Philadelphia 76ers: Matisse Thybulle should start in place of Ben Simmons

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

While no one player on the Philadelphia 76ers can replace Ben Simmons straight up, Matisse Thybulle can help to maintain the defensive continuity in Brett Brown’s starting five.

A lot has been written about how Ben Simmons‘ back injury will affect the Philadelphia 76ers moving forward.

Like a lot, a ton even, and for good reason: Ben Simmons is the Sixers’ central nervous system.

While Joel Embiid is undoubtedly the Sixers’ heart and soul – providing the team’s emotion, energy, and, at times, moodiness – Simmons brings the team together and keeps this team afloat.

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Need proof? Look no further than Simmons’ 14.5 player impact estimate (pie), the highest mark of any player on the Sixers roster not named Joel Hans Embiid. Simmons also touches the ball an average of 92 times in 35.7 minutes of action a night, easily the highest mark of any player on the team, yet somehow only ranks fifth in usage, highlighting a willingness to get his teammate involved and rack up 8.2 assists a game. Simmons is a full-court dynamo, unstoppable on a fast break, and the NBA’s reigning steal king.

And last but certainly not least, Simmons is, without a doubt, the Sixers’ best wing defender.

That’s right, for all of the love Simmons received coming out of college for his passing, size, athleticism, and all-around LeBron James-y-ness, the one-and-done LSU Tiger‘s best NBA traits may actually be his defensive acumen.

Without Simmons locking down players from Spencer Dinwiddie, to Kawhi Leonard, to Jimmy Butler, the 76ers’ entire defensive philosophy has to change. It just has to. I don’t care how much Brett Brown trusts the likes of Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson, or Glenn Robinson; the Sixers don’t have one player who can replace Simmons one-for-one.

Actually, scratch that, they do have one player who can at least defend one-through-three while maintaining Simmons’ intensity, effort, and ball-hawking: Matisse Thybulle.

As crazy as it sounds based on his early season flashes, Thybulle has slowly started to fall out of the Sixers’ rotation since in the trade deadline-skirting move to acquire GRIII and Alec Burks – watching his minutes drop from 26.9 minutes in January to 14.4 over the last five games. In theory, this decision makes sense, as Thybulle has become an offensive non-factor over the last month, but without Simmons available for the next two, four, even six weeks, that trend needs to change.

Heck, I’d be willing to argue that it should be Thybulle, not Shake Milton, who replaces Simmons in the starting five.

First and foremost, the obvious: Thybulle isn’t going to replace Simmons as a passer, scorer, or primary ball handler. He’s averaging 1.2 assists a game, four field goal attempts a game, and the lowest usage rate of any player on the team (10.7). Thybulle isn’t going to set up a halfcourt offense or make much of an impact in a pick and roll offense. He’s a 3-and-D wing who attempts 2.6 shots from beyond an arc.

But here’s the thing, Josh Richardson can take over primary ball-handling duties in the Sixers’ starting five. Brett Brown has flirted with the idea of using the ex-Miami Heat second-round pick as a backup point guard to relatively good results, and with no better option sitting on the bench, deploying a Richardson-Thybulle backcourt would allow the team to keep their best five players on the court while maintaining maximum defensive efficiency on the wings.

Measuring in at 6-foot-5, 200 pounds with a 7(!)-foot wingspan, Thybulle has the size, speed, and athleticism to guard pretty much any wing player from Kemba Walker to Brandon Ingram. Thybulle isn’t going to be as effective as Simmons if asked to cover a power forward like Aaron Gordon for an entire game, but his freakish length makes a switching situation much less worrisome compared to, say, Milton.

When fully engaged, Thybulle has the potential to disrupt opposing ball-handlers and make every possession difficult. His supreme ability to diagnose a shaky pass, or press up on a distracted ball handler could also maintain Simmons’ innate ability to poach possessions at a 35.9 percent steal rate – higher than even Simmons’ 33.8 percent clip.

And as crazy as it may sound, starting Thybulle may actually help to revolutionize the Sixers’ offense in his own small way.

With Simmons effectively replaced with Al Horford in the team’s half-court offense, the Sixers can now surround Embiid with four solid shooters on the wings. This would free up the paint, give Embiid carte blanche to attack the basket with ease, and provide the three-time All-Star starter with another viable outlet pass perched on the wings for a wide-open 3. Despite a decided lack of volume, Thybulle still makes 37 percent of his 3 point shots a game, two ticks above the league average. If tasked with being the team’s fifth offensive option, Thybulle could provide value, even if he preserves most of his efforts for the defensive end of the court.

Next. Joel Embiid’s play will define the Sixers’ postseason fate. dark

Look, as tough as it is to admit, there is no perfect solution to replace Ben Simmons moving forward, as he may have the most idiosyncratic role of any player in the NBA. There isn’t another player with his size, speed, defensive prowess, and willingness to dust it up for a steal – not even the players he’s most often compared to like Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James. However, Matisse Thybulle can help to ease that burden, as he’s a bit of a unicorn himself. With superb length, sound fundamentals, and an eye for picking off an errant pass, Thybulle is the Philadelphia 76ers’ best option to keep things copacetic defensively, while opening things up for Joel Embiid offensively when paired with Josh Richardson.