For as gifted as Matisse Thybulle is on the defensive end, his struggles offensively have severely limited his role at times.
That wasn’t the case Tuesday night in a win over the Kings. The two-time All-Defensive pick played over 22 minutes and scored a season-high 15 points while knocking down three threes, also a season high.
Thybulle, who got a surprise start with Tyrese Maxey still sidelined and De’Anthony Melton (back stiffness) and Danuel House, Jr. (foot laceration) both out, nearly squandered the opportunity.
Guarding the ultra-fast and dangerous De’Aaron Fox, Thybulle picked up two fouls just over 30 seconds into the game.
But credit to Thybulle for playing through that and having his best two-way performance in quite some time.
“I think it helped me get more locked on, for whatever reason,” Thybulle said. “I had two stupid fouls, so worked to just get locked in a little bit more. And when everybody else is playing well, you don’t ever want to be the guy to bring the group down. That also had something to do with it.”
And the Sixers definitely played well Tuesday.
They had an 80-point first half on their way to a decisive 123-103 win. It was easily the best the offense has looked this season — with Thybulle being a part of it.
It’s no secret that Thybulle’s jumper is part of the reason he’s been unable to nail down a consistent rotation spot. After hitting 35.7 percent of his threes as a rookie, he’s shot below 31 percent the rest of his career. Add to that a general hesitancy on offense and it’s led to many forgettable moments for the 25-year-old offensively.
Opponents have been more than happy to sag off Thybulle and dare him to shoot, especially in the postseason. More nights like Tuesday could help remedy that a bit.
His teammates have been supportive in wanting Thybulle to let it rip.
“It’s not a surprise,” Joel Embiid said of Thybulle’s success. “Every time he starts, we have a pretty good team and we always do pretty well. … I think we’ve built our chemistry to where he just knows where to position himself, where I’m going to be. He’s been great at it. And he’s been making shots, so that’s even better.”
While hitting threes and beating the occasional closeout benefits Thybulle, there is an even easier way for him to get offense: in transition.
Thybulle’s speed is one of his greatest assets on defense. It could also be one on offense. While the Sixers won’t ever play at a breakneck pace like the Warriors, they have two players in Thybulle and Tyrese Maxey that possess elite speed. They also have a player in James Harden that is adept at finding streaking players for fastbreak points.
Though his head coach was pleased with his performance, getting out and running is something Doc Rivers has been on Thybulle to do more of to punish opponents.
“I just like how he played. Shoot the ball when it’s an obvious shot. Drive the ball,” Rivers said. “I still think with his speed .... I think he had two of them — I think he can have four layups a game just by outrunning people. Even the one he had in the first half, he should’ve ran like five seconds (before). They’re loading off of him in transition, so he has a chance to make a living running to the basket. And with James’ passing ability, he’ll get it.”
Speaking of Harden, the chemistry Thybulle developed with the star guard was fruitful last season. In the 23 games after Harden arrived last season, Thybulle averaged six points on 52/38.5/90 shooting splits. Harden was able to use the wing effectively as a screener and roller.
Learning from one of the greatest offensive players of this generation doesn’t hurt.
“Just that constant possession-by-possession communication to where if I see something, I’m going to tell him to do it, and he does it,” Harden said. “We’re all human at the end of the day. So that right there for a guy who doesn’t get easy baskets offensively, he gets four or five of them and that boosts someone’s confidence to where defensively, he’s even better. As much as we can get that from each individual guy, the better our team is going to be.”
Thybulle’s defensive impact can be immense. As the Sixers gear up to face the Warriors Friday, we all remember what happened the last time Thybulle squared off against two-time MVP Steph Curry. Thybulle “did as good a job on Steph as anyone I’ve seen in a long time,” Golden State head coach Steve Kerr said.
Now, if he can produce on the other end of the floor like he did against Sacramento more consistently, it will be difficult for the Sixers to keep Thybulle out of the rotation.