For Reed and Thybulle, there's a long list of important little things

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Doc Rivers turned to one of those coach’s mottos Wednesday afternoon that’s a lot easier said than done. 

“High clarity equals high performance,” the Sixers’ head coach said following his team’s practice in Camden, New Jersey, “and there’s no doubt about that.”

For many players and teams, no scrutiny is necessary here. Georges Niang’s main responsibility for the Sixers is to shoot (and sink) three-pointers. De’Anthony Melton won’t hog the ball when he’s next to James Harden and Tyrese Maxey. The team that scores more points wins the game. 

With Matisse Thybulle and Paul Reed, the concept is much more interesting. 

Both players tend to fill their minutes with impactful, center-of-attention plays. An expert’s eye isn’t needed to see when Thybulle makes a stunning steal or Reed falls for a pump fake. Still, with each aiming to be every-game players whenever the Sixers are back at full strength, it’s clear another classic sports cliché is pertinent. The little things really do matter for Reed and Thybulle — and there are a ton of them. 

‘A summer assignment’ 

While Rivers has noted he aims to sprinkle positive moments into his film sessions, he's got no qualms about calling out mistakes. That’s true when he speaks with reporters, too.

He agreed after the Sixers’ win Monday over the Suns that Thybulle allows ball handlers to get him on their hip too often. 

“We’re working on that,” Rivers said. “That was a summer assignment — be more square. He’s gotten away with being gifted in college — and some in the pros — and he makes these sensational plays. They look good but overall, you have to be more solid. 

“You have to stay in front of the ball. I think he led the league in fouled shooters last year, and that’s part of it. And he’s too good defensively for that. I will say he’s really trying to do it more. He picked the ball up full court three or four times early in the game. That’s another addition that we feel he can be great at. But that’s a big one there. If he can be more solid defensively, he can be dominant defensively. I believe that.”

Ultimately, both Thybulle and Reed have committed many fouls and forced many turnovers. No player classified as a big man had close to Reed’s 4.4 steal percentage last season, per Cleaning the Glass. Year after year, Thybulle is at or very near the top of the league in steal and block rates among wings. 

There’s always ample gray area with Thybulle’s gambling, but some fouls are indeed more tolerable than others. Ceding an angle to a polished scorer late in the shot clock is generally worse than reaching for a casual pass at the top of the Sixers’ zone defense. 

As for Reed, Rivers’ message Monday night wasn’t muddled. 

“One thing I told him is, 'You have six fouls and you’re not going to play 40 minutes, so use them,’” Rivers said.

No jump shooting foes 

Thybulle knows that trusting his jumpers will drop is an important part of converting them at a higher rate. 

Most of that faith still needs to stem from practice. As a professional, the 25-year-old has made 31.9 percent of his wide-open threes, per NBA.com. Nevertheless, it doesn’t help anyone if Thybulle fires jumpers while fixating on his track record being the reason why he’s so open.

“It’s a product of the work and it is its own work,” Thybulle said Monday morning of shooting confidently. “JJ Redick told me a long time ago the only thing you can do to get your confidence up is to do the work, and to know you’ve done it. I think that plays a big role in it. And then also just believing in it, for myself, is another aspect of it as well.”

Thybulle highlighted that new teammate Danuel House Jr. encouraged him immediately. 

“We obviously compete directly for minutes and a position on this team, but we are each other’s greatest allies,” he said. “I learned that really early on when we got to training camp and Danuel pulled me aside and was like, ‘Hey, let’s shoot together.’ 

“And he starts talking about the playoffs. He’s like, ‘You need to be able to shoot and take these shots confidently so they can’t …’ And to have the guy who’s supposed to be my mortal enemy be the one who brings me under his wing like, ‘Yo, we’re going to do this together’ was an awesome experience. And I think it’s played a lot into our relationship now.”

House, who returned to practice Wednesday after being sidelined by a non-COVID illness, sounds passionate about enhancing Thybulle’s self-belief. 

“That’s the guy,” House said. “Matisse is the guy. He’s very smart. Selfless guy — team player. He puts in hard work. Willing to listen to anybody and willing to help you, too, if you have an open ear. He’s Second Team All-Defense. The guy can guard. So if he says something defensively, why not listen? Just as much as he said he’s learning from me, I’m learning from him, too. It’s a building process; we’re building into each other. 

“Like I told him, I believe in his jump shot. ‘Stop doubting yourself. Shoot it. You work too hard. You put in a lot of work — and I shoot with you. You can shoot the ball. Shoot.’ So that’s just the brotherhood and the bond that everyone on this team is building with one another. Say if I skip a shot. The team will tell me, ‘Shoot the ball!’ So it’s just we trust in each other and I want to see my brother do (well).”

The ‘Draymond’ role  

After the Sixers’ loss to the Wizards last week, Rivers said Thybulle rolling is “what (Washington) wanted.”

Of course, screening and rolling is usually a more desirable job when Harden handles the ball, and the 33-year-old has a right foot tendon strain. Thybulle understands it’s a key area for him regardless, though. His downhill speed and leaping ability are excellent tools, but it’s rare that an NBA pick-and-roll ends with the roll man — especially one who’s not 7 feet tall and regularly soaring for lobs — slamming in an unobstructed dunk.

“It’s been a learning process,” Thybulle said Monday. “I learned how to do it when James got here and I’m still learning how to do it. … Watching a lot of film, practicing it, and just getting the reps. It’s not something I’ve ever really been comfortable with, so I’m trying to get more familiar with it so I can be more effective and use it as a tool to help the team.”

There’s no player exactly like Thybulle, but he’s found strong non-big man screeners to study. 

“I wouldn’t say emulate, but I’ve watched Draymond (Green), for example, and his ability to move off the ball is pretty incredible,” he said. “So just trying to pick up on some of that. … Mikal Bridges, he does that stuff really well. So just trying to watch people who do it well and see what I can take from them.”

Rivers has also mentioned Green’s name several times as a stylistic model for Thybulle. That’s obviously an impossible standard for all subpar outside shooters to meet; Green is renowned for his basketball IQ and has long been masterful in 4-on-3 situations. 

The comparison does make sense when Thybulle is unguarded beyond the arc. Shooting when open checks the “high clarity” box. However, both the statistics and gut feel would support an open three by Maxey or Tobias Harris being better than a wide-open Thybulle attempt. 

A simpler way to see it: The Sixers should want their best three-point shooters taking the most threes. While Reed fared well from long distance in the G League, he’s not in that category. 

“Oh yeah, I feel comfortable (shooting threes),” he said Wednesday. “I just know I’m out there to get guys open like Tyrese and Georges Niang — guys like that. If I get an open look, I’m going to shoot it, but I’m not forcing it.”

Another tricky element for Reed is that Rivers has yet to settle on anything consistent at backup center. And, though he’s raised the possibility of playing Reed some at power forward, that’s been almost entirely theoretical to this point.

Reed admitted the situation was initially “a little challenging,” but he likes how he’s tweaked his pregame approach. 

“For me, it’s just about staying in the moment and being grateful for where I’m at,” Reed said. “That helps me a lot mentally.”

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