Thybulle chosen for second straight All-Defensive honor


At 25 years old, Matisse Thybulle already has two All-Defensive selections.

Thybulle on Friday night was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive Second Team for a second consecutive year. 

MVP runner-up Joel Embiid missed out on a fourth All-Defense honor, receiving three votes for the First Team and 27 for the Second Team. 

Thybulle is one of the league’s most unusual players, a habitual risk-taker who’s brilliant at seeing a move before it happens, appearing from nowhere, and creating all sorts of turnovers. According to Cleaning the Glass, his block rate (2.1) was in the 99th percentile for wings, his steal rate (3.1) in the 100th percentile. That’s become his norm.

In regular assignments against marquee perimeter scorers, Thybulle often did very well. A Dec. 11 performance on Stephen Curry might have been his finest night.

He started 50 games in his third season, including 26 straight beginning on Feb. 8. The University of Washington product played 25.5 minutes per contest in 2021-22, 5.5 more than the year prior.

However, Thybulle lost his starting job, confidence and rhythm late in the season. Because he’s not fully vaccinated against COVID-19, he was ineligible to play in Canada and therefore out for the Sixers’ three road games during their first-round series win over the Raptors. 

Even before the Sixers drew Toronto in Round 1, offense was a clear concern with Thybulle. 

“The No. 1 thing is he has to be dynamic defensively every night,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said in February, “because if he isn’t, then it’s hard to play him, right?” 

Thybulle scored 5.7 points per game, shooting 50 percent from the floor and 31.3 percent from three-point range. Those numbers were all better than the previous season, but opponents continued to adopt the sensible strategy of caring much more about showing the Sixers’ stars intense attention than defending Thybulle. 

In the postseason, Thybulle played just 15.2 minutes per game and made only 4 of 14 long-distance tries. Rivers and president of basketball operations Daryl Morey expressed belief at their end-of-season press conference that Thybulle can improve offensively and make a greater playoff impact in future seasons. Morey did acknowledge that “the players who are sort of extreme one-way type of players, it’s challenging in the playoffs.”

As Thybulle explained it, his part-time status for the first round also made being his normal defensive self especially difficult this postseason, since he couldn't replicate full-speed, instinctive game reps.

“Proprioception is your understanding of where you body is in space,” he said on May 8. “There’s a level of proprioception with your teammates and how connected you are to your guys. How the chemistry is, how in flow everyone is plays a massive role in your understanding of where guys are without having to see it or even really think about it. It’s just a feeling that you have. When we’re at our best, we don’t have to think. It’s just the intuitive nature of being able to play off each other.”

The Sixers in October exercised Thybulle’s $4.4 million option for the 2022-23 season. He’s eligible for an extension this summer. Despite his obvious offensive flaws that have been magnified in the playoffs, it’s not at all impossible to envision a career trajectory that involves consistent All-Defensive honors. 

“I think he’s going to be a special player in this league, especially with how he works and with how artistic and unique he is — how his mind works," Danny Green told NBC Sports Philadelphia in March. “But he’s got a lot of room for growth. … What did Michael Jordan say? ‘The ceiling is the roof.’ 

“With him, the sky’s the limit, man. He has a lot of potential. He can grow into a shooter. … He’s still just learning. His reflexes are unbelievable — cat-like reflexes. And with his athletic ability, he can get to any shot and steal any basketball. Once he learns how to balance himself, I think he can be Defensive Player of the Year.”

At his exit interview, Thybulle identified several logical areas he’ll focus on this offseason.

“I guess for me I’m lucky, because it’s pretty simple,” he said. “I have something I do really well and it helps me bring value to the game. But outside of that, if I can be a consistent three-point shooter, an effective fast-break player, and an efficient straight-line driver to the basket, I think, without trying to put more on my plate than is necessary, that feels like the simplest approach to just lay a foundation for being more of an asset on that end of the court.”

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