With one week to go until the Feb. 9 NBA trade deadline, Matisse Thybulle’s name is starting to pop up in the rumor mill again.
On Monday, longtime NBA insider Marc Stein reported that the Sacramento Kings were “monitoring the ability” of Thybulle, as they’re pondering “the pursuit of a more defensive-minded option on the perimeter.” On Wednesday, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer confirmed the Kings’ interest in Thybulle, adding first-year head coach Mike Brown is “a fan” of him. Pompey also reported the Golden State Warriors “have had internal discussions about Thybulle” and “do like him as a defensive stopper.”
Neither Stein nor Pompey mentioned what the Kings or Warriors would be willing to give up for Thybulle, although “multiple league sources” told Pompey that “Thybulle’s lack of consistent production has lowered his trade value.” The sources added that they wouldn’t give up a first-round pick for him at the moment.
As the Sixers gauge the market for Thybulle ahead of the trade deadline, they’ll need to weigh how the offers they receive affect both their immediate and long-term outlook. Thybulle might be critical to their chances of winning a championship this year, but he could also leave them empty-handed this offseason if he signs elsewhere in restricted free agency.
Thybulle began this season as a fringe rotation player thanks to the offseason additions of P.J. Tucker, De’Anthony Melton and Danuel House Jr., although he has since supplanted House. He’s playing a career-low 12.1 minutes per game this season, but he’s averaging 2.7 steals and 0.9 blocks on a per-36-minute basis. He’s also fourth leaguewide in Dunks and Threes’ defensive estimated plus/minus, trailing only Jaren Jackson Jr., Alex Caruso and O.G. Anunoby.
While Thybulle’s defensive splash plays have long made Thybulle an analytics darling, his penchant to gamble for steals and blocks leaves him out of position at times. If his teammates don’t rotate over on a string, the Sixers’ defense tends to break down and often concedes easy buckets on those plays.
However, Thybulle has been key to the Sixers’ zone defense, which they’ve dipped into more this year than they have in past seasons. They may be saving a wild card for the playoffs in that regard, too.
“We just feel like that’s a good zone group, especially when Matisse is in the game,” head coach Doc Rivers said after Monday night’s loss to the Orlando Magic, in reference to the Sixers’ second unit. “We don’t do it a lot because he and [De’Anthony Melton] aren’t on the floor together. But when they’re on the floor together, that’s our best zone group. But any time Matisse is on the floor, it’s a good zone group.”
While Thybulle won’t shut down an elite wing such as Boston’s Jayson Tatum or Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant in the playoffs, the Sixers might need as many change-of-pace defensive options as they can muster in matchups like those. However, last year’s playoffs raised concern about Thybulle’s ability to stay on the floor in April, May and June.
Because Thybulle is such a low-volume, low-efficiency three-point shooter—he’s attempting only 1.3 per game and shooting 33.3 percent from deep this year—opponents have no qualms about leaving him unguarded along the perimeter and shading extra help toward Joel Embiid and James Harden. NBA teams can’t fully stop everything an offense throws at them, but they would much rather have Thybulle beat them from deep than Embiid or Harden destroying single coverage.
According to Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice, “the level of organizational trust isn’t high” in Thybulle. Pompey added that he has “not progressed offensively to the Sixers’ satisfaction since the conclusion of last season.” Unless the Sixers envision that changing over the next few months, they’ll have to weigh how much—if at all—they see Thybulle factoring into their playoff rotation.
At this time of year, it’s particularly critical for front offices and coaching staffs to be in lockstep. If Rivers expects to use Thybulle as one of his main reserves in the playoffs, team president Daryl Morey and general manager Elton Brand may be more reluctant to move him. But if Rivers sees Thybulle as more of an 82-game player (in Draymond Green parlance) than a playoff-caliber rotation member, the Sixers might not lose much by moving him ahead of the trade deadline.
While the Sixers should be all-in on winning a title this year, Morey, Brand and the rest of the front office need to be mindful of their long-term outlook, too. A team as asset-strapped as the Sixers can’t afford to lose Thybulle for nothing as a free agent this summer. They’ll have the right to match any offer sheet he signs since he’s a restricted free agent, but they could lose him for nothing if another team signs him to a bloated contract that they decline to match.
The Sixers already have $117.1 million in guaranteed salary on their books for next season, and Harden, Shake Milton, Georges Niang and Paul Reed are set to join Thybulle in free agency. Danuel House Jr. and Montrezl Harrell can become free agents as well by declining their $4.3 million and $2.8 million player options for the 2023-24 season, respectively, but the Sixers likely wouldn’t mind losing either of them. Either way, re-signing Harden alone could push them close to the projected $162 million luxury-tax threshold. If they don’t duck under the tax line this year, they’ll be subject to the more punitive repeater tax next year, too.
If the Sixers don’t expect to re-sign Thybulle this summer, it would make sense to trade him ahead of the deadline, particularly if they can land someone who’s under contract beyond this season. However, it might be difficult to find a suitable wing-for-wing swap, particularly if Thybulle is headed to another team in win-now mode. His small contract ($4.4 million) and the NBA’s salary-matching rules in trades limit the Sixers’ options, too. (Bojan Bogdanovic and Eric Gordon are out of their realistic price range.)
There’s no right answer as to whether the Sixers should trade Thybulle ahead of the deadline. The only certainty is that Morey, Brand and Doc need to be in alignment with their decision either way.