The Philadelphia 76ers have two bonafide candidates for NBA Defensive Player of the Year: Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. That’s common knowledge around the league. But, according to Simmons, there is one more name to add to that suffocating list.
The only reason why Matisse Thybulle isn’t getting more recognition for the award is due to a lack of playing time. The second-year guard out of Washington has racked up 13 steals in his last four games while collecting three blocks during that span. His defensive rating is 104.2, per Stat Muse, compared to 107.0 for Simmons and 103.9 for Embiid. Keep in mind: Thybulle is averaging nearly half the minutes of those two superstars.
“He’s been getting more comfortable,” Simmons told reporters on Sunday. “He’s getting shots up, he’s been slashing more, he’s driving more, he’s getting to the rim. Overall, he’s been great — and then defensively he continues to get better. I feel like if he had the same amount of minutes as me, he would be defensive player of the year. Easily. He’s great and he’s getting better.”
That’s lofty praise from the guy leading the NBA’s Defensive Player Ladder rankings through March 14. Embiid and Simmons had been going toe-to-toe for the top spot, but a knee injury has temporarily taken the big man out of the running. He’ll be back up there soon enough. For now, all eyes on Thybulle who can keep earning more burn on the court as his offensive game continues to develop.
“He’s been huge,” guard Seth Curry said of Thybulle. “He’s going to give you that energy and effort defensively every time he steps on the floor, but he’s getting better offensively as well. Running the floor, knocking down shots, and when he’s doing that, it brings a whole different dynamic, different element to our team.”
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Finding Their Identity on Defense
Head coach Doc Rivers spoke about the team needing to improve their transition defense and pick-and-roll defense prior to the All-Star break. It’s only a three-game sample size but the message appears to be sinking in.
The Sixers are holding teams to 9.3 points per game in transition since March 11, including limiting the Chicago Bulls to just six fast-break points. Credit Dan Burke, the former Indiana Pacers assistant known around the NBA as a defensive guru.
“I think guys are focused, locked in,” Rivers said. “Dan’s an amazing defensive coach, and we stay on them, we stay on them about every possession being ready and down. Again, transition defense, pick-and-roll defense, weakside help — that’s the three things that we really have focused on and they’re starting to see it. Ad the more you’re successful at it, the more guys trust it, so I think that’s helped as well.”
Simmons Explains Strange COVID-19 Hiccup
Simmons and Embiid were forced to miss the All-Star Game after their barber tested positive for COVID-19. Simmons explained how his plane had just touched down in Atlanta when the team informed him he needed to quarantine in his room until further notice. Then, Simmons was sent back to the airport the next morning on a flight back to Philly.
“It was disappointing because I got a haircut in the morning, flew to Atlanta, and was notified it was an inconclusive test with my barber,” Simmons said. “And then the next morning we found out it was positive and then another positive test and then another positive [test] so I was locked in a room most of the time.”
His barber felt really bad and apologized. Nothing he could do about it. Simmons doesn’t plan on ditching his favorite hairstylist.
“He felt bad but it is what it is, it’s a crazy time right now,” Simmons said. “He’s still my barber for sure because he’s got those fresh lineups.”