The Sixers have a Matisse Thybulle dilemma ahead of the 2023 NBA trade deadline
A week before the Feb. 9 NBA trade deadline, Matisse Thybulle’s name is back in the rumor mill.
On Monday, longtime NBA insider Marc Stein reported that the Sacramento Kings are “monitoring” Thybulle’s abilities as they consider “pursuing a more defensive option on the fringes.” On Wednesday, Keith Pompey from the Philadelphia investigators confirmed the Kings’ interest in Thybulle, adding that freshman head coach Mike Brown was “a fan” of his. Pompey also reported that the Golden State Warriors “have had internal discussions about Thybulle” and “like him as a defensive stopper.”
Neither Stein nor Pompey mentioned what the Kings or Warriors would be willing to give up for Thybulle, although “multiple league sources” told Pompey that “Thybulle’s lack of consistent production has lowered its commercial value.” The sources added that they would not give up a first-round pick for him at the moment.
As the Sixers assess the market for Thybulle ahead of the trading deadline, they must weigh how the offers they receive affect both their immediate and long-term prospects. Thybulle could be crucial to their chances of winning a championship this year, but he could also leave them empty-handed this offseason if he signs elsewhere in restricted free agency.
Thybulle started this season as a fringe rotation thanks to the offseason additions of PJ Tucker, De’Anthony Melton and Danuel House Jr., though he has since supplanted House. He’s playing a career-low 12.1 minutes per game this season, but he’s averaging 2.7 steals and 0.9 blocks per 36 minutes. He’s also fourth in the league on estimated plus/minus defense in Dunks and Threes, behind only Jaren Jackson Jr., Alex Caruso and OG Anunoby.
While Thybulle’s defensive splash plays have long made Thybulle an analytics darling, his penchant for playing to steal and block sometimes throws him out of position. When his teammates aren’t rotating on a string, the Sixers’ defense tends to collapse, often conceding easy buckets on those plays.
Thybulle, however, has been key to the Sixers’ zone defenses, which they have immersed themselves in more this year than in previous seasons. They may also save themselves a wildcard for the playoffs in this regard.
“We just feel like that’s a good zone group, especially with Matisse in the game,” head coach Doc Rivers said after Monday night’s loss to the Orlando Magic in reference to the Sixers’ second session. “We don’t do that often because he and [De’Anthony Melton] are not on the floor together. But when they’re on the floor together, that’s our best zone group. But every time Matisse is on the ground, it’s a good zone group.
While Thybulle won’t shut down an elite wing like Boston’s Jayson Tatum or Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant in the playoffs, the Sixers may need as many defensive options as they can muster in matchups like this. However, last year’s playoffs raised concerns about Thybulle’s ability to stay grounded in April, May and June.
Because Thybulle is such a low-volume, low-efficiency three-point shooter — he’s attempting just 1.3 per game this year and shooting 33.3 percent from deep — opponents have no qualms about leaving him unguarded on the perimeter and Joel Embiid extra help to afford and James Harden. NBA teams can’t stop everything an offense throws at them, but they’d much rather have Thybulle hit them from the deep than Embiid or Harden destroying a single cover.
According to PhillyVoice’s Kyle Neubeck, “the level of organizational trust in Thybulle is not high.” Pompey added that he “has not progressed offensively to the Sixers’ satisfaction since the end of last season.” Unless the Sixers envision that changing over the next few months, they’ll have to weigh how much — if any — they see Thybulle making its way into their playoff rotation.
This time of year it’s especially important for front offices and coaching staff to be in step. If Rivers expects to use Thybulle as one of his key reserves in the playoffs, team president Daryl Morey and general manager Elton Brand might be more reluctant to move him. But if Rivers sees Thybulle more as an 82-game player (in Draymond Green language) as a playoff-caliber rotation member, the Sixers might not lose much by moving him before the trade deadline.
While the Sixers should be looking to win a title this year, Morey, Brand and the rest of the front office also need to keep an eye on their long-term prospects. A team as cash-strapped as the Sixers can’t afford to lose Thybulle as a free agent this summer for nothing. They have the right to match any offer sheet he signs since he’s a restricted free agent, but they could lose him for nothing if another team signs him on a bloated contract they don’t match.
The Sixers already have a $117.1 million guaranteed salary on their books for next season, and Harden, Shake Milton, Georges Niang and Paul Reed will join Thybulle in free agency. Danuel House Jr. and Montrezl Harrell can also become free agents by turning down their $4.3 million and $2.8 million player options, respectively, for the 2023-24 season, but the Sixers probably wouldn’t mind to lose one of them. In any case, signing Harden alone could put them close to the projected $162 million luxury tax threshold. If they don’t duck under the tax limit this year, they will also be subject to the stricter repeat tax next year.
Unless the Sixers expect to re-sign Thybulle this summer, it would make sense to trade him before the deadline, especially if they can land someone signed beyond this season. However, finding a suitable wing-for-wing swap could be difficult, especially with Thybulle moving to another team in win-now mode. His small contract ($4.4 million) and the NBA’s salary adjustment rules on trades also limit the Sixers’ options. (Bojan Bogdanovic and Eric Gordon are outside of their realistic price range.)
There is no right answer as to whether the Sixers Thybulle should act before the deadline. The only certainty is that Morey, Brand and Doc will have to make their decision one way or the other.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics via NBA.com, PPBStats, cleaning the glass or Basketball Reference. All salary information per Spotrac or RealGM.