The NBA Draft is now two weeks from tonight so it’s time to dig in for a deep dive on the Husky prospects with a serious chance of hearing their names selected starting with Matisse Thybulle.
Background/Career Stats and Achievements
Matisse Thybulle committed and signed with the Washington Huskies out of nearby Eastside Catholic in the fall of 2014 over offers from Oregon, Arizona State, and primarily Gonzaga as the allure of staying close to home won out. The lanky 6’5 wing was initially viewed as a fringe top-200 prospect until partway through his senior season of high school but took a leap to #104 overall in the 247 Sports composite and achieving a 4-star ranking.
It was clear from the get go with Thybulle’s length, athleticism, and effort that he would be a difference maker on the defensive end of the floor while trying to improve a still developing offensive game. Matisse was a member of an 8-person recruiting class following an offseason of massive turnover at Washington yet stepped in as an immediate starter as the 3rd guard alongside Andrew Andrews and Dejounte Murray. Thybulle averaged 6.2 points and 3.2 rebounds per game but shot less than 40% from the field.
The Huskies tanked in Thybulle’s sophomore season but it was Matisse’s best from an offensive statistical standpoint. He shot 40.5% from 3-pt range with Markelle Fultz drawing the defense’s attention. Thybulle also averaged 2+ steals for the first time and finished 3rd in the conference and 30th in the nation in steal percentage.
Year 3 meant the adoption of Mike Hopkins’s borrowed Syracuse zone and Matisse took to it instantly. Thybulle finished the year ranked 4th nationally in steal percentage while putting up more than 1 block per game, a rarity at 6’5. Those numbers helped him to win his 1st Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award. He also set per game career highs in points and assists although his efficiency dropped a little.
As a senior Matisse was once again the lynchpin of Washington’s zone and this time he unleashed a statistical season for the ages. Thybulle averaged 3.5 steals and 2.3 blocks per game while leading the nation in the former. That ridiculous season led him to a 1st team all-conference season as well as a Pac-12 and National Defensive Player of the Year award.
My normal bias would lead me to start with the offensive traits but with Thybulle you really can’t start anywhere but with his defense. Let’s get the caveat out of the way right now. Matisse has made his mark on the defensive end primarily playing at the front of Washington’s 2-3 zone. They don’t play zones in the NBA. Something has to give here.
The real question is can Thybulle carry over his defensive prowess when playing a traditional man-to-man scheme? I believe so but let’s get into why that may be.
We’ll start with the physical tools. Matisse declined an invitation to the NBA Draft Combine so we don’t have official measurements compared to everyone else in the draft. But from previous measurements it’s clear Matisse stands at about 6’5 with a near 7’0 wingspan. That +7 figure is one of the better ones in the draft class and puts him in good position to maintain his standing as an elite defender. He also pairs that with well above average athleticism and what is an approximately 40” inch vertical. And you can see both when you watch Thybulle play.
The play above is with Thybulle in a zone but that simple reset pass from the wing to the top of the arc happens in every NBA game. In that particular situation Thybulle is essentially just playing man defense and he came up with steals from that spot all the time. Defenders have to be hyper aware every time they make a pass when Thybulle is on the perimeter or it’s liable to be heading the other way for a dunk.
The blocks are what will be harder to maintain at the NBA level. Some of them come from Thybulle closing out with longer arms than a 3-pt shooter is expecting. But the majority were someone penetrating the zone via the dribble, pulling up for an open 10 foot jumper, and then having their shot swatted away from behind without them ever realizing Thybulle was stalking back there.
Those kind of plays will be much less frequent in the NBA but the translatable skill is Matisse’s seemingly supernatural ability to perfectly time his swipes to get all ball. It felt like at least 1/3rd of Thybulle’s fouls committed on defense were because a ref wasn’t in position or just simply couldn’t fathom that Thybulle could’ve made that particular play cleanly. And 99.9% of people on the planet couldn’t. Matisse is the exception to the laws of defense.
The most important skill in today’s NBA though is the ability to credibly switch and defend as many positions as possible. It’s true that he has less experience doing this than your average 4-year senior. But Matisse was the team’s lone above average defender his sophomore year when the team ran a “switch everything” defense to disastrous results. With his size, speed, and length he should be able to switch onto any perimeter player and is strong enough to at least put up a fight on most combo forwards in today’s NBA.
