With another early postseason exit, the focus shifts to how the Thunder can build a better team. Unlike last season, the Thunder actually own their own first round draft pick this season, the 21st overall pick. And according to rumor, Sam Presti and Co. have zeroed in on their target with that pick: swingman Matisse Thybulle of Washington.
Rumors are just that, but it would not be surprising if this one pans out. Thybulle fits the mold of a stereotypical Presti pick: a long (6’5, with a 7’0 wingspan!), athletic, defensive minded guy with questionable shooting ability. This is the Presti special: Terrance Ferguson, Hamidou Diallo, Josh Huestis and Andre Roberson, among others, all fit into this general mold. In that regard, Thybulle to OKC makes a lot of sense.
Is it something to be excited about? A lot of mock drafts have him going a bit lower: The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie has him at #30 and The Ringer has him at 25. While Presti has found several gems via his craving for crazy long athletes, it’s also resulted in a team that’s dangerously low on shooting. It’s easy to roll your eyes at the idea of the Thunder adding another one of these guys and doing nothing to address their shooting problem.
Fair enough, but there are three big reasons to be optimistic about Thybulle in a Thunder blue/orange/other blue/third blue/ whatever new jerseys OKC adds next year.
He might not be as bad at shooting as we fear: Thybulle hit only 30% of his 3 point shots as as a senior. So great news, he and Russell Westbrook will have something in common right off the bat. There’s reason to think he’s a better shooter than that, however. His junior season he shot 36% from 3 on the same volume of attempts as his senior year, 4 per game.
That volume is encouraging; Thybulle is confident and willing to let it fly. He also shot 78% from the free throw line throughout his career, including a sterling 85% his senior year. Free throw shooting actually tends to be a better predictor of 3 point success in the NBA than college 3 point shooting numbers, because the sample size on 3 pointers is so small. For instance, Andre Roberson, believe it or not, shot 35% from the 3 point line in college, though on just 1.4 attempts per game. He was a dreadful 58% on free throws, however, and that was indeed predictive of his overall shooting prowess in the pros.
Thybulle may not be JJ Redick, but he should come in to the league able to knock down 3’s at a higher rate than the Thunder wings of old.
He’s a phenomenal defender: Thybulle won Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year for a reason. He averaged 3.5 steals and 2.3 blocks per game. Here is a list of all the players who have done that in college basketball:
That concludes the list.
Thybulle achieved that without selling out chasing blocks and steals. It’s also rare for a guy his size to have that many blocks, and for guys of any size to be top 20 in College basketball in both steals and blocks (Thybulle was #1 in steals and #18 in blocks, and was the only guy below 6’6 to be in the top 50 in blocks).
He projects to be an incredible on-ball defender and a smart enough team defender (the Huskies played a lot of zone) to be a force when his man is out of the play. He should fit very well into Billy Donovan’s aggressive blitz and recover scheme.
He’s Ready Now and Fills a Position of Need: Already 22 years old, Thybulle won’t need time to fill out his body like Ferguson and Diallo. That’s good, because the Thunder need a player of his skillset and they need him now.
Through attrition, OKC ended the season with exactly two wings who were rotation-worthy: Paul George and Terrance Ferguson. Diallo is an ongoing project. Andre Roberson is a third such wing in theory, but no one has any idea what he’ll look like when he returns to basketball. If Roberson is never the same, the Thunder will need a replacement. They could do a lot worse than Thybulle.
One of OKC’s biggest problems last year was their disastrous play when Paul George rested. While there will always be a drop in quality when a player as good as PG rests, the Thunder were an absolute disaster when PG sat last year, and a major reason why was they had no one else who could really credibly play small forward. They were okay when Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams sat because of Dennis Schroder and Nerlens Noel.
Thybulle will not be on George’s level on day one, or even on day one thousand, but he does look like he might be able to credibly defend small forwards. He’s a bit undersized at 6’5”, but his wingspan and smarts should partly make up for it. He should also fit well alongside George and could give the Thunder more flexibility to roll with smallball lineups with Jerami Grant at the 5. There’s no such thing as having too many wings in today’s NBA.
Thybulle has weaknesses, of course. His age may mean a lower ceiling. He played mostly zone defense in college, and he has an overall limited offensive game. There’s a reason he’s probably going to be available at #21. Still, if Thybulle has indeed received a promise from the Thunder, and Sam Presti keeps that promise on June 20th, Thunder fans should be pretty optimistic about him.