January 31, 2020
Matisse Thybulle was not named to one of the spots in the Rising Stars game at All-Star Weekend, the NBA announced on Friday.
As a general rule, the Rising Stars game is not worth your time, attention, or money. It is a way for the casual fan to get acquainted with a group of young players they may have only seen once or twice before, a glorified advertisement for a league that wants to sell star power to the masses at all times. It is hardly some career-defining honor and is closer to an affront to the sport than a real basketball game.
*Stephen A. Smith voice* BUT!!!!!
Thybulle not being named to this game is absolutely ridiculous. It reeks of the problem that has dogged these honors for years, namely ignoring the value of defense in order to pump up rookies who shoot the ball a lot, and not necessarily well.
There are basically two brands of rookie — guy who puts up numbers on a terrible team, or guy who contributes as a role player on a good team. Exceptions to the rule come around every so often (Simmons put up numbers on a 50-win team, for example, and there aren't many like him) but those are the archetypes, and Thybulle happens to fall in the latter camp. But I think even framing it like that sells him short, because Thybulle has helped to give Philadelphia's second unit an actual identity, which is not something you can say about many young players. The average young player simply does not impact the game defensively, but Thybulle does and does loudly.
Combined with Ben Simmons, Thybulle has made Philadelphia's second unit an absolute nightmare to play against at times. He has been asked to defend top perimeter assignments on teams all around the league, from Kemba Walker to LeBron James, and with a few exceptions he has come out looking good every time. He is in the top-15 in steals per game, the only rookie in the top-65 in that category despite playing just over 20 minutes per game, well behind some of his peers at the heart of terrible teams.
And yes, Thybulle lags behind a lot of his peers in the scoring department. He averages less than five points per game on a loaded Philly roster, primarily asked to space the floor and get up and down in transition. He shoots 38.6 percent from the field, 63.9 percent from the line, and is a long way from being a consistently useful player on offense. If this came down to a fan vote, I would understand wanting to put more gunners in the game at the expense of a defensive hound.
But these rosters are selected by NBA assistant coaches, who should be expected to know better and value things other than, "Does this guy take a lot of shots?" Unlike many of his peers, Thybulle impacts winning on a regular basis. With all due respect to someone like, say, Eric Paschall, Thybulle is having a little bit more of an impact on the season than he is.
The real beef most will have here is with the USA vs. the World format, which totally screwed Thybulle. The USA roster is fairly loaded, while the world team was bad enough to include players like Moe Wagner and Svi Mykhailiuk. Even acknowledging that imbalance, we can point out the fact that the Hornets were able to get three guys on the Team USA roster, and the Wizards were able to get two different guys on the World roster, and those teams stink out loud.
I don't think there's a way to format the game that doesn't screw somebody. If they do it by conference, there are constant imbalances in the East vs. West. If they do it as a pure rookie vs. sophomore game, there are classes that are much better than others. Thybulle got the short end of the stick, but I don't think debating the format is worth too much energy.
It'll more than likely serve as motivation for the rook, who has taken to criticism and instruction well this year, so this may end up being a blessing in disguise for Philadelphia.
UPDATE [5:38 p.m.] — Apparently Matisse Thybulle's agent, Eric Goodwin, was not happy with his client being snubbed from this year's Rising Stars Challenge, and issued the following statement on Friday evening.
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