Matisse Thybulle is a key factor for the Philadelphia 76ers in their first-round playoff series against the Toronto Raptors for all the wrong reasons.
Thybulle recently confirmed to reporters that he has only received one dose of the Pfizer
Thybulle will still be able to play in the games in Philadelphia, and his vaccination status won’t affect his availability in future rounds if the Sixers advance. However, he might wind up costing himself millions of dollars this summer if the Raptors do knock the Sixers out in the first round.
The 25-year-old will be eligible to sign an extension with the Sixers on July 1, so the playoffs are his final chance to make a lasting impression on the team’s front office. He’s already one of the NBA’s most disruptive perimeter defenders, but the playoffs could help answer some of the biggest questions surrounding his long-term fit in Philadelphia.
As great as Thybulle is defensively, he’s that much of a non-factor on offense. He averaged only 5.7 points in 25.5 minutes per game during the regular season, both of which were career highs, and he shot a mediocre 31.3 percent from three-point range.
Opponents largely tend to ignore Thybulle when he’s on the perimeter to send additional help toward Joel Embiid or James Harden. They often dare him to shoot and are willing to live with the results, betting that the percentages will even out over time even if he does knock down a few early triples.
A defender wasn’t within six feet of Thybulle on 116 of his 144 three-point attempts during the regular season, but he knocked down only 28.4 percent of those shots. He didn’t attempt a single three-pointer with a defender within two feet of him, and he went 2-of-3 when a defender was within 2-4 feet.
Since defenders often cheat off Thybulle, the Sixers began utilizing him more as a cutter to take advantage of double-teams that leave him wide open. He also got off to a promising start alongside Harden, scoring at least 10 points in three of his first five games with the 10-time All-Star.
However, offensive consistency continues to elude Thybulle. Over his final 20 regular-season appearances, he had nearly as many double-digit scoring outings (five) as he did games with zero points (four). He never attempted more than eight shots in any game this season, either.
Earlier this month, Harden bemoaned the Sixers’ spacing as a concern heading into the playoffs. It’s unclear whether he was specifically referring to Thybulle, but he said it was affecting his ability to attack the basket and create good looks for his teammates.
The Raptors are almost tailor-made to exploit Thybulle when the Sixers are on offense. Armed with a never-ending wave of 6’8″ and 6’9″ forwards, they routinely ignored him during the regular season to send double-teams at Embiid, whom they lack the size to match up against one-on-one.
According to Krishna Narsu of BBall Index, the Raptors led the league in their percentage of double-teams on post-ups during the regular season. They figure to maintain that strategy in the playoffs, sending extra help at Embiid and daring his teammates to beat them. Since Thybulle is the least threatening Sixer on offense, his man will likely be the one to serve as that extra help whenever he’s on the floor.
If Thybulle can make the Raptors rethink their defensive strategy against him by knocking down open jumpers or doing damage as a cutter, that could open up the floor for his teammates. Thybulle isn’t likely to create many (or any?) shots off the dribble for himself, but pairing his minutes with Harden—who assisted on 27 of his 52 made field goals since the All-Star break—could make him less of a non-factor on offense.
Even if the Raptors do largely ignore Thybulle in half-court settings, he can make up for it in transition and by being an agent of chaos on defense. He led the Sixers with 1.7 steals per game, ranked second behind Embiid with 1.1 blocks per game, and he was third leaguewide among regular rotation players with 3.7 deflections per game. He’s often single-handedly responsible for at least a few easy run-out opportunities each night.
Despite Thybulle’s offensive limitations, the Sixers outscored their opponents by a scorching 20.3 points per 100 possessions when he shared the floor with Harden, Embiid, Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris, according to Cleaning the Glass. That ranked in the 89th percentile leaguewide among all five-man groups that played at least 100 possessions together.
The Sixers used that five-man group in 19 of the 21 games that Harden has played for them. However, they aren’t likely to start with that same lineup against the Raptors because of Thybulle’s vaccination status. Danny Green figures to start in place of him, much like he did in their final regular-season outing at Toronto, to maintain consistency in the starting five.
Green isn’t nearly as disruptive as Thybulle on defense, but he’s far more of a threat to space the floor and knock down open jumpers. If that starting lineup change helps the Sixers advance past the Raptors, head coach Doc Rivers might elect to stick with it in future rounds, too.
At most, Thybulle will have four games against Toronto to make his imprint on the series. If he’s a wrecking ball defensively and not a complete liability on offense, he’ll increase the Sixers’ chances of advancing. But if the Raptors use his aggression against him by getting him into early foul trouble or exploit his offensive limitations, Rivers might be reluctant to play him heavy minutes.
Not only does that make Thybulle one of the biggest X-factors of the series, but it also might help decide whether he’s able to cash in on a lucrative extension this summer.