MINNEAPOLIS — Matisse Thybulle is back to being the defender of last season.
The 76ers’ second-year guard is a pesky defender who routinely comes up with steals. Thybulle had three steals in Wednesday’s victory over the Los Angeles Lakers and 14 of his 21 steals have come in the last six games heading into Friday’s contest against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Target Center.
On Monday, Thybulle shut down Detroit Pistons power forward Blake Griffin one game before Lakers star LeBron James told Tobias Harris he has to take better care of the ball when Thybulle guards him.
“I think it’s a sense of validation,” Thybulle said. “But, honestly, it means I have to be getting better, more creative, because they’re catching on to my tricks.
“So, I mean, it’s all a challenge and I try to get better every day.”
But Thybulle initially wasn’t in the rotation to start the season.
He played 17 seconds in the season opener against the Washington Wizards. His minutes jumped to 6:52 in the second game and 8:14 in the third game. Thybulle’s playing time increased after Furkan Korkmaz suffered a groin injury in the third game that sidelined him for the next 10 games.
Thybulle has been inconsistent on the offensive end. One four-game stretch was a prime example.
He made 2 of 7 shots against the Miami Heat on Jan. 14. Thybulle shot 3-for-5 in the next game against the Grizzlies. He followed that with an 0-for-3 shooting night against the Celtics before shooting 4-for-8 in the second meeting against Boston.
After having just one steal in the first four games, he’s had at least one steal in eight straight games and in 10 of 12 games this season.
“I think coming off the injury set me back a little bit in terms of just like being myself out there on the court,” Thybulle said of having to deal with a sprained left ankle in training camp. “It just took a matter of feeling like me out there and just showing what I know I can do.”
Thybulle averaged 2.9 points and 1.3 steals in over 15 minutes before Friday. Last season, he led NBA rookies with 95 total steals and 1.4 steals per game.