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Philadelphia 76ers X-Factor: Matisse Thybulle

As the 2021-22 NBA regular season approaches and training camp winds down across the league, we’ll be taking a look at the player on each team that holds the key to unlocking their potential. For the Philadelphia 76ers, the player in question is Matisse Thybulle.

In a broad sense, the level of uncertainty surrounding the 76ers is awe-inspiring. Philadelphia is operating in a bizarre situation with Ben Simmons, as the team’s second-best player was away from the team while holding out, only to return amid unusual circumstances. As such, Daryl Morey, Doc Rivers, and company can’t be positive on what, if anything, they will receive from Simmons on the floor. Given that Philadelphia is attempting to compete at the highest levels of the sport, that is largely an untenable position, and it places additional pressure on both Joel Embiid as the team’s unquestioned centerpiece and Philadelphia’s supporting cast.

Players like Tobias Harris, Seth Curry, and Tyrese Maxey will be asked to carry larger offensive loads if Simmons misses time, but his defensive presence would be sorely missed. Thybulle is the team’s best hope to replicate what Simmons traditionally provides defensively, as the 24-year-old wing is one of the NBA’s most disruptive ballhawks. Last season, Thybulle generated a 3.9 percent steal rate and a 4.9 block rate, producing 2.9 steals and 2.0 blocks per-36 minutes.

Those are off-the-charts figures that may not be fully replicable if Thybulle plays more minutes, but he was a 20-minute-per-game player across 65 regular season appearances. That isn’t the smallest of sample sizes and, if deployed more, Thybulle could legitimately enter All-Defense conversations at either guard or forward. Because Simmons is a tremendous defender in his own right, Thybulle’s impact will be needed in a big way, but he also has to hold up his end of the bargain on the other side of the court.

For now, Thybulle is one of the least potent offensive wings in the league. He attempted only 3.7 shots per game last season, converting at a 42 percent clip, and Thybulle is one of the shakier long-range marksman in the NBA. Across 300 three-point attempts in the NBA, Thybulle’s career three-point percentage (33 percent) isn’t fully disastrous. With that said, the combination of inaccuracy and low volume is tough to overcome, particularly on a team that plays through the post with Embiid as the offensive focal point.

It isn’t likely that Thybulle suddenly becomes an above-average, or even an average, offensive player in his third season. Still, the Sixers will need him to be able to stay on the floor to provide his trademark defensive pressure, and Rivers can only afford to keep him on the court for as long as Thybulle doesn’t submarine Philadelphia’s offense. Other players are more important to the team’s offensive development and/or the replication of Simmons’ contributions on that end, but Thybulle is truly an X-factor for the Sixers, both in the short and long-term.