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Despite Another All-Defensive Honor, Matisse Thybulle's Future With Sixers is Uncertain

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

Matisse Thybulle is just 25 years old and on Friday, for the second consecutive season, was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team. Despite that, his future with the Philadelphia 76ers remains uncertain going forward. Deciding what to do with Thybulle is just one of many important decisions president of basketball operations Daryl Morey will have to make in order to propel this roster into true championship contention.

Thybulle, a defensive specialist, stepped into the role of being the Sixers' best perimeter defender this season, averaging 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks in 25.5 minutes per game. He has a knack for finding his way to the basketball often by disrupting the passing lanes. He is a risk-taker who plays an aggressive style of defense which at times can cause him to get beat while at other times allows him to make some brilliant defensive plays. Overall he is one of the NBA's best young talents on the defensive end of the floor.

Despite his strong defensive play, he is clearly a flawed player. He cannot stay on the floor because he is an offensive liability. He scored just 5.7 points per game and has failed to make enough improvements to be at least a semi-productive player offensively. There were countless number of times where he was on the floor and the opposing defense left him alone because he poses no threat.

Thybulle started in 50 games for the Sixers this season, although he lost his starting spot and, in turn, his confidence late in the season. His vaccination status did not help matters, causing him to miss all three road games in the team's first round series against the Toronto Raptors due to Canada's COVID-19 vaccine policy. In nine games this postseason, his role in the rotation was vastly decreased as a result of both his mixed availability and sinking levels of production. In 15.2 minutes per game in the postseason, he averaged a meager 3.0 points, 1.0 rebound, 0.8 steals and 0.8 blocks per game while shooting 28.6 percent from 3-point range.

Even before his rough end of the season, he was struggling to produce offensively. He has been in the league for three seasons and has yet to take the jump the Sixers wanted and expected him to be able to take on that end of the floor. One area this is especially evident in is his 3-point shooting, where his percentage actually declined from his rookie season to now. After shooting 35.7 percent from deep as a rookie in the 2019-20 season, he has failed to shoot higher than 32.0 percent from beyond the arc in any season since. Head coach Doc Rivers, in his joint end-of-season press conference with Morey, insisted Thybulle continues to work hard at improving his offensive abilities, specifically his outside shooting.

"He's working on it, I can tell you that. It is difficult. One-way players are better in the regular season than in the playoffs, I think we all know that," Rivers said. "Matisse is putting in the time. We hired the right resources as far as staffing, shooting coaches and everybody and more importantly, the right resource for Matisse is his work ethic. He's putting in the work. It's gradual. It's called being patient, and we are. I think it makes us more patient because he works at it. We would be less patient if we didn't think he was working at it."

Things are not all bad for Thybulle offensively. He made some improvements moving off the ball, specifically on cutting to the basket. He shot 69.3 percent on shots from less than 10 feet away from the basket this season, an improvement from the 62.0 percent clip he had on those shots in the 2020-21 season.

"The fact he's working at it, there were improvements," Rivers continued. "He became a better cutter this year. He ran the floor better this year, and the next step is to improve his shot which we are working on everyday, and that's going to be his marching orders this summer."

The Sixers are entering a fork in the road regarding Thybulle's future with the Sixers. The team chose back in October to exercise Thybulle's $4.4 million option for the 2022-23 season. He is eligible for a contract extension this offseason. Should the Sixers trust he can improve his offensive game to not be a liability on that end of the floor or should they look to trade him for a player with a more well-rounded skillset?

Morey, while discussing the limits of one-way players in the postseason, gave Thybulle a vote of confidence at his joint end-of-season press conference alongside Rivers.

"Matisse is someone who's got an elite defensive component," Morey said. "I think he's looking at himself and saying 'How can I improve and contribute in other ways?' In the playoffs, Doc [Rivers] and I were talking about this, the players who are extreme one-way type players, it's challenging in the playoffs. It's challenging for the coaches and challenging for the players. I think for Matisse, his mission, which he knows, is how can he improve in ways that make him someone that can make more of an impact in the playoffs. I think he will in the future."

While Morey is publicly presenting a confident belief in Thybulle's ability to improve offensively, he is likely keeping his cards close to the vest as the saying goes. If Morey potentially decides to make Thybulle available in trade talks, there is already at least one team interested in acquiring him. According to Heavy.com's Sean Deveney, the Chicago Bulls are interested in pursuing Thybulle via trade this offseason:

"The Sixers could look to get off Thybulle’s contract to create some wiggle room under the luxury tax, which looms large over the team’s offseason, and one team with known interest, according to league sources, is Chicago. Bulls GM Marc Eversley has had a fondness for Thybulle going back to early in his collegiate career at Washington, and was instrumental in pushing the Sixers to acquire him in the 2019 draft.

A deal would likely require a third team if Philadelphia’s goal is to save money under the tax, but the Bulls would be a strong suitor if Thybulle is available."

The Bulls' interest in Thybulle should result, at the very least, in Morey doing his homework and seeing what a potential return could look like. The Sixers should make a decision regarding Thybulle's future this offseason considering he will be a free agent after next season. If they choose to hold onto him through next season, they run the risk of his trade value falling more than it already has.

However, the Sixers are in great need of a three-and-D wing player for the upcoming season. The need became greater after Danny Green suffered both a torn ACL and LCL in the team's season-ending Game 6 loss to the Miami Heat in the second round of the playoffs. Thybulle could potentially step into that role for the Sixers if he is able to make enough improvements to not be an offensive liability when on the floor.

Regardless of how the Sixers decide to handle his future, Thybulle is heading into the offseason with a clear picture of what he needs to work on to become a better, more useful player for whatever team he is on.

"For me, it's very simple," Thybulle 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 3-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 the other end of the court."

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