On the night of his first preseason start, Matisse Thybulle’s teammates gave him the honor of leading the 76ers out of the tunnel. 

The catch?

They didn’t immediately follow him, leaving Thybulle standing solo at center court for a few seconds before the rest of the chuckling squad finally joined him for layup lines. 

It was a lighthearted moment for all parties, and one of the few reminders it feels like these days that Thybulle is indeed a rookie. 

That’s because despite this preseason being his first as an NBA player, the 2019 no. 20 pick is also very much making an impact on a team that could be poised for a deep run.

With 12 steals under his belt in the preseason, Thybulle leads not only his team, but the entire league in total steals.

His six preseason blocks rank ninth in the league.

“I think he has a chance to be one of the elite defenders in the NBA,” Josh Richardson postgame.

Takes one to know one.

“It helps to have guys like [Josh] to watch and emulate,” Thybulle said upon hearing Richardson’s opinion. “He plays defense at a really high level.”

Thybulle has an unassuming charm. In his start Tuesday, the rookie finished with seven points, six rebounds, four steals, two blocks, an assist, and a handful of deflections en route to the team’s 106-86 victory over Detroit.

But when asked about his early success, Thybulle refused to take the credit.

“I’m lucky we’ve got great guys,” he said postgame. “They help me feel comfortable out there, so I can get out there and play my game.”

Brett Brown recognizes his rookie’s distinct demeanor.

“When you talk to him, you don’t feel like you’re talking to a young kid. He’s sophisticated, at times, maybe beyond his years,” Brown said postgame.

“He’s smart. He takes pride in trying to be smart. It means something to him to be studied, and not make mistakes,” Brown said.

And although Thybulle has pocketed at least one steal and swatted at least one block in each of his four NBA appearances thus far, he’s shown a solid offensive presence too.

“He’s ended up being a better shooter than I expected him to be. I think Matisse isn’t bashful,” Brown said. “His form and his footwork is actually quite good, it’s better than I thought.”

In preseason play, the 2019 NCAA Defensive Player of the Year has shot 45.0% from the field, averaging 7.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 3.0 steals, and 1.5 blocks per game.

Thybulle’s initial objective for the preseason was to feel comfortable. He’s achieved that goal rather quickly.

Incrementally, he’s well on his way. 

“That’s my mentality going into each game: Just try to build on the last one, and learn from my mistakes,” Thybulle said.

So, Matisse Thybulle:

A rookie? Yes. 

An increasingly respected member of a team filled with talent? Also yes.

He and his team hope to keep building on that reputation as the regular season draws nearer. 

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