Matisse Thybulle has been a widely-discussed topic early in the Sixers’ offseason, but not exactly for the right reasons.
Of all the Sixers that experienced struggles towards the tail-end of this past season, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who experienced more noticeable shortcomings than Thybulle. Whether it was his vaccine-related absences or his overall poor play, the playoffs were an unmitigated disaster for Thybulle. He was far from the only reason the Sixers flamed out in the second round yet again, but his noticeable struggles were enough to legitimately put his future as a Sixer in question as the team heads into a crucial summer.
It’s a pretty unfortunate development given how much of a difference-maker he still is as a defender. He remains more than capable of causing all kinds of chaos on that end of the court, generating tons of transition opportunities with his quick hands, above-average athleticism, and superb instincts. The regular season saw him record at least 100 steals and 70 blocks for the second year in a row en route to him once again earning second team All-Defense honors.
However, offensively, he still remains largely the same player he was as a rookie. There were some signs of improvement during the regular season, namely when he was used as a cutter, and he also shot a career-high 79.1% from the free-throw line. But he still remains a shaky shooter at best. After shooting 35.7% from deep his rookie season, that number dipped to 30.1% in his sophomore season and 31.3% this past season on nearly the same volume. With his rookie year production increasingly beginning to look like an outlier, the spacing concerns many observers had early in his career still very much continue to persist.
As a result, Thybulle was largely ignored on offense throughout a majority of the playoffs. Both the Raptors and Heat were more than willing to abandon him altogether to take away the paint and he just couldn’t make them pay at all. Thybulle shot just 28.6 percent from deep overall in the playoffs, including 27.3 percent (3 of 11) on “wide-open” looks (closest defender within six or more feet). The Sixers were actually 13.5 points better per 100 possessions on offense with him off the court as opposed to on it. When he wasn’t inducing mayhem on defense, he was a virtual liability.
His ensuing stretches on the bench due to those offensive struggles as well as his unvaccinated status, which cost him Games 3, 4, and 6 entirely in Toronto, were particularly frustrating given the clear lack of capable wing defenders on the roster. Aside from Danny Green at times, no one could even come close to providing the type of game-altering defense Thybulle is capable of giving them. With Embiid having to anchor the defense in an already physically-compromised state once the second round came around, it didn’t serve the team well at all.
When taking all of that into account, it doesn’t come as a surprise at all that Thybulle’s name has come up in trade rumors. Most recently, Sean Deveney of Heavy.com reported that the Chicago Bulls are a team with “known interest” in Thybulle:
“Bulls GM Marc Eversley has had a fondness for Thybulle going back to early in his collegiate career at Washington, and was instrumental in pushing the Sixers to acquire him in the 2019 draft.”
It’s something the Sixers should surely take into consideration as they navigate the offseason. Fortifying depth at the wing will almost certainly be a top priority this summer, and Thybulle could still net the Sixers a valuable asset in return, whether it be a player or draft compensation used to acquire another player. A change of scenery could also serve Thybulle well, either to a team with lower expectations that can let him develop or another team better-equipped to unlock his potential on offense.
Yet PhillyVoice’s Kyle Neubeck also noted that while the Sixers are certainly open to dealing Thybulle, it would only be for a legitimate impact player in return:
“The Sixers are keenly aware that Danny Green’s injury leaves them short a wing defender in the rotation. Moving Thybulle just to move him and get off of his deal was unlikely before that injury, but it’s even less likely now, the Sixers in need of every useful defensive player they can get their hands on.”
The Sixers are already set to be strapped for cash with a Harden contract looming and Embiid and Tobias Harris also owed a decent amount. Given his still-affordable salary, rolling with Thybulle and banking on some form of development on his part would be a more than reasonable stance to take initially. Should the on-court product remain the same and other roster needs pop up, Daryl Morey and Co. can always revisit a potential trade prior to the trade deadline.
How the Sixers ultimately choose to navigate this will certainly be worth paying attention to moving forward. Thybulle’s standing might not be the team’s most pressing worry, but it’s something worth some serious thought and consideration.