clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Matisse Thybulle returns to Philly: some history & too-early trade analysis

Fans have tended to love or hate the Matisse Thybulle-for-Jalen McDaniels trade. Let’s dive in.

Damian Lillard comes to town along with the rest of the 31-35 Portland Trailblazers. And with them, one Matisse Thybulle. So it gives us a chance to reflect on the former Sixer drafted 20th overall back in 2019.

“You guard, you’re good people,” Brett Brown once said to newcomer Thybulle while riding an elliptical.

The full trade this past deadline was a four-team monstrosity. But the gist from Philadelphia’s point of view was basically this:

  • The Sixers get: Jalen McDaniels, a 2024 second-round pick from Charlotte (it’s actually the Knicks’ ‘24 second) and a 2029 second-round pick from Portland.
  • Portland gets: Matisse Thybulle
  • Charlotte gets: their own 2023 second-round pick (currently sitting at 34th overall) back from Philadelphia.

It was part of the larger deal that sent Josh Hart to the Knicks, Cam Reddish to Oregon, and sparked New York’s nine-game win streak.

We got plenty of initial reactions to the trade

Philadelphia 76ers v Indiana Pacers Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor seemed to think it was a steal for Daryl Morey and Elton Brand.

Tyrone Johnson of 97.5 The Fanatic wasn’t through the moon or anything, but he felt like Thybulle hadn’t made significant improvements over the last couple seasons.

Of course, there was some trolling from a popular stats handle, perhaps tacitly suggesting the Sixers could have just, y’know, played Matisse more than the 15.2 minutes per game he was getting in Philly this season; that number down from the 25.5 mpg he earned as a starter in 2021-2022.

The team went 14-6 with him out there alongside James Harden, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid, and Tyrese Maxey last campaign, a 100th percentile +20 differential per

And as you know, every time either Matisse or Jalen McDaniels played a game since the swap, fans had to weigh in with some perhaps-too-soon reactions.

As you probably heard, Thybulle started out shooting the ball very well in Portland. He drained 4-of-6 from distance in his first game, a win over the Lakers, where he contributed 14 points, three blocks, two steals, six boards, and a couple dimes.

Thybulle broke the typical script for traded players, and said some things that could be construed as slights against the Sixers’ coaching staff, and perhaps a player or two.

“I felt comfortable. I didn’t realize how much you can take that for feel and know that I’m wanted and needed and like the coaching staff, the players have my back. I think it showed in just my ability to play and be more of myself I think,” Thybulle said.

When Matisse intimates that maybe some Sixers players didn’t quite “have his back,” we do have some reason to rule out him finger-pointing Embiid.

Embiid has long voiced support for Thybulle to play more minutes, and for good reason:

The duo boasted a team best 19.5 differential this season, a 100th percentile clip per

Joel praised Thybulle before the trade went down publicly, something that’s at least a bit unusual for him:

And per Justin Grasso of SI, Joel spoke glowingly of Thybulle after the trade as well:

“That’s another talented guy that you lose, especially defensively,” said Embiid. “He was probably our best perimeter defender. It’s tough. I guess I’m glad I don’t make those decisions.”

Following the deal, Thybulle actually connected on his first 16 of 31 three pointers in Portland, as the Sixers defense began to hemorrhage points:

Check a box score in late February, and you’d have seen Jalen McDaniels a -23 for the night, having gone 0 for 1 from downtown, while Thybulle is knocking down threes at a not just reasonable, but good clip? What’s going on here?

But of course things started to even out since. After that initial hot streak, Thybulle has come down to earth as a shooter. He made just 2 of his last 13, as McDaniels has began to make a name for himself in Philly.

Thybulle has shot a stellar — and maddening — 41 percent from distance in Portland, on an impressive 4.4 attempts per game. Sixers fans don’t expect that to hold, and they wouldn’t have trusted him to shoot like that in the playoffs anyway. But still... it would have been nice if he did more of that here, right? Is there something in the water?

McDaniels started off slow, as expected. But then, thrust into an absolute war of a game, for the first time in his career, in Milwaukee on ABC prime time, he delivered marvelously. With P.J. Tucker out dealing with back spasms, and Tobias Harris out with a calf, McDaniels drained an open three, knocked down three clutch free throws, and powered down a tip jam we could feel back home in Philly. He helped them wrap up their biggest win of the season.

You know how Tom Hagen wasn’t a war time consigliere? McDaniels may have showed that he is in fact ready for war time with that performance.

McDaniels, a Seattle native, followed it up two days later by doing something Thybulle hadn’t done since 2019 — that’s score 20 points in a game, in a track meet vs. Indiana.

So any takes that Morey got taken to the cleaners in this trade, at the very least, feel premature.

Ahead of his return to the city he spent nearly four years in, Thybulle talked about how he played more “fear-based” basketball in Philadelphia under Doc Rivers. He’s now complimentary of the freedom Blazers’ head coach Chauncey Billups allows him.

It reminds you a bit of the way Paul Reed might feel, or Isaiah Joe might have felt.

“I understand referees are human and make mistakes,” Reed recently tweeted. “Ain’t nobody perfect. Im just asking so I can know what I need to do differently so [I don’t] lose my minutes.”

Maybe he can relate to a “fear” of being benched after a mistake.

Of course, it’s easier for Billups to give the former two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year some freedom since the Blazers stink. But Thybulle also points to some rather costly mistakes Rivers has and may continue to make with his rotation, underscoring an alarming trend.

Other elements

New Orleans Pelicans v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Amanda Loman/Getty Images

It’s impossible to talk about Thybulle’s timeline in Philadelphia without noting his vaccination status, and how that impacted his spot in the team’s rotation.

Back in April of 2022, we learned he was ineligible to play in Toronto. And that happened to be the team’s first-round opponent.

Rivers opted to put Danny Green in the starting lineup ahead of Thybulle. Thybulle then played most of his minutes with some second units, and appeared to lose some confidence. He’d admit as much after they were eliminated in the second round as well.

Not that more confidence would have made him a much better shooter. Dude has had mostly broke shooting form since he was drafted, and shot just 33 percent from deep for his career in Philly. He made some enhancements to his mechanics this past summer, but he still has plenty of work to do there.

But it was glaring when the Miami Heat would ignore him that series; his reluctance to fire, perhaps even more costly than his inaccuracy. And it seems those memories were never lost on the coaching staff and a sizable chunk of this fanbase. Putting it all together, and he has not been an impact player in his three playoff runs.

In my opinion, the vaxx thing is a large part of why Thybulle had such a reduced role this season. I’ll always wonder if they wouldn’t have wound up landing him on a team friendly extension last fall, had he received the full two doses of mRNA vaccine (or simply one dose of a J&J).

Thybulle explained his decision at the time.

And after the series vs. Miami, Daryl Morey shared his feelings on extreme “one-way” players. “Doc and I were talking about this,” Morey said. “The players who are sort of extreme one-way type players, it’s challenging in the playoffs. It’s challenging for the coaches, it’s challenging for the players.”

So like he did when he may have offered Thybulle to Houston for Harden back in 2020, or to Toronto for Kyle Lowry back in 2021, he shopped Thybulle last summer. Woj was apparently joking on ESPN that the Sixers were offering him to near every team:

All that after hearing he was “untouchable” when the Brooklyn Nets were trading for Ben Simmons and Seth Curry.

But Morey’s asking price was apparently too high last summer. The Portland Trailblazers wanted Matisse then, but Morey wasn’t ready to part with him for what they were offering.

Luxury tax and coaching preferences

New Orleans Pelicans v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Then this past deadline, the Sixers still hadn’t found a way to duck the luxury tax, an apparent high priority goal for themselves.

And moving Thybulle (plus his precious matching rights) and the relatively valuable Hornets second-rounder for Jalen McDaniels allowed them to accomplish two stated goals: bring in a player who is solid on both ends of the floor, giving Rivers a player he’s more comfortable playing. And two, avoid the luxury tax to keep the overall bill lower over the coming years.

The final analysis on this trade is far from settled. Morey described the emphasis on shooting.

“Obviously, shooting is you could argue half the game. Something around that. We spent a lot of time on which players will, in a different environment, shoot better. We feel comfortable. I think [McDaniels has] had a little bit of a down year.”

If McDaniels, a career 34 percent three point shooter (slightly better than Thybulle’s 33.2%), helps this team make a deep playoff run, that will likely satisfy most fans. But he’s an unrestricted free agent, which means the Sixers will not be able to simply match his salary.

