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June 20, 2019

NBA Draft 2019: Sixers trade up to No. 20 to select Matisse Thybulle

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Matisse-Thybulle-Draft_062019_usat Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

Matisse Thybulle (Washington) is introduced prior to the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft at Barclays Center.

Rather than standing pat and hoping their man would fall to them, the Sixers were proactive on draft night, moving up to No. 20 in order to select Washington forward Matisse Thybulle, a team source confirmed to PhillyVoice on Thursday night. ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski was the first to report the trade.

The Sixers are sending pick No. 24 along with their first pick in the second round, No. 33 overall, in order to complete the deal with Boston. There is a new draft rule in the works apparently — the Sixers have to go through Boston in order to draft Washington players.

An immediate question that should be asked is whether the Sixers overpaid because they were locked in on a specific player. 

To be clear, Thybulle is a good prospect and fit in the program, and if you're going to make a deal on draft night, that's the sort of kid you do it for. But almost immediately after the Sixers made their deal, the Thunder and Grizzlies swapped picks No. 21 and 23 with the cost only amounting to a 2024 second-round pick. Giving up a high-value second here is a little risky, especially when this portion of the draft is volatile, even in deep classes.  

If Thybulle works out, no one is going to question the move, obviously. But focusing on (and mastering) the margins is a big part of being a successful GM, so it's worth raising this point in the immediate wake of the trade with Boston. 

On to the subject at hand — there is a reason Thybulle's name was constantly linked to the Sixers during the pre-draft process, despite the Washington product sitting out most of the pre-draft process. He checks a lot of boxes the Sixers need to be filled, and he should be able to help right away on the defensive end.

Thybulle's defensive package begins with his height (6'5") and a 7'0" wingspan, but those numbers do not do justice to the havoc he created as a college defender. Some players thrive in the middle of chaos, but Thybulle is the chaos. His hand speed is elite, and his reads in space/away from the ball routinely produce turnovers. His combined steal and block numbers are relatively unprecedented for a player in a major power conference, and the ability to create turnovers is something the Sixers lacked all of last season.

There is somewhat of a debate about whether that ability to create turnovers was a product of playing in a zone defense. While there is probably some truth to that, it is worth noting that a lot of off-ball defense at the NBA level is tied to zone principles. Even if you don't believe Thybulle is going to be a lockdown defender at the next level, the NBA is sort of transitioning away from that sort of defense anyway.

Offensively, there is room for debate on what Thybulle can contribute right away. His shooting percentages at Washington were good outside of his senior season, and on low volume he shot in the high 70s from the free-throw line over four seasons. There may be an adjustment period as he makes the transition to the deeper three-point line at the next level, which could cramp spacing while sharing the floor with the likes of Ben Simmons.

Even if the shot is a work in progress, the Sixers would likely be getting the best perimeter defender in the draft class, and after playing four years at Washington he has the experience to help them compete right now, which the Sixers have been vocal about wanting throughout the pre-draft process. He probably won't wow anyone as an offensive threat, but unleashing him against second units and letting him run the break with Simmons and company would give them a jolt of energy. 

Combined with last year's first-round pick, Zhaire Smith, suddenly the Sixers have some serious defensive potential waiting in the wings. That rush of young energy from the bench should do wonders for a star-laden team that will be focused on bigger prizes at the end of the season.


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