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Sixers’ Summer League coach Connor Johnson explains how Matisse Thybulle must learn to defend as a pro

Matisse Thybulle, Connor Johnson

Matisse Thybulle was billed as arguably the best perimeter defender in the 2019 NBA Draft. But that distinction, accurate as it may be, fails to convey the greatest strength of his utterly unique game: making plays as a help defender.

The No. 20 overall pick of the 2018 NBA Draft showed off that truly rare ability at Las Vegas Summer League, averaging 2.0 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. As Sixers summer coach Connor Johnson sees it, though, many of the turnovers Thybulle forced came as a result of him deviating from his team’s defensive scheme, risks he won’t have such freedom to take during the regular season.

“Where Matisse is not gonna take as much chances, or get to take as many chances, (is) when he’s playing in a Sixer game with the stakes on the line,” Johnson said. per The Athletic’s Rich Hofmann. “So I think it’s kind of understanding — one of it’s just understanding the reads and kinda our defensively philosophy, but two is showing some discipline that he knows when to make an impact, but he also knows when he’s gotta stay home because he’s guarding a shooter.”

Thybulle’s offensive performance at Summer League was arguably more encouraging than his play on the other end. After struggling from beyond the arc as a senior at Washington, he shot 39.3 percent on a team-high 5.6 three-point attempts per game in Las Vegas. Matisse Thybulle averaged 11.6 points per game, and made 91.7 percent of his free throws, too.

Expect him to compete for reserve minutes on the wing as a rookie with 2018 first-round pick Zhaire Smith, who’s debut campaign was wasted by an allergic reaction that resulted in a days-long hospital stay.