Retaining him beyond this season will be more challenging than retaining Thybulle would have been. J-Mac might even prove more costly to keep, inching them ever closer to more tax lines and aprons moving forward. Some fans will miss scouting second-round talent in this draft on Youtube.

Had Matisse remained in town past the deadline, they could have simply matched his best summer offer, or let him walk and likely replaced him with a minimum salaried vet. Unless someone threw an absolute bag at him, it would not have benefitted them in any way to let him walk away for nothing, so I don’t believe the idea I’ve heard floated that the Sixers had predetermined not to keep Matisse long-term and thus, traded him; odds are, they would have extended him if he’d stuck around with little opportunity cost other than tax-savings.

Does Morey truly believe that McDaniels is the better bet? Probably. He usually doesn’t miss on trades.

But is it also possible he felt this was a really close call, so resetting the luxury tax penalties makes the swap worth his while? Would things have played out differently if there was a coach in place who had more trust in Thybulle, was more willing to develop a flawed, unique specialist? Was willing to give him a longer leash after missing a shot or two, fouling, or gambling on D?

Would they have looked elsewhere if taxes weren’t a factor at all?

For example, Thybulle played nearly as many possessions with Montrezl Harrell as he did Joel Embiid this season, despite Joel and Matisse posting one of the best two-man differential’s in the entire NBA. That’s not just suboptimal it’s flat out weird.

One thing we should all be able to agree on, the Sixers lineups, while Matisse was here, could have been optimized.

If you love or hate Matisse, you still might wonder why he was only playing 15 minutes per game this year. You might wonder why that five-man lineup of him, Embiid, Harden, Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris which crushed the regular season last year only logged 13 possessions this year. Simply doing a little bit of that could have freed them to stick another high-impact starter like Tuck in their non-Embiid lineups.

If you think Thybulle’s shockingly good on-off splits were merely a product of time spent on the floor with superstars, then how little he played with those stars is perplexing (70 percent of his possessions coming without Harden on the floor).

If you ever pulled your hair out watching some all-bench lineups cost this team games, perhaps cost them the shot to hold a top two seed today, cost Tyrese Maxey some confidence, and cost them precious time to rehearse playoff viable lineups, then it makes no sense why they couldn’t slide Thybulle in for P.J. Tucker occasionally, to either rest the veteran’s “dead-hand” or move Tuck to that bench unit to help Maxey get stops and more transition buckets.

Thybulle only played three minutes per game with Embiid and Harden since Dec. 9. Had he played more, the data shows they could have won those minutes, while buying precious rest for guys like Tucker (hand, back, old), Tobias (calf) or De’Anthony Melton (back).

Had they put him in for Harden, the two-man combo of Joel and Matisse, which Joel loved, was gang-busters. And then Harden could have helped Maxey smash, as he always does, turbo-charging bench run:

Even if you thought Thybulle is an absolute, total bum who cannot shoot, the numbers showed you they can win minutes with that bum playing alongside a couple key starters, and that would have been so valuable to a team who has now played more all-bench led by Trez lineups than they did a lineup that ranked in the high 90th percentile a season ago.

So I’m very open-minded to this trade working out. But I can’t help but look back and wonder why this team mismanaged their rotations to the extent they did.

Despite all of Thybulle’s offensive flaws, there were more creative ways to stack wins, buy rest for vets, and avoid some dead-in-the-water lineups. And who knows, maybe that would have improved his trade value too!

Let’s hope McDaniels blossoms into a high-impact starting-caliber player, helps this team make a Finals run, and also that the Sixers get to keep him this summer. There’s a real chance he offers more upside anyway.

Down the road we can look more closely at how the strech run goes, where everyone lands, and what becomes of those second-round picks. McDaniels is already playing in some much better lineups than Thybulle last was in the jersey. That helps.

Philly’s defense has been a joke lately. And Thybulle, as Embiid mentions, was their best perimeter defender. I like what I’ve seen from McDaniels lately there.

But if their defense does them in this second-round, this trade may get more scrutiny. Diehards can obsess over this trade over the coming weeks and months. And I’ll continue to wonder how much money they left on the table before the trade even happened.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Liberty Ballers Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Philadelphia 76ers news from Liberty Ballers