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Sixers upgrade defense with draft-day acquisition of Matisse Thybulle

Matisse Thybulle Photo: Twitter/ Philadelphia 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers secured a defensive specialist in last week’s NBA Draft, acquiring Matisse Thybulle from the Boston Celtics for a pair of first-round picks (Nos. 24 and 33).

Thybulle, a University of Washington product, was selected with the 20th overall pick.

The 76ers won 51 games this past season, only eight fewer than the NBA champion Toronto Raptors before the playoffs. They were one of the top offensive teams in the 2018-19 NBA season, averaging 115.2 points per game (fourth-highest total).

But Philadelphia’s defense was mediocre, yielding 112.5 ppg (19th out of 30 teams).

Which is one reason Thybulle’s defensive skills are so enticing to the Sixers.

Just ask Philly general manager Elton Brand.

“We’ve been following him for the last four years as a staff,” Brand was quoted as saying on Friday, a day after the draft. “The last two years, we got to meet with him. We saw his workout, and I fell in love. We viewed him as a high-character guy. That’s what we need to add to our team. And his on-the-court stuff just blew me away, his speed, his agility, his sense of off-the-ball on defense and where he’s growing as an offensive player.”

Defensive skills

The 6-foot-5 Thybulle started all 135 games during his four seasons at the University of Washington. He established himself as a premier defender for the Pac-12 Conference school.

Thybulle increased his steals-per-game average from 1.1 to 2.1 to 3.0 to 3.5 in his college career. As a result, he broke the conference record for career steals (331), surpassing Gary Payton’s old mark by 10.

Nicknamed “The Disruptor,” Thybulle was No. 1 in steals (126 steals) among NCAA Division I players in 2018-19. With 83 blocks, he also became the first D-I player with at least 100 steals and 80 blocks in the same season in two decades.

Matisse Thybulle averaged a modest 9.2 points per game as a college senior.

But he gained widespread recognition for his defensive productivity and consistency. He was named the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year.

Duke’s Zion Williamson, Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke and Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter were the other finalists.

“To win the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award means the world to me,” Thybulle said in a statement. “I’ve put in the hard work day in and day out, and I have to credit my teammates because they have always had my back both on and off the court. I was only able to accomplish this because of them.

“Defense is exciting, and I believe we showed people that this year.”

The Sixers, of course, want him to keep showing that impact on defense at the next level.

“We went and got a player we really wanted,” Brand told reporters. “(He’s) the top defensive wing in the draft, and that’s what I really wanted to improve on.”

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