Brett Brown is teaching ‘wild' rookie Matisse Thybulle … and also learning from him


CAMDEN, N.J. — Ben Simmons talked about wildlife in Australia. Dario Saric discussed the history of conflict between Serbia and Croatia. JJ Redick asked whether we’re all living in a simulation.

The topic for Matisse Thybulle's presentation at the Sixers’ team breakfast Thursday morning shouldn't be surprising for those who know him — photography. 

As Brett Brown began answering a question about Thybulle, he strayed down a familiar, colorful path. He called Thybulle a “stallion that’s wild,” emphasized the need to “polish him up” and said the 22-year-old is “easy to coach.”

Then, over the heads of reporters, he noticed a figure sipping a smoothie.

And he’s over there right now,” Brown said, lighting up. “Can I go off script for a second? We have, and I’ve been doing this for six years, we have team breakfasts. People choose topics and get up and present something. … Today we had Matisse Thybulle do photography and he just blew us out of the water with his interest and his skill, and talking about lenses and cameras. And so I see him over there and I’m giving to give you a long fist bump. Well done. Now I’m going to call you reckless, OK?

Brown went on with his response, praising Thybulle’s character, defensive skills and gradual improvement. Once he’d fulfilled his media obligations and stepped through the scrum, he shared a few more words and a laugh or two with him.

Thybulle is indeed more knowledgeable and skilled a photographer than the average NBA player, as one can see through his secondary Instagram account, @mt4photography.

View this post on Instagram

Above the rim

A post shared by Matisse (@matisseshoots) on Apr 28, 2018 at 3:32pm PDT

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Sunsets have kinda been my thing lately

A post shared by Matisse (@matisseshoots) on Sep 4, 2019 at 12:41pm PDT

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Learning a thing or two from the great @erickhercules

A post shared by Matisse (@matisseshoots) on Jul 31, 2019 at 6:47pm PDT

He’s a unique person, and he finds himself in a unique situation with Brown and the Sixers. 

Thybulle had 16 steals in his first five NBA games, but his playing time has been uneven since then. He’s still determining how to balance his gifts for defensive aggression and anticipation with avoiding the kind of mistakes Brown won’t tolerate. Thybulle does have 15 points on 5 for 10 shooting (2 for 2 from three-point range) over the Sixers’ last two games, which could help his cause.

Though Brown embraces what he’s referred to as Thybulle’s “kamikaze spirit,” he said Thursday that his priority is integrating new veteran players like Al Horford and Josh Richardson. He does, however, envision Thybulle contributing in the postseason.

What I always remind myself of is you have to start with the end in mind,” he said. “If the end in mind is the playoffs, I think he can be a playing player in the playoffs. And so there has to be some ecosystem that’s fair. As you’re trying to grow and space and teach and coach new veterans, and then you’ve got a rookie coming in that’s trying to figure out where do I put my thumbprint on this, my tolerance in that environment is less for him. And for the others, it's greater.

"Defensively, that’s where he’s gotta make his statement. Offensively, we hope he can make some shots and finish better at the rim and come to jump stops where he’s not airborne without a plan, and I think he’s getting better. But my priority is to help clean up the world for those veteran players.

Still, Brown clearly likes what he has in his creative, gambling rookie.

“Like I’ve said from Day 1, I’d rather have something that you can polish up instead of wind up,” he said Wednesday. “Nobody questions his energy.”

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