the top talents on Team Australia, and with that came a few more shots. In his six competition games playing 23.3 minutes, he averaged a solid 7.8 points, compared to 3.9 points in 20 minutes per game last season with the Sixers. He added 5-of-12 shooting from beyond the arc in Tokyo, too. Obviously it’s a tiny sample in a completely different setting. It doesn’t mean much. But Thybulle still drove and cut with aggression, moved the ball well, and shot with confidence during his exhibition outings and games at the Olympics.
Again, like Thybulle said himself, building on this confidence would help. While increasing his efficiency is key (duh), even just being more ready to fire away from three at higher volume and requiring less space/time to get his shots off would be a helpful development. Defenders are more likely to close out on shooters who are at least happy to pull the trigger without stalling.
Thybulle improved his defense last season as well (even though his late foul on a three-point attempt in Game 7 against the Hawks may be the freshest defensive play in some people’s minds). He reduced his fouls, improved his play on the ball, made fewer ill-advised gambles for steals and blocks, and generally played with a bit more discipline. Seeing as he also elevated his defensive playmaking in the process (averaging career-highs of 2.9 steals and 2 blocks per 36 minutes), the fact that he was able to be more disruptive than ever and make fewer mistakes is impressive. He’s a remarkable defender and he’s made some improvements already, rightfully earning his first All-Defensive Second Team nod last season.
Thybulle was never going to head to the Olympics without racking up a ton of steals, either. It’s no surprise that he led the tournament with an average of 3 per game.
He was asked about how he can carry over his more aggressive play from the international game to the NBA. “Just finding my places... Now proving to myself that I can do it,” Thybulle said. “The FIBA game is very different compared to the NBA game, so I was able to find my spots and now it’s just a matter of getting out here again and playing with much different players in a much different system and just finding that again for myself. But also just the whole time knowing that I’m capable of it.”
With Ben Simmons not being around, it should be easier for Thybulle to find a path to more minutes. The Sixers will need Thybulle’s defense even more, and the offensive concerns of playing him next to a non-spacing ball handler will be gone. That alone could help the third-year wing have a greater impact.
There’s no reason Thybulle won’t be in the mix to make another All-Defensive team. No one can wreak havoc on the perimeter, teleport all over the floor, and break up plays quite like he can. If he can add any offensive growth to that, perhaps building on a confidence-boosting trip to the Olympics, he can take another step forward in 2021-22.