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October 04, 2019

Instant observations: Matisse Thybulle shines at Sixers' Blue & White scrimmage

WILMINGTON — Matisse Thybulle was the star of the show during the Sixers' Blue & White scrimmage on Saturday, helping a team of backups hang around against the starters for a good chunk of the friendly matchup. We'll get our first look at these Sixers against hostile competition when they open their preseason Tuesday, but this was a nice teaser for the time being.

Here's what I saw on Saturday afternoon.

The Good

• He likely won't need to have a huge role when the Sixers have Joel Embiid and Al Horford available, but Kyle O'Quinn will fit in just fine here. Every NBA team could use a backup big like him — he's loud and proud on defense in an effort to keep everyone organized, and he has a motor that never stops running.

But he showed a couple of traits that'll help him get acclimated quickly in Philly. He nailed a three in the first quarter, which would be huge if it became a regular thing for him, and O'Quinn's passing out of the post created several open looks for Philly's second unit. If you can defend, pass, and shoot, there will always be minutes for you.

• You can absolutely tell why Matisse Thybulle has been drawing rave reviews from his teammates and the coaching staff at camp. There are still things for him to clean up and work on offensively, but he was a terror in the scrimmage, coming up with defensive plays that didn't even seem possible at times.

One of the highlights came in the second quarter when he ended up on his back after skying for an offensive rebound and getting tangled up with a teammate. Rather than give up on the play as the Blue squad pushed it in transition, he got on his horse and blocked Josh Richardson's transition three-point attempt as it was leaving his hand, and the resounding thud echoed through the gym afterward.

Thybulle is barely on the screen when Richardson catches that ball and loads up to shoot, and yet it didn't matter. If I was judging strictly based on this scrimmage, I might bet on him to lead the league in steals.

(I'm certainly not going to bet on him to do that as a rookie, especially because we don't know what his minutes load will be, but that's how good he was on defense. And he was playing against the Sixers group that had all the starters!)

That block was but one highlight in a game filled with breakups, poke-aways, and disruptions by Thybulle, and while this is only a sliver of the work we'll see before the season starts, he looks like he's going to play his way into the rotation at warp speed.

• Tobias Harris didn't exactly light the world on fire as a shooter on Saturday, but it was nice to see him in a role where he has the ball in his hands more and can use all the tricks in his bag. He's going to end up matched up with smaller defenders a lot this season, and he's overqualified to take them down to the low block and punish them in that scenario.

Harris also had a chance to take the reins of the offense and run two-man game with Philadelphia's bigs at times, which was an area of his game that fell by the wayside playing next to Jimmy Butler last season. I wouldn't expect him to offer Butler-level production, but the sooner he can build some real chemistry with Embiid and/or Horford, the better.

• Al Horford and Josh Richardson didn't make any "wow" plays, but you did get a glimpse of how scary this team might be on defense. With the full starting five out there, the Sixers were breaking up passes, switching from 1-5 without any issues, and looking as strong as everyone believes they can be. I'll be thrilled when we can judge them against other NBA teams in the near future.

• Saturday was a great display of why I wouldn't lock Burke into the backup point guard spot despite some training camp buzz. When Burke looks good, he looks real good and draws the oohs and aahs, but Neto was a pain in the butt for him to get by in one-on-one matchups and he forced him into a couple of really tough shots around the basket that fell away harmlessly. Neto also showed off the same craft with the ball in his hands that we saw in Utah, at least playing Burke to a standstill on that side of the floor.

The battle between these two feels like it has some real juice. It'll be a fun competition to track during the preseason with a good chunk of the rotation set in stone.

• If it feels like I am raving a lot about the bench at the expense of the starters, it's because the backups showed there's a lot to like about this group at this early stage. Depth has been a problem for the Sixers for years, but they appear to have the right blend heading into the year. It's always a good thing to have young guys pushing the vets for playing time.

• Nobody got hurt (at least that I'm aware of) which is priority No. 1 in this sort of game.

The Bad

• I don't even think it's fair to criticize guys for how they look in a scrimmage unless they're woefully out of shape or something along those lines. Everyone had their moments on Saturday.

*Stephen A. Smith voice* BUT!!!!!

Ben Simmons was wide open with the ball in his hands at the top of the key and no one closing out on him early in the second quarter, and he never even looked up to consider shooting. He had another opportunity in the corner with no one near him in the second half, and he decided to drive for a wide-open dunk instead. The second one is defensible but this is the exact setting where you say "Who cares?" about a wide-open dunk and try to work on your game. No consequences if you miss it. 

Anyway, it's just a scrimmage, etc. etc., but if it's not going to change in that setting, it seems strange to expect a huge, sudden shift when the real games start. Kyle O'Quinn had multiple three-point attempts in the first half alone! 

The Ugly

• Just a couple of minutes into the scrimmage, Matisse Thybulle flashed the defensive ability that got him drafted in the first place, breaking up a play and sprinting in the other direction for what looked like an easy dunk. Unfortunately, he forgot to load up on the jump and he ended up clanging the attempt off of the rim.

Welcome to the league, young fella. Everyone gets a freebie, make sure to flush it next time.

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