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Chatting With Philadelphia 76ers Rookie Defensive Stalwart Matisse Thybulle: Call Him “Mathief”

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Matteo Marchi/Getty Images. Pictured: Matisse Thybulle.

Philadelphia 76ers rookie Matisse Thybulle sat down with The Action Network’s Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) to discuss his standout rookie season and how he’s already become one of the league’s most feared defenders.

*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Rob Perez (The Action Network): How? It’s the only word I wrote down for my first question. How are you, of all people, able to influence the game on the defensive side like you do?

Matisse Thybulle (Philadelphia 76ers): That’s a good question. How? I asked myself that a lot actually. I think my approach is just a little bit different, maybe unorthodox. I have really long arms, and I think it’s deceptive because I remember in college and even high school, coaches always coached like, “Have your hands up, show your length.”

But for me I was like why? Then it just shows how much ground I can cover. If I keep my arms down then they don’t know. It keeps them guessing. And then my thing is — and it’s dumb and it sounds so simple — it’s just I play hard. I think it gets taken for granted. There’s times where I’ll get hit on a screen and in a lot of cases other guys just might quit on the play, but I just don’t, and I just play through it, and then where guys think they have an open shot or an easy dump down, I’m able to recover.

RP: Well, your timing is a huge part of it, right? Some players get lucky, they find themselves in the right place at the right time. It’s happening once a quarter for you. So there has to be something that goes into this and I’m determined to figure out the secret. Are you spending time in the lab, like you’re Peyton Manning watching film? Or is it just feel out there?

MT: It’s feel. I wish I could say I’m like one of those guys who studies the film and knows their matchups, but there’s been so much just because this is my first year in the NBA. So, my approach, maybe not the best, is to just kind of be as prepared as possible by reading the scouting report, understanding what we’re trying to do as a team, and then just going out and letting my instincts take over. And a lot of that just comes off feel, and I mean, for me it’s simple because you have to have the ball to score.

To do anything in the game effectively, the ball has to be involved in the play. So that gives you a certain level of advantage on defense. It’s like, you know that whatever they’re trying to do involves this one thing. So trying to bait them into sometimes making the play that they want to make, even though you know they want to, and making it seem like it’s there and it’s all appealing and like, “Yeah, we can make this pass.” And then at the last second taking it away. That’s one thing that helps me.

RP: So when you show up here at the beginning of the season, you’re running out there with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Al Horford, and Tobias Harris. These are big names. At some point what you’re doing on the court now against other teams probably happened on the practice court first at some point, too. Have you ever pissed them off [with your suffocating defense]? Have they ever been like, “Get this dude away from me?”

Read more and watch the interview below.

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