Last season, Matisse Thybulle averaged a career-high 25.5 minutes per game while starting 50 of the 66 regular-season games in which he appeared. He lost his starting spot to Danny Green in the playoffs—in part because he couldn’t travel to Toronto due to his Covid-19 vaccination status—but he still played 15.2 minutes per game off the bench.
Through five games this season, Thybulle has played a grand total of six minutes. Most of those have either come in garbage time or on situational (end-of-quarter) possessions.
The offseason additions of P.J. Tucker, De’Anthony Melton, Danuel House Jr. and Montrezl Harrell have given head coach Doc Rivers more options for his rotation. All four of those veterans are ahead of Thybulle for now, as are Paul Reed and Shake Milton.
“It’s just the other guys,” Rivers told reporters last Friday when asked about why Thybulle hasn’t played more. “It’s a pecking order right now, but he’s working his butt off and he’ll play. He’ll get a chance to earn more minutes at some point for sure, but right now Danuel House and the De’Anthony are in front of him. We’re going with a smaller rotation, but he’ll have a chance to earn minutes at some point.”
With the Sixers’ defense currently in disarray, it might be time for Rivers to give Thybulle an opportunity to earn some minutes as a change-of-pace option.
Through five games, the Sixers are giving up a league-worst 159.2 points per 100 plays in transition, per Cleaning the Glass. Their half-court defense hasn’t been much better, either. They’re allowing 98.8 points per 100 half-court plays thus far, which ranks 25th leaguewide.
Thybulle, an All-NBA second-team selection in each of the past two seasons, theoretically could help stem the Sixers’ bleeding on defense. He led the team with 1.7 steals per game last season and was second only to Joel Embiid in blocks per game (1.1). He also ranked third leaguewide among regular rotation players with 3.8 deflections per game, trailing only Dejounte Murray and Fred VanVleet.
Thybulle tends to hunt defensive splash plays, which can leave his teammates out of position and force quick rotations at times. However, his familiarity with the returning Sixers players and Rivers’ system should give him a leg up in the early going over the offseason additions.
Rivers’ reluctance to play Thybulle thus far suggests he’s thinking of the bigger picture, regular-season results be damned.
“One thing Coach identified that made things challenging in the playoffs especially was the lack of players who can play both sides of the ball, which becomes more important during the playoffs, so that was a big priority for [general manager] Elton Brand and myself,” team president Daryl Morey told reporters at media day when discussing his offseason additions.
Thybulle averaged a career-high 5.7 points per game last year, but he shot only 31.3 percent from three-point range. Opposing defenses largely ignored him on the perimeter to shade extra help elsewhere, particularly once the playoffs rolled around.
If Rivers doesn’t expect Thybulle to be a part of his playoff rotation—whether because of his offensive limitations or the potential of him being traded—he might be using the regular season to get House up to speed as his main backup wing.
House spent two-plus years playing alongside Harden in Houston, although that chemistry hasn’t helped him hit the ground running in Philadelphia. He’s gone 2-of-9 from three-point range over his first five games with the Sixers, and he’s still finding his way defensively (to put it kindly) as well.
House needs more reps with his new teammates to establish chemistry and continuity, and Rivers needs to continue testing which personnel groups he works best with. Rivers might consider resorting to Thybulle just to stem the Sixers’ early-season bleeding, but becoming overly reliant on him could backfire if it affects House’s readiness for the playoffs.
Then again, the Sixers have to get to the playoffs for that to matter. With each of their next 11 opponents currently sporting a winning record, they could be staring down a nearly insurmountable hole if they don’t straighten out their defensive issues soon.
Thybulle’s long-term Sixers future is murkier than ever after he failed to reach a contract extension by the mid-October deadline and got buried on the bench to start the season. If Rivers doesn’t turn to him soon, these could be his final few months in a Sixers uniform.