KISSIMMEE, Fla. – The NBA restart has been a classroom for Matisse Thybulle.
The 76ers rookie has learned a lot about his game through three scrimmages and eight seeding games at Walt Disney World.
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“I learned what I’m capable of,” Thybulle said Saturday. “And I also learned a lot in a sense where I need to be more solid, and under control and that kind of stuff.”
For the most part, he’s been trusting his instincts. That approach has worked well. It also has given the Sixers some level of assurance heading into their opening-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics.
The 23-year-old finished with 14 steals and seven blocks in his seeding games.
Stealing balls and blocking shots is nothing new for the 6-foot-5, 200-pounder.
He finished the regular season with 93 steals and 47 blocks, becoming the eighth rookie in the last 20 seasons to accomplish that feat. Thybulle did it in 1,287 minutes of action. None of the other seven played fewer than 2,000.
Instead of playing the usual 82-game schedule, the Sixers’ regular season consisted of 73 games (65 before the NBA shutdown, eight seeding) because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But Thybulle has shown improvement since arriving at the bubble.
“I think I labeled him a reckless thief at the start of the year,” coach Brett Brown said.
Back then, Thybulle found himself in foul trouble because of careless swipes at the ball and falling for subtle up-fakes on three-point shooters. His being more aware, combined with his length and scouting preparation, has made him tough to score on.
And he’s been solid regardless of the opponent. On Friday, he had four steals and two blocks against the Houston Rockets, and spent time defending against the Rockets’ perennial All-Star, James Harden.
Indiana Pacers forward T.J. Warren (53 points) and Portland Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard (51) torched the Sixers. But they had to work hard while Thybulle guarded them. Warren actually made only one basket against the rookie.
One would think Thybulle gets up for playing against All-Stars and standouts.
That’s not the case.
“It’s simple for me,” he said. “I just want to get out there and do my job,” regardless of the opponent.
That’s a good mindset to have considering the Sixers are depending on him to provide a defensive spark against the Celtics, who boast a balanced scoring attack of All-Stars Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward.