The 76ers may have ended a trend of selecting one-and-done college players in the first round of the NBA draft when they took shooting guard/small forward Matisse Thybulle out of the University of Washington with the No. 20 overall pick in this year’s draft.
Two of their last three players drafted in the first round had long college careers.
In a prearranged deal, the Boston Celtics took Thybulle with the No. 20 pick. His rights were later traded to the Sixers in exchange for the draft rights of their No. 24 pick and No. 33 pick.
After a recent workout at the team’s practice facility in Camden, Thybulle said he felt staying all four seasons in college make him a more valuable player to the Sixers.
“I think it helps me be more valuable, more experienced, more mature,” the 22-year-old said. “I think I’ve set a pretty good foundation for myself, just showing people what I’m capable of. So coming into this, we all know what to expect. I thought I made it clear in college what my strengths are so when we come in here we know what to expect, what to work on and how I can help this team.”
There is something about an NBA player who comes to the pros who has stuck it out and played three or four seasons of his eligibility.
There is a level of maturity you don’t always see in a one-and-done project.
Based on the max contracts the Sixers have given to recent one-and-done players, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the team is thrilled with the picks.
But there have been bumps in the road that were related to injuries, maturity issues and even with basketball fundamentals. Simmons has yet to make a 3-point shot in his two all-star NBA seasons in Philadelphia.
The jury is still out on 2018 pick Zhaire Smith. Smith played one season with Texas Tech before being selected No. 17 overall. Smith missed most of the 2018-19 season dealing with health issues.
The Sixers’ other first-round pick in 2018 was guard Landry Shamet. He was taken with the No. 26 overall pick out of Wichita State, where he played three seasons.
Shamet was having a solid rookie season before he was traded in February 2019 to the Los Angeles Clippers as part of a deal that brought Tobias Harris to the Sixers. Harris just signed a five-year, $180 million contract after helping the Sixers make it to game seven of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
There was also the massive dud of a one-and-done pick in Markelle Fultz, taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft out of Washington.
Fultz had health and confidence issues from day one, played very little and on Feb. 7, 2019, was traded to the Orlando Magic in exchange for Jonathon Simmons and two draft picks.
Thybulle played all four years at Washington. He talked about whether he thought about leaving early like his former college teammate Fultz.
“I started thinking about it after my sophomore year,” Thybulle said. “Then after my junior year, I considered it. For me, when I sat down with my family and my coaches, the main thing was like…why leave early when you can stay another year and make yourself even more valuable to these teams, then be ready to step into a role off the bat as opposed to being like a project.”
Thybulle was asked why he never actually tested the waters about entering the NBA Draft early.
“The way we look at it, if I was going to do it, I was going to be all in,” Thybulle said. “I didn’t believe in the one-foot-in, one-foot-out. I was going in all the way or not, and we didn’t.”
Thybulle appears to be the complete package. He has a tremendous wing span and seems to get his hands on the ball all game.
As a senior in 2019, he was recognized as the top defender in the nation with the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year and the Lefty Driesell Award. Thybulle also earned first-team all-conference honors in the Pac-12, and repeated as the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.
Thybulle led the entire NCAA Division I with steals his junior season, coming up with 3.5 thefts per game. He finished his four seasons with the Huskies sporting an outstanding 2.4 steals per game.
He is also a good 3-point shooter. Thybulle shot .358 from beyond the arc for his career at Washington.
Thybulle said his 3-point shooting and defense will be his ticket to getting playing time as a rookie.
“Just being a ‘3 and D’ guy,” Thybulle said. “Just being able to create more possessions for us on defense and then spacing the floor and being like an outlet or a corner 3-type guy.”
In the NBA summer league, Thybulle has shown his long-range touch and unselfishness.
“For me, it’s always been a part of what I do to be a good teammate,” Thybulle said. “I take pride in trying to find the open guy. So just being able to create for the team, really. And that means if I have the open shot, I’ll take it, but a lot of the times, the way defenses rotate nowadays, you try to find the next guy who is open.”
In the Sixers’ game against Oklahoma City, the Sixers fell behind by 31 points in the first half and trailed at halftime by 26.
Thybulle and his teammates stormed back to take the game to overtime. The 6-foot-5, 195-pounder drove the lane and scored the game-tying basket with 10 seconds left in regulation.
Thybulle scored 15 points and pulled down six rebounds in a loss to the Celtics the night before.
He said he and teammates are starting to figure things out.
“I think it’s going to be a day-by-day thing,” Thybulle said. “Me and a lot of guys feel the same way. We’re just getting more and more comfortable out there. Guys are able to get back to what they’re known to do. For me, it’s getting steals and deflections like I’ve been doing before and continuing to grow.”
Thybulle said there were other teams interested in him. But once the Sixers showed real interest in him, he said he let it be known there was no other place he wanted to play.
“You’ve seen the team, right?” Thybulle laughed. “They’re a team that was arguably a couple bounces away from being in the championship. Why wouldn’t you want to be part of something like that? It’s just the way some franchises are run. For me, it a great situation. For me, being a ‘3 and D’ guy on a team that hangs its hat on defense, I thought it was a great spot.”
Apparently so did the Sixers. ••
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii