In recent weeks the Sixers leaky perimeter defense has been buoyed by Matisse Thybulle, who continues to frustrate opponent’s top perimeter threats on a nightly basis.
Look no further than last Friday’s win over Chicago for proof of his impact; while Embiid’s career-high 50 point performance deservedly earned most of the praise, Thybulle stepping up in the absence of Ben Simmons and logging 37 minutes in an effort to neutralize Zach Lavine was equally important to the win.
Zach LaVine shot 2-16 (16.7%) when guarded by Matisse Thybulle on Friday night.— Kevin McCormick (@KevinMcC973) February 21, 2021
LaVine is in the mist of a career season and ‘Tisse made him look pedestrian for most of the night. He had a similar impact two nights earlier guarding Houston’s John Wall, who was able to find easy offense against the rest of the Sixers defenders but was flustered and ultimately locked down each time he crossed paths with Thybulle. More examples of him altering games on that end of the floor aren’t hard to find.
Where the eye test is elite, the analytics are every bit as bullish on his defensive value. Thybulle unsurprisingly ranks in the 98th percentile of matchup difficulty in the NBA, and the peripheral data on his perimeter defense leaves little doubt as to just how elite he is on that end of the floor.
Describing Thybulle as an All-NBA level defender isn’t hyperbole—in fact, it’d be an understatement to describe him in lesser terms.
Here are All-Defensive teams based on defensive impact (via D-LEBRON).— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) February 16, 2021
Dort has some interesting defensive activity data in clutch time, but on the year overall shows up as having a negative defensive impact so far this season.https://t.co/BwNxi8FgdJ pic.twitter.com/5olN5xtUN9
For a team light on perimeter defenders beyond Simmons and Danny Green, and a team completely devoid of point-of-attack defenders altogether, Matisse is basically the glue that keeps the Sixers on-ball defense from bursting at the seams. However, unless Thybulle can develop his jumper or find a way to contribute offensively, his value to the Sixers essentially ends with the regular season.
Without two-way value it’s near impossible to stick on the floor in the playoffs, and if a team is forced to give such a player big minutes in the postseason it’s normally a good sign that said roster isn’t equipped to contend. That’s where the Sixers stand—heavily relying on someone who, as of right now, is a major negative on offense, and who won’t see the floor in the playoffs.
For context on just how bad Matisse is on offense, consider the following shooting numbers:
26% on catch-and-shoot threes is abysmal, and 9% on corner threes is almost unbelievable; all coming on relatively open shots, too. Perhaps the most concerning number is that he’s somehow attempting more “above the break” threes than corner threes (a damming sign on how the coaching staff is failing to even use him right.)
While we pay a lot of attention to 3-and-D skillsets, there are more ways to contribute on offense beyond shooting, and Thybulle doesn’t produce in those ways either. 0.82 points per possession as a cutter is way down in the 23rd percentile in the league, and his finishing and playmaking data is predictably putrid.
Matisse Thybulle is ranked 79th overall in RAPTOR. He has the 8th highest defensive RAPTOR. If he was just a net 0 on offense he’d be 24th overall, tied with Damian Lillard and 1 spot ahead of James Harden. Really hope he can develop some offensive ability for the @sixers— Matt Wilson (@WilsonHack) February 22, 2021
Just about every system for tracking “impact” values ‘Tisse the same way—A’s and B’s on defense, F’s and D’s on offense. It’s rare to see all of these metrics in such strong agreement (variance is the norm, hence so many metrics) but here we see a consensus that underscores just how polar opposite Thybulle’s impact is on both ends of the floor, and the conundrum he poses for the playoff rotation.
The Sixers have a glaring hole at POA defense and perimeter defense in general. While Thybulle is masking that concern in the regular season, he can’t be relied on to provide that same value in the playoffs if he doesn’t find a way to become serviceable on offense.
Daryl Morey and the front office will be active at the trade deadline, and you can bet they’re monitoring Thybulle closely as that date approaches. Having one of the best perimeter defenders, if not the best perimeter defender in the NBA on your roster is one hell of a luxury for a team on a collision course with Brooklyn in the Eastern Conference, but right now they can’t count on him being an option for that potential matchup.
Doc Rivers and company will hope and pray that ‘Tisse is able to figure some things out on the offensive end of the floor over the final few months of the season, but the Sixers will likely need to address perimeter defense at the deadline or risk leaving themselves at the mercy of Thybulle and his lacking offense come playoff time.
Data courtesy of BBall Index.