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In-Depth Player Study: Matisse Thybulle

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The first in a look at the strengths and weaknesses of each major Husky returner

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

We are now 6 weeks away from the start of basketball season. This article is the beginning of a series which will provide a weekly in-depth examination into each of the 6 major contributors returning in 2017-18. They will include a mixture of statistics, film study, and analysis. The statistics will come via a mix of Basketball Reference, Kenpom, and Synergy Sports. There are a lot of unknowns for next season given that the Huskies lost both their primary ball handler/star and their head coach. We may not know exactly how every player will be deployed but we can look at how they played last season and determine relevant trends to inform decisions moving forward. We’ll begin with a look at Matisse Thybulle and run one per week until the season starts.

Background

Matisse was a consensus 4-star recruit coming out of Eastside Catholic High School. Lorenzo Romar rarely went to the Eastside for talent so securing Thybulle’s commitment over Gonzaga and Oregon was a big deal. A starter from day one, the 6’6” Thybulle has offered tantalizing athleticism, a giant wingspan, and a sweet shooting stroke. Thybulle showed the potential to be a lockdown defender during his freshman season but foul trouble, like with the rest of the young Dawgs, limited his playing time. He averaged 10.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per 40 minutes while shooting 36.6% from beyond the arc.

This past season, he took a step forward in the scoring department and a step back in rebounding to average 14 points and 4.1 rebounds per 40 minutes. Given his increased scoring output, it isn’t a surprise that his free throw percentage rose from 71% to 84% and his 3-point percentage rose to 40.5%. Meanwhile, on defense Thybulle increased his steal percentage to 2nd in the conference and 30th nationally at 3.9%. The foul problems persisted but dropped from 5.4 per 40 to 3.9 per 40 and he only fouled out of one game in conference play.

Offensive Strengths

Shooting

Thybulle’s most valuable contribution on the offensive end is his ability to stretch the floor as a spot up shooter. He made a 3-pointer in all but three games last season and made multiple 3’s in over half of the Dawgs’ games. In catch and shoot situations, Thybulle averaged 1.21 points per possession. That figure places him in the 61st percentile in college basketball among players with at least as many attempts. And generally players don’t get that many attempts unless they’re a good shooter to start with. The Huskies last season made a point of trying to get Thybulle going early in games. See here on the first play against Nevada as Thybulle starts on the right side of your screen then tries to lose his man through the paint before getting a screen from Noah Dickerson to create daylight for the 3-point make.

Another area where Thybulle’s shooting can make a difference is in transition. The Warriors have been the face of a revolution where the trailer 3 is often viewed as a better look on the fast break than taking it to the basket. Thybulle shot 45% from behind the arc on transition opportunities including a blistering 10/18 from the left wing.

Offensive Weaknesses

Rebounding

Thybulle reportedly has close to a 40-inch vertical leap and a 7-foot wingspan. Given Matisse’s natural athletic abilities, it seems like he should be a great offensive rebounder but he has struggled at it to this point in his career. Thybulle’s offensive rebound percentage of 2.9% was lower on the team than anyone except for David Crisp who is 5 inches shorter with a vertical leap that is probably a foot less. Part of this is likely scheme related. Thybulle spends almost all of his time on the perimeter which limits his opportunities. He also drives to the basket less often than Washington’s other guards. Still, given his physical profile it seems extremely plausible for Thybulle to average an extra offensive rebound per game.

Ball Handling

This is Thybulle’s biggest buggaboo. While Thybulle improved in many aspects between his freshman and sophomore seasons, both his assist rate and turnover rate got marginally worse and resulted in him ending the year with more turnovers than assists. The Huskies averaged a very poor 0.66 points per possession every time Thybulle ended the possession getting the ball off a screen, on a hand off, or as the pick and roll ball handler. That was good for worse than the 25th percentile in each of those scenarios.

The Dawgs only ran the pick and roll with Thybulle 17 times last year but it led to a turnover on 6 of those possessions. Much more common was when Thybulle would get the ball off a screen. The results were particularly disastrous when Matisse came off a screen to the shooter’s right. On those possessions, Thybulle shot just 23.5% from the field while turning the ball over 25% of the time.

Thybulle is the best foul shooter on the team by a substantial margin. Late in the game you want that guy to have the ball in his hands with a lead and trust that he can hang onto it. You also want them to be able to reliably drive to the rim and pick up fouls. That last one is also a definite area for improvement.

On this play, Thybulle gets his defender in the air and makes the good decision to drive to the hoop. Once he encounters the help however, he makes a very poor decision to try a bounce pass to Matthew Atewe who was only a couple of feet away and had no chance to catch it. A wrap around pass would’ve likely resulted in a dunk but instead it was a turnover. Thybulle needs to get better in these situations to unwrap his complete offensive potential.

Defensive Strengths

Blocking the Passing Lanes

As noted in the intro, Thybulle’s long arms allow him to get a ton of steals.

Thybulle here reads the passer’s eyes and is able to cut off the pass to the wing. Other guys might have gotten there in time to get a finger on it and deflect it out of bounds but Thybulle does much more. He gains control of it and is able to work with Markelle Fultz on the fast break to result in a score. This may be the defensive strength section but an offensive weakness shows up as Matisse comes very close to committing a turnover on the fastbreak and is fortunate to end up with a layup.

Coach Romar always talked about the fact that they kept track of deflections and thought it was a better metric for measuring a defensive player’s hustle and impact than steals. We can’t tell exactly how well Thybulle scored compared to others in that metric since no one else measures it but anecdotally he gets his hands on more balls than any Husky I can remember. He puts pressure on every ball handler to make a perfect pass any time he’s near the lane because otherwise he’s getting his hand on it.

Defending the Pick and Roll Ball Handler

Thybulle does a good job of recognizing that the pick is about to happen and staying with his guy. He is most effective when the opposing ball handler comes off the pick and tries to dribble into a jumper rather than taking it to the hoop. Thybulle’s length is enough for him to recover when the shooter pulls up which allows him to either block or bother the shot. Opponents shot just 26.8% in these situations which puts Thybulle in the 84th percentile nationally. He also forced a turnover on 21.3% of total pick and roll possessions.

Defensive Weaknesses

Fouling after Mistakes

Matisse is generally a fairly stoic guy on the court. If he gets called for a foul that he doesn’t think he deserves you may see him smile and slowly shake his head but that’s about as animated as he gets. Nonetheless, he still has problems keeping his emotions under control at times. Oftentimes when he makes a mistake on offense, usually a turnover, he tries too hard to make up for it and compounds the dumb turnover with a dumb foul. That frustration would be better channeled into working extra hard to get into solid defensive position rather than picking up a cheap foul and sending the other team to the line.

The turnover leads to a one man fast break from the UCLA big guy who clearly is not used to having to dribble the ball. He blatantly travels on the play going to the hoop. It’s possible that if Matisse doesn’t swipe his hand down there that they actually call it. And even if they don’t that’s a low percentage play. He doesn’t have an angle where he could realistically get the ball without hitting the arms as well. If Matisse could cut out one foul like this per game it would allow him to play an extra 4-5 minutes and presumably more than make up for the 0.2 expected points that the Huskies lose from the 10% chance he forces the big man to dribble off his foot. Saying that his problem is caring too much is a little like saying during a job interview that your biggest weakness is you work too hard and don’t take breaks. It may seem like a cop out answer but some times it can be true.

Next Steps

Matisse Thybulle is a guy that I still think has the potential to make an NBA roster one day. He has NBA athleticism with a long wingspan which gives him the ability to develop into a shutdown wing defender (a trait that is among the most valuable out there right now). He also has become a very good outside shooter and if that continues to improve then he is the consummate 3 and D guy.

Unfortunately, shooting and defense are the only areas Matisse contributes strongly towards right now. They’re two of the most coveted skills out there but Thybulle needs to improve his complementary skills to become a star in college and a contributor at the pro level.

The first area for improvement is his decision making. He isn’t a strong dribbler or passer but he doesn’t have to be to be a more well-rounded player. The first step is simply to play within himself and to make the correct play. Keep the offense flowing until he finds himself with space behind the three point line or behind the basket for an alley-oop. Make the easy pass and don’t drive to the basket unless you have an achievable plan for what to do if the lane gets sealed. The problem of fouling after a turnover automatically gets better if he cuts down on the turnovers. Becoming a better passer would be a huge bonus given the team’s lack of depth at point guard but at this point it would be just that: a bonus.

On defense, Thybulle needs to make sure that he doesn’t start developing bad habits in order to pad his steal totals. He doesn’t strike me as the type of person who is going to chase numbers. But particularly if he gets to play at the front of a 2-3 zone, Thybulle will have the chance to lead the conference if not the nation in steals. It’s very easy to inflate steals totals at the expense of good defense by gambling and leaving the rest of the defense responsible for covering for your mistake. Under Coach Hop, it should be easier for Thybulle to trust the rest of the defense and make playing in concert with his teammates the first priority while still being opportunistic going for steals.

2017/18 Predictions:

31 minutes per game, 13.8 points per game, 4.1 rebounds per game, 2.5 steals per game, 47%/42%/85% FG%/3pt%/FT%