Given how special Matisse’s defense can be, he doesn’t have a very tall bar to clear with his offensive game in order to be at least an average NBA contributor. Unfortunately, Thybulle’s abilities on that end of the floor seemed to stagnate a bit during his four seasons. His offensive rating throughout his career went from 101.5 to 106.7 to 103.7 to 103.3. In order to succeed in the NBA there are a few skills that Matisse is going to need.
The most important of those is the ability to make a catch and shoot 3-pointer. Spacing is the name of the game in the NBA and the playoffs show that unless you’re an above average shooter that defenses will sag way off and dare you to make an open shot. 94% of Matisse’s 3-pointers were assisted which means that he’s almost never pulling up and shooting off the dribble. He’ll need someone else to drive and kick to create his shot for him. Thybulle saw his 3-pt percentage reach a career low 30.5% this past season after making at least 36% of his shots from deep in each of his first 3 years.
There’s a clear difference however in how Thybulle performs when his shots are contested. Matisse made 48% of unguarded 3-pointers over his entire Washington career which is good for 1.43 points per possession. Golden State this season led the league scoring 1.14 points per possession. If a defense leaves Matisse wide open, he is more than capable of making them pay.
The problem then is that Matisse made just 27.4% of his outside shots when they were guarded which results in just 0.809 points per possession. For his career Thybulle shot below 40% from the field on Spot Up attempts, Off Screens, and on Dribble Handoffs. He was particularly poor in the latter with marks of just 0.77 and 0.65 points per possession respectively in those situations. It’s not exactly uncommon but Thybulle is a well below average shooter if he’s forced to move off initial spot. If Matisse could even get to average in those situations it would be a big boost to his offensive value.
The other bread and butter staple of the NBA is the pick and roll. Matisse had 87 possessions as the ball handler in the P&R and averaged 0.725 points per possession while shooting just below 42%. Thybulle would occasionally find an open man with a nice drive and dish but more often than not he over-dribbled himself into trouble without a plan. If Thybulle is out there with a scoring deficient second unit then maybe he gets a few P&R possessions but if a team expects him to be able to do it as a regular part of their offense then they’re just not using him correctly.
Projected NBA Role and Fit
Given everything that I’ve written above it makes it crystal clear that Thybulle is the consummate 3 and D player. He was extremely content in his senior season to take a back seat to Jaylen Nowell, Noah Dickerson, and David Crisp. Matisse doesn’t need shot attempts to be happy. He’s more than willing to have his primary mission be to shut down the opposing team’s best scorer.
Depending on which team he goes to, that can be either an advantage or a detriment. Thybulle is ready to be a contributor from day one and he fits best on a team that has a winning defensive culture already established. He could play either the SG or SF position depending on what a team already has on the wing. But ideally Thybulle would be the 4th or 5th scoring option and be placed in a position where he’s not asked to create for himself or others.
Thybulle’s camp realizes that it’d be a disaster for him to go to a team like Phoenix where no one else cares about defense. Unless you’re a Rudy Gobert type rim protector it’s almost impossible for a single player to completely transform a defense. Matisse would be lost in that situation with no one able to see his defensive impact because of the lazy defense around him. That’s why Thybulle didn’t attend the combine and why I’m sure they are only giving a select few teams his medicals.
There are a few teams that stand out to me as being particular good fits for Matisse. I think he’d be fantastic in Portland where one of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum will be on the court at all times and so Thybulle would never be asked to handle the offensive load while getting the challenge of the opponent’s best guard. Similarly, Oklahoma City has both Russell Westbrook and Paul George and the Thunder have been at their best with the oft-injured Andre Roberson on the court. Thybulle could give them insurance for another Roberson injury and then take over for him in a year once his contract expires. Finally, the Spurs will get fellow 2015 UW draft class member Dejounte Murray back from an ACL tear next year and Thybulle could help team with him to make a monstrous defensive back court.
Projected NBA Draft Position
Thybulle is the kind of player that has extra value for a winning team. And winning teams generally pick at the back half of the 1st round. Thybulle’s camp either already have a promise or are only giving his medicals to a select few teams near the back end of the 1st round to ensure he winds up in the right situation. I think he’ll end up in one of these 4 spots:
1st round, #21 overall- Oklahoma City Thunder
1st round, #24 overall- Philadelphia 76ers
1st round, #25 overall- Portland Trail Blazers
1st round, #29 overall- San Antonio Spurs (via Raptors)
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