Matisse Thybulle joined the Portland Trail Blazers at last February’s trade deadline as a secondary piece in a three-team deal. The transaction required the Blazers to part with Josh Hart and a couple of seconds. In return, they received Thybulle, Cam Reddish, Ryan Arcidiacono and a 2023 New York Knicks first, which became Kris Murray.
The pick was the initial prize, with Thybulle and Reddish as second- and third-chance candidates respectively. Both were entering restricted free agency. Reddish’s 20 games with the Blazers were inconsistent and, for the most part, uninspiring. Arcidiacono served admirably as a low-rotation point guard but was never going to stay.
Thybulle, on the other hand, thrived through his 22 outings to round out the 2022-23 season. His defense was as elite as advertised and his three point rate soared from 33.3 percent in Philadelphia to 38.8 percent, good enough for 37th among wings.
Keeping Thybulle in Portland appeared to be a priority for General Manager Joe Cronin, regardless of whether Damian Lillard was with the team or not. Thybulle subsequently returned after the Blazers matched a three year, $33 million offer sheet from the Dallas Mavericks.
After making two consecutive All Defensive teams, Thybulle suffered a reduction in minutes with the Philadelphia 76ers through the 2022-23 season. While the Australian national representative maintained his status as a top five wing in block and steal rate, his offense struggled.
Thybulle failed to improve his shooting stroke, mired in mediocrity beyond the three-point line. Through his three and a half years with the franchise, Thybulle put up 4.4 points, including 32 percent shooting on 2.1 three-point attempts, 1.8 boards and 1.0 assists in 19.8 minutes.
The three point rate was particularly disappointing for a player of his size, ranking between 71st and 100th from three among wings throughout his 76ers tenure. Things didn’t get much better as he edged closer to the basket. During his second All Defensive team season in 2021-22, Thybulle ranked 100th among wings in mid-range shots, hitting 23 percent.
Only once did Thybulle’s effective field goal percentage rise above 53 percent and only once did his points per shots attempt rise above 1.08. By the February 2023 trade deadline, the Pennsylvania franchise deemed the then 25-year-old was surplus to their needs, trading him for Jalen McDaniels who now plays for the Toronto Raptors.
Perhaps it was the fresh air of the familiar Pacific Northwest where he played his high school and college ball. Or as Thybulle pointed out after his first game in Portland in February, the feeling that he belonged.
“First thing is I felt comfortable and I didn’t realize how much you can’t take that for granted. So just to be out there and feel comfortable and to feel and know that I’m wanted and needed and this coaching staff and the players have my back. I think it showed in just my ability to play and be more of myself.”
Since securing his new deal, Thybulle’s consistency has lifted him into the upper echelon of NBA wing shooters. It’s particularly impressive considering the 3.9 attempts he’s averaging, a volume better than any rate he registered with the 76ers by 1.5 attempts.
Thybulle’s recent return to the bench — still averaging 23.7 minutes a game — to make way for Toumani Camara may have even enhanced his performance. He currently ranks 19th in three point shooting at a remarkable 42.0 percent, 43.8 percent on 3.5 catch and shoot attempts a game and 50 percent from the corner.
He’s second in wing mid-range shooting at 64.4 percent, sitting behind only former Blazer Nassir Little. He’s third in attempts between 4 and 14 feet hitting 63.6 percent. Overall, he’s hitting 66.7 percent of his two point shots, good enough for third among wings.
Amazingly, Thybulle now ranks fifth in effective field goal percentage at 63.8 percent among wings, just behind the New Orleans Pelicans’ Trey Murphy III. He’s hitting a sterling 1.28 points per shot attempt, which currently ranks 10th among wings.
Opposing defenses are taking note and paying more attention to the Australian, stretching out the floor for Anfernee Simons, Shaedon Sharpe, Scoot Henderson and Jerami Grant. Thybulle also appears more comfortable putting the ball on the floor himself, frequently flying at the basket and finishing at the rim. His percentage at the basket has risen from 57 percent and 84th among wings with Philadelphia last season to 69 percent and 19th this season.
Thybulle continues to be the ultimate disrupter on defense. He’s averaging 1.5 steals and 0.8 blocks, ranking second and sixth among wings respectively. He also ranks equal second in deflections among all players at 3.5 a game in 24.0 minutes a game. A notable achievement considering the two guys he shares the average with are Nikola Jokic and Donovan Mitchell who play 33.5 and 35.6 minutes respectively.
Thybulle’s ability to pester opposing offenses is helped along by his seven foot wingspan and ridiculous defensive instincts that allow him to work effectively in the lanes. His defensive anticipation is sublime, able to pounce on errant passes. He’s also been a major reason for the Blazers’ rise from the horrible defensive teams of recent years to the middle of the pack this season.
Thybulle’s chances of adding a third All-Defensive nod this year are likely low given the Blazers losing record. His bench role might not be a huge factor considering he earned his 2020-21 honor starting only eight of 65 games in 20.0 minutes an outing.
I might be biased, given Thybulle’s national representation of my home country, but he’s secretly become the very definition of a catch and shoot, 3-and-D wing. For a guy on the margins with the 76ers, barely able to keep his three point percentage above 30 percent, to a sharpshooter hitting more than 40 percent, he’s come a long way.
The defense will always be there thanks to those ridiculous measurements and innate instincts. But if he’s able to maintain this level of shooting, Thybulle will well and truly outplay his current contract. At 26, he’s also young enough to be part of this next generation in Portland when they’re ready to genuinely compete in three or four years time.
This Blazers team is now strangely devoid of elite three point shooting after 11 years of Damian Lillard. Thybulle’s improved accuracy has helped keep the young Blazers competitive as they work through the kinks and prepare for the franchise’s next rise to the top of the standings.