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The Sixers’ Matisse Thybulle wants to be more decisive on offense: ‘I’ve been second-guessing myself a lot’

Developing a reliable offensive game has long been a task for the Sixers forward as a rare non-starter who made the NBA’s All-Defense second team last season.

Matisse Thybulle shoots during the Sixers' first training-camp practice last month in Camden.
Matisse Thybulle shoots during the Sixers' first training-camp practice last month in Camden.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

Joel Embiid’s first message to Matisse Thybulle was to smile. His second message was, “Shoot the ball. We want you to shoot it.”

That exchange after Thybulle declined to take an open look during the 76ers’ 115-103 Sunday night victory in Oklahoma City epitomized the early figuring-it-out process he’s experienced in his third NBA season.

The 6-foot-5 wing, equipped with range and speed, is already a perimeter defensive stalwart who has improved in subtle ways on the offensive end. But Thybulle acknowledges he still wants to be more confident in his jumper, a feeling that is especially heightened after a minor shoulder injury caused him to miss the bulk of the preseason.

“I feel like I’ve been second-guessing myself a lot, passing up open shots,” Thybulle said Tuesday ahead of the Sixers’ 112-99 loss to the Knicks. “… It can be a little frustrating, but the guys have honestly been really great.”

» READ MORE: What we’ve learned about the Sixers without Ben Simmons | David Murphy

Developing a reliable offensive game has long been a task for Thybulle, the rare non-starter who made the NBA’s All-Defense second team last season. He has averaged 4.3 points over 134 career NBA games, while shooting 42.3% from the field, 32.7% from three-point range and 55.9% from the free-throw line. Entering Thursday’s game against Detroit, he is 1-of-6 from three-point range this season.

Thybulle’s pregame routine ahead of the Sixers’ matchup against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden offered a glimpse at the vigor he has for improving the shooting aspect of his game. During the 15-minute on-court session, he moved from left to right and fired from the wing, grimacing when one shot clanked off a rim. When he got rolling from the opposite wing, he pounded his chest and let out a “woo!” that was more of an exhale than a yell. When he missed a free throw, he grimaced again before resetting at the line to sink his next attempt.

“I feel like I have what it takes to be a good shooter, and it just comes down to the mental side of shooting,” Thybulle said. “Which any great shooter will tell you is like 70%, if not more, of it.”

Added coach Doc Rivers: “I believe he’ll become a better shooter each year, but it’s not where you go in one summer and come out Steph Curry.”

In the meantime, Thybulle and the Sixers have identified other ways he can impact the offense. With his speed, Rivers believes Thybulle is capable of getting two breakaway finishes per game after releasing off a rebound. Thybulle is also proud of the way he has improved as a cutter, screener and floor-spacer without the basketball to set up shots for himself and his teammates — a quality Rivers and star Tobias Harris have highlighted unprompted, as well.

Thybulle flashed that open-court ability when he threw down a late alley-oop dunk off a Harris feed against Brooklyn last week, and again on Tuesday against the Knicks when Georges Niang kicked a steal ahead to Thybulle for the fastbreak slam. He also demonstrated that body movement against the Knicks, when he got free under the basket for an alley-oop layup from Harris and then converted another open layup off a feed from Tyrese Maxey about midway through the fourth quarter. Thybulle scored a season-high six points against New York on 3-of-5 shooting, missing his only three-point attempt.

Thybulle credits his time playing for Australia at the Tokyo Olympics with helping him develop sharper off-ball body movement and basketball IQ. The Boomers’ style of basketball represents their overall culture of togetherness, he said, and “being able to sacrifice so that team success could flourish above all else.” There is also no penalty for defensive three seconds in the lane in FIBA competition, encouraging offensive movement and spacing around defensive big men who park in the paint.

“To bring it back over here and just have another year under my belt with Doc and know his system a little bit better,” Thybulle said, “I think it all just came together to make me more comfortable in that aspect.”

Another beneficial offseason experience arrived after Tokyo, when Harris invited Thybulle to train with him for a week in San Diego.

Harris arranged everything from flight and lodging, to workout scheduling and meal prep. Thybulle was taken aback by the precision and diligence of each session. And though the packed routine left no time for surfing, as Thybulle had hoped, he did sneak in watching one sunset on the beach after sprinting to his car, still in his basketball shoes, following a made basket to close the day’s workout.

“I was able to get a really good feel for what it looks like to develop,” Thybulle said. “There’s no point in me coming in here and working on step-back 3s off pick and roll — the stuff that’s fun but doesn’t actually make sense. It was interesting to see what a workout was like where you really just [honed] in. We had workouts where we worked on two moves, and I just wasn’t used to that.”

Added Rivers: “When we talked about it, he said he’s never seen anything like that — and that was the point. Tobias does these four- and five-a-days. … It’s maniacal.”

As a result, Rivers said Thybulle came into training camp with “a whole different mindset.” Being a stout defender is still a priority, especially without Ben Simmons present to guard the opposing team’s best offensive player.

There’s been less re-acclimation on that end of the floor following the injury, Thybulle said, because so much of his defensive play is intuitive. This season, he is fine-tuning the “much less sexy” aspects of defense, such as knowing when to gamble and when to be sound.

» READ MORE: Tobias Harris put his struggles against the Hawks behind him: ‘This year, it’s a new ballgame.’

Striking that balance can sometimes be “extremely hard,” he acknowledged. He averaged 1.6 steals and 1.1 blocks last season for a defense that ranked second in the NBA in efficiency (107 points allowed per 100 possessions), and already has seven steals and six blocks in four games entering Thursday.

“I have a reputation for doing the flashy things [such as] getting the steals, getting the blocks,” Thybulle said. “But what I need to get better at is just the minutiae, like the boring fundamentals of just being solid instead of trying to make that home run, that heroic play. Be the solid defender that keeps the man in front. Maybe they don’t score and I don’t get the steal, but our team benefits.”

And on the other end, Thybulle appreciates his teammates’ assist in helping him become more confident. After Embiid told Thybulle to smile and shoot in Oklahoma City, he knocked down his first three-pointer of the season.

“I really didn’t have the chance to play through all the mistakes that I wanted to and get comfortable out there again with the guys,” Thybulle said. " … [I’m] just getting a feel for the right shots and when to take them and when not to.”