Anyone who has watched more than a few minutes of Washington Husky basketball this season knows that Matisse Thybulle has had a monster defensive season so far. The eye test and the stats all align on this. Thybulle was seemingly genetically engineered in a lab to play the front of the 2-3 zone. He gets his hands on everything whether it be shot or pass. In fact, he’s been historic in his ability to do so.
Thybulle currently has a steal percentage of 5.9% which is 5th in the country. While it’s not quite as impressive in the national context, Matisse has also been a very good to elite shot blocker. His block percentage is currently 6.1% which puts him at 139th in the country. Only one player as tall as or shorter than Thybulle’s 6’5 ranks in the top-100 so he’s at elite levels when compared to fellow wings.
The question is how rare is it for someone to have a steal and block percentage both at or above Thybulle’s 5.9%? Kenpom.com has data going back to 2004 on steal and block percentages. And it’s an easy answer. 0. Not a single player has accomplished what Matisse is currently on pace for. But Thybulle has the advantage of only playing the non-conference schedule so far.
So I broadened my search. I looked at Power-6 (Football 5 plus the Big East) schools where a player had a steal percentage above 5% to see who had the most blocks within that group. That cushions in some expected regression once the level of competition goes up during conference play.
Turns out it’s not a very big list either. During those 14 seasons only 23 players even reached the 5% steals benchmark. About 3 players every 2 years. And it’s clear that only one player in recent history has been anything like Thybulle.
In 2015, Gary Payton Jr. finished the year with a steal percentage of 5.51% and a block percentage of 4.4%. That block figure is double the next best for anyone with that high of a steal percentage (Marcus Smart in 2013 Bk% of 2.2%). He unsurprisingly won back-to-back Pac-12 defensive player of the year awards because of those numbers. Payton played at the top of a 1-3-1 zone for much of that year so both he and Matisse were deployed in similar manners.
But you can’t use the Syracuse zone to diminish Thybulle’s accomplishments. The zone magnifies Matisse’s talents but he’s still blowing away previous Syracuse wings. A player who Matisse has been compared to this season is Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams who parlayed his defensive success with the Orange into a 1st round draft pick. In Michael’s one season as a starter he had a steal percentage of 4.8% and a block percentage of 1.7%. Still nowhere close to what Matisse is doing. Another 1st round pick in Dion Waiters had a steal percentage of 4.6% and a block percentage of 1.5%. It’s clear that Thybulle is having a rare season.
Matisse’s numbers will come down to earth somewhat. In their 4 games against elite competition, Thybulle has had a steal percentage of 6.6% (actually up) and a block percentage of 3% (cut in half). This is a completely different defense but the past two years that trend was also true as his steal percentage stayed nearly constant in conference play but the block percentage dropped off a little. But both figures are nearly double what they were previously so how will that impact the trends?
No matter how you slice it, Matisse is having one of the greatest defensive seasons not just in Washington history but in recent NCAA history. And he’s only a junior with less than a year’s experience playing in the zone. Just think how scary he could be next year.