Coming off a promising NBA Summer League showing, Matisse Thybulle is looking to carve out a rotation spot with the Sixers next season.
Midway through the Philadelphia 76ers’ Summer League game against the Detroit Pistons, Matisse Thybulle was confused. Irritated. Lost. Not because he blew an assignment, misread an offensive set or fumbled away a careless turnover. A member of the Pistons squad shared a rumor with him, one that has sullied Thybulle’s offensive reputation dating back to the pre-draft process: he can’t shoot.
But during four years at the University of Washington, he knocked down 35.8 percent of his 3-pointers and in five Summer League games, he went 11 of 28 (39.3 percent) from deep. The numbers suggest that Thybulle, at worst, is a serviceable shooter and yet, his production isn’t sufficient evidence.
He had to verbally confront this narrative that followed him to Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas, kept alive by the defibrillators of Summer League trash talk.
“Someone on the Pistons said, ‘Hey, bro, they told me you couldn’t shoot,’“ Thybulle said. “And I’m like, ‘That’s what everyone’s been saying. I don’t know where they got this idea from that I can’t shoot.’ But I hope I’ve proved a little bit now that I’m a decent shooter. I was never worried about it. I knew what I was capable of but I guess it’s just a matter of convincing everyone else.”
The Sixers were certainly convinced, as they sacrificed the No. 33 pick to move up four spots on draft night and nab Thybulle at No. 20 overall. While his immediate role in the rotation is hazy, the franchise hopes he partners with Zhaire Smith long-term to form a tantalizing, long-limbed duo geared toward sparking chaos, providing versatile perimeter defense and splashing open 3s.
One of the more legitimate pre-draft concerns with Thybulle’s game in college was passivity as a shooter. It wasn’t that he couldn’t make 3s, it was that he didn’t always shoot when open. He’d catch the ball in the corner, mull over a decision and swing it to a teammate, short-circuiting Washington’s offensive rhythm in the process.
That didn’t plague him during Summer League. He fired up 5.6 triples per game in just 26.1 minutes a night, regularly shooting with confidence and undeterred by feisty closeouts. As a Husky, Thybulle launched just 4.0 3s in 29.4 minutes each game. On a 36-minute scale, he averaged 2.8 more 3-point attempts in Summer League than he did at Washington.
The sample is small and partially skewed by a (seemingly) quicker pace of play but it could represent a shift in mindset.
“I feel like I have a pretty good gauge of what’s a good shot and what’s a bad shot,” Thybulle said. “If there’s a smaller defender on me or if a guy helps off too much and I see daylight, I’m gonna let it go.”
Thybulle said he recognizes the importance of being a spot-up shooter and release valve beyond the arc. Rather than set out to expand the confines of his arsenal, he simply reinforced the skills that should translate when he’s playing a complementary role next to Philadelphia’s high-usage stars.
“Being able to shoot is a huge threat, especially the way the NBA is played now,” Thybulle said. “If you can hunt your 3s and force them to guard you up close, it just makes everything else open for other guys.”
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images
If the shooting results and per-minute volume are similar to Summer League, defenders will have to honor his jumper. That’ll spur hasty, erratic closeouts in the hope of running him off the 3-point line. To diversify his offensive utility, Thybulle is focused on mastering those off-the-dribble scenarios.
“Something I need to improve is my ball-handling, to be able to make more plays,” Thybulle said. “In terms of extra emphasis, just being able to control the ball and be able to make plays with the ball a little bit better.
Thybulle isn’t just aiming to eradicate the non-shooter narrative or develop his dribble-drive game. Despite looting and swatting his way to historic steal and block numbers last year, questions persist around the legitimacy of those totals as well. They came in Washington’s 2-3 zone, which enabled Thybulle to roam as a playmaker, largely unburdened by on-ball responsibilities.
In the NBA, teams can’t adhere to a zone defense full-time without risking pure-shooting marksman or high-IQ ball-handlers exposing the gaps it presents. Thybulle must prove his resume isn’t a gimmick and thrive in a structured system that assigns him man-to-man requirements.
Sixers Summer League head coach Connor Johnson has seen and heard those criticisms. His brief experiences with Thybulle make clear the transition isn’t complex and the worries were overblown.
“The knock on the zone defense thing is something to me that I don’t really even see anymore,” Johnson said. “He’s picked up things really quick, being the point-of-attack defender when someone’s coming at him and he’s in pick-and-roll. I thought he’s been great, blowing stuff up, getting through it, being aggressive and being physical.”
During his five-game stint in Las Vegas, Thybulle continued to disrupt opposing offenses, tallying 10 steals and six blocks. He proved that his playmaking instincts translate across defensive approaches, even if he’s still mentally downloading the ways to best balance the scales.
Periodically, his overzealous nature led to breakdowns, darting into passing lanes a second late or losing his man off the ball while hunting for a takeaway. With each game, he’s finding which dicey wagers he can recover from and which ones cross the point of no return. He’s a star free safety trying to get comfortable with the tasks of a shutdown cornerback.
“Matisse has incredible instincts … but there is a discipline that needs to be seen to succeed in the NBA. Matisse is not gonna take as many chances or get to take as many chances when he’s playing in a Sixers game with the stakes on the line,” Johnson said. “One, it’s just understanding the reads and our defensive philosophy. But two is showing some discipline that he knows when to make an impact but he also knows when he’s gonna stay home because he’s guarding a shooter.”
Added Thybulle: “You don’t really know until you go out there and try it … just trying to find that fine line.”
Throughout his media availabilities at Summer League, Thybulle repeatedly emphasized that his comfort level increased in each game. The same growth curve can be applied to his NBA tenure.
As his career progresses, he’ll discern when to let it fly or charge off the bounce and when to stay glued to his man or pursue turnovers. It’s wisdom and confidence cultivated from lacing up the kicks every night.
“My whole goal coming into Summer League was to see how it went the first game and from there, just build,” Thybulle said.
That, and hopefully burying the pesky shooting narrative.