76ers Preparing Matisse Thybulle for an Important Role Come Playoff Time
PHILADELPHIA, PA -- Over the years, the Philadelphia 76ers have drafted some highly touted first-rounders. Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, and Zhaire Smith have been some of the latest. While most of these names have found their footing in the NBA, they all had one thing in common: None of them really contributed to much during their first season in the NBA -- mainly because of injuries.
This season, the 76ers' first-round pick happened to be Washington Huskies product, Matisse Thybulle. At first, the pick was slightly controversial in Philly, as Sixers fans begged for a sure shooter. Considering Thybulle was primarily known for his defense, not many fans were satisfied with the selection.
Soon enough, the narrative would change, though. Thybulle quickly became a fan-favorite in Philly. Not only because he has proven to be the real deal on the defensive side of the ball -- but because Thybulle has worked hard on developing his offensive game as well.
Early on in the season, Sixers' head coach Brett Brown was slightly hesitant to give Thybulle a heavy dose of playing time. Though he had positive flashes on the court, the game film would reveal Thybulle had a ton of "punishing" mistakes too.
Coach Brown then had to sit the rookie down to explain why he wasn't getting his fair share of minutes. He described the situation as "life in the NBA for a rookie." It seemed as if that was going to be a common theme during Thybulle's first year on the Sixers, but at this point, Brown has changed his ways midway through the year.
Instead of shying away from Thybulle's mistakes, and mostly playing it safe with the rookie, Brett Brown wants to implement a more substantial dose of Matisse to "grow him." Because when playoff time comes around, he doesn't want to leave Thybulle riding the pine, as Brown did with Zhaire Smith and Markelle Fultz in the past. Instead, He wants the 2019 first-rounder to be ready for the tournament.
"I'm going to grow him," Brown said on Friday night before the Sixers hosted the Bulls. "Sometimes that may mean starting -- sometimes it may not. But my intention is to grow him, and I feel like when I look into my playoff crystal ball, and what it's going to look like in April, I believe he's going to be there. So I feel the need to start putting this into play now."
With Joel Embiid out, the Sixers have had the opportunity to mix the starters up and add somebody into the lineup. At first, Brown rolled with a struggling Mike Scott. After realizing Scott wasn't making any improvements, he went in a different direction.
Now, over the last two games, the rookie has gotten some starting action and has even seen an increase in minutes. While Thybulle still isn't a finished product, his head coach has been pleased with the rookie's development thus far.
"There's an ability to make a mistake and still have the athleticism and determination to go and make a play," Brown said, in regards to Thybulle. "Then you go to the offensive side, and he's a deer -- he's a flyer -- hunting corners and letting Ben [Simmons] do what Ben does. He allows that space for [Simmons and Harris] to play in the middle of the floor. Then when you can make a shot, you've got a legitimate two-way player that's young."
It's unclear what the plan for Thybulle is upon Embiid's return. While he will probably still get a favorable amount of minutes, the rookie will likely go back to playing his bench role as long as the Sixers continue to try and create an on-court bond between Joel Embiid and Al Horford.
For the time being, though, Brown is prepared to unleash the rookie -- for better or for worse. Because while Thybulle does contribute plenty of good for the Sixers, he still has his fair share of mistakes. "That's part of his evolution, and a part of his growth," Brown stated when talking about Thybulle's struggles. "That's some of the pain I am prepared to live with and help him with because I think he is very coachable."
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter: @JGrasso_