Philadelphia 76ers: Mikal Bridges and Matisse Thybulle should be teammates

(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

As Matisse Thybulle and Mikal Bridges prepare to compete in a virtual Philadelphia 76ers game on Twitch, that’s worth revisiting the terrible trade that prevented the potential pairing.

It’s game day Philadelphia 76ers fans… well kind of.

In this weird, uncomfortable world without organized basketball, fans, and teams, media outlets have been on the lookout for something, anything to cover that even sorta resembles sports.

Buckle up Philly fans, this is only going to get weirder.

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So in lieu of the actual Sixers game against the Phoenix Suns that was scheduled to be played tonight, the teams are going to ‘air‘ a game of NBA 2K20 as played by rookie phenom Matisse Thybulle and second-year forward Mikal Bridges on Twitch.

And to think, these two could be teammates.

When the Sixers went on the clock in the 2018 NBA Draft 10th overall, it was almost a perfect confluence of circumstances. With a need to add backcourt defense without sacrificing outside shooting, fans at home watched one name and one name only with bated breath as others periodically came off the big board: Bridges.

My goodness, could you imagine drafting Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, and Bridges in subsequent drafts? Pair those three with Joel Embiid and Dario Saric and you have a young corp of big, switchable players that would drive ire from around the league for years to come.

Despite being a tad older than many of his draft classmates, Fultz, and Simmons, a consequence of a multiple championship-winning career at Villanova, Bridges looked like the kind of player who could come in as a rookie and fill a role. With position versatility, a clean outside shot and a tantalizing combination of size, speed, and freaky long praying mantis arms, Bridges could slot in behind Robert Covington as a backup small forward, kick further inside as a small-ball power forward, and even spell J.J Redick in late-game lineups where switchable defense is valued higher than a top-flight outside shot.

And it happened! Tasked with running the draft and free agency as the team’s interim GM, Brett Brown gave the people what they wanted and drafted the Philly native to play right down the proverbial street from the school that made him a star.

That excitement lasted what, 15 minutes?

Basking in the afterglow of a slew of pre-draft predictions made good, fans eased up ever so slightly on that never-ending tension that typically comes from being a Philly sports fan, and prepared for a still-exciting, if not otherwise marginal final 50 picks of the draft; a nice treat after a job well done.

The lottery ended and at 16th overall, the Suns went on the clock. They too really liked Bridges, and with a 2021 unprotected pick belonging to the Miami Heat burning a hole in their pocket, the Suns called up Brown and made a deal.

You see, Brown also liked another young prospect with defensive upside in Texas Tech‘s Zhaire Smith – an undersized forward with massive hops and supreme athleticism. If he could secure the 1b to Bridges’ 1a and add a future pick of a team with a shaky future, why not, right? That’s a borderline steal.

*sigh* we all know how that turned out.

Now I’m not going to go too hard on Smith as his issues both on and off the court are very well documented, but Bridges’ production does deserve note, as it’s been remarkably consistent. Despite playing for two different head coaches at two different positions, Bridges’ stats are nearly identical in 2018-19 and 2019-20 – averaging 8.5 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.5 steals, .5 block, and a 34.1 shooting percentage from beyond the arc in 28.5 minutes of action a night.

Those numbers would have ranked ninth, sixth, second, eighth, eighth, and sixth on the 2019-20 Sixers respectably if you care about that sort of thing.

While it’s borderline impossible to predict just how the 2018-19 season would have turned out with Bridges in the fray over Smith – for example, the Sixers flipped the Heat’s 2021 draft pick in their blockbuster trade for Tobias Harris – but it’s hard to argue that trading away a player like Bridges who perfectly fits Coach Brown’s scheme is a move GM Brown would like to have back.

Fortunately, the Sixers were able to remedy their mistake in the subsequent 2019 draft with the selection of Thybulle, who is a very similar player.

But then again, they could have had both.

Philly could be rolling into the playoffs, at some point in the future, with a bench featuring two dedicated defenders in Bridges and Thybulle and two dedicated scorers in Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton. That quartet would have cost $9.8 million combined, $18.2 million less than Al Horford‘s 2019-20 cap hit. Said unit would also be under contract next season too, with Bridges’ deal extending into 2022 and both Milton and Thybulle signed through 2023.

That’s how you build a team with long-term viability, my friends, by identifying quality young talent and keeping them on the roster. You don’t say ‘eh, this guy is good too’ and trade your 1a for a 1b even if there’s a pick attached.

Brandon Ingram is good, but I wouldn’t want to flip Simmons for his services even if a future unprotected first was included to even the deal. Typically a team only receives additional draft compensation in a deal where the two players aren’t an even swap.

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So, if you opt to tune into the weird, virtual bout between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Phoenix Suns, take a moment to imagine what could have been. Matisse Thybulle and Mikal Bridges could be on the same team, making goofy vibes together, instead of competing for a digital W.