Who is the 76ers X-Factor in the 2021 NBA Playoffs?

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The old adage of “Defense wins championships” is one that has resonated across all sports since it was first said by former football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. If you’re a 76ers fan, it’s something you’d be glad to hear as they own the league’s second-best defense in the league — and the best since the All-Star break, but does this play hand-in-hand with the 76ers X-Factor?

In the NBA, offense is as, or even more, important as defense. The game favors offensive players more than ever as scoring efficiency is at an all-time high. This is where you’d be less welcome to hear that the 76ers have only the 13th best offense in the league. Since the 2003-2004 season, only two teams have won a championship without having a top 10 offense in the regular season: Last year’s Lakers who finished 11th, and the 2004 Detroit Pistons who finished 13th (just like the 76ers, they also had the league’s second-best defense… maybe a sign?).

So it isn’t crazy to suggest that offense wins championships, which what makes Matisse Thybulle so polarizing. He’s the league’s greatest perimeter defender and has played a big part in the 76ers’ second-ranked defense. On the flip side, he’ll need to have an impact on offense if he is going to see playing time. A factor that’ll be important as teams will be ignoring him the deeper we get to the playoffs as the pace is slowed and defenses aren’t as forgiving.

That’s why Thybulle is the 76ers X-factor in this year’s playoffs. We know just how disruptive he is on defense, and if they face the Nets, he’ll be an important piece in trying to stop the offensive barrage of Irving-Durant-Harden. The problem is the more Thybulle plays, the more he hurts the 76ers chances of scoring in the 76ers’ already not-so-great offense.

Thybulle Needs to Do the Bare Minimum in the Halfcourt Offense

Thybulle’s defense is among the most special the league has ever seen, so it is important Thybulle can do the easy (but important) things on offense. So that is hitting open 3-pointers, making timely cuts, or creating opportunities for others. Let’s start with his biggest weakness: his jump shot.

The biggest question mark and need for Thybulle has always been his 3-point shot. An area he has struggled from in college, and now in his sophomore season. This season he is a 30.1 percent shooter from 3-point land. A number that is far too low with both its stars making their living in the paint. It is even more concerning when you find out that on 95% of his shots, he is either open (nearest defender is 4-6 feet away) or wide open (defender is 6+ feet away).

A solution to Thybulle’s shooting struggles is making him shoot above the break. So this means not letting him shoot from corners. Why? He shoots a ghastly 24% from corner threes while he shoots 36% from three anywhere else. A rather befuddling stat given that the corner three is the easiest three available. This would also solve another problem which is making it more difficult for opposing defenders to close in or double the paint.

However, the problem with that is that cuts are much easier to make when standing near the baseline.

Exhibit A:

With Thybulle getting ignored as much as someone handing out flyers at a subway, that allows him to do things off-ball. One of those things that have been making the right passes. He does this mostly when driving with the ball and knowing that he will gain the attention of a help defender.

Very little but important plays like these are what will help him stay on the court. His defense is too important for him not to be on. In any way the coaching staff can take advantage of the little things he is good at on offense, then that is a win for the 76ers and a loss for the opposing team’s stars.

He may not be the typical x-factor due to his offensive woes, but he causes so much havoc on defense for other teams. No defender has ever disrupted 6.2% of possessions off steals or blocks as Thybulle does. No other defender gives a harder time to the NBA’s top scorers — Devin Booker, Kyrie Irving, and Zach Lavine to name a few. Matisse Thybulle will be essential in anything the 76ers do these playoffs as long as he can do the simple things on offense. That’ll be a big win for the 76ers and would further solidifying the saying “Defense wins championships.

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