Matisse Thybulle and Jaylen Nowell led Washington to a Pac-12 regular season championship and its first NCAA Tournament since 2011. Now, both will be waiting to hear their names called during the 2019 NBA Draft on June 20.
Thybulle, a senior, was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year after leading the country with 3.5 steals per game and finishing 18th in blocks with 2.3.
Nowell, the Huskies’ leading scorer as a sophomore last season, announced at the end of March that he would forego the remainder of his eligibility to enter the draft. He was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year after averaging 16.2 points and shooting 50.2 percent from the field, including 44 percent from beyond the arc.
“At that level to play in (the NBA), it’s not just the skillsets that make you make it,” UW head coach Mike Hopkins said last month. “You have to have that, that’s a non-negotiable. But the thing that makes them last and play and impact teams is the people that they are, the work ethic that they have and the selflessness that they have. And those guys have all of that.”
So where do they stand with the NBA Draft just days away? We talked to three NBA Draft analysts — The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie, CBS Sports’ Kyle Boone and Sports Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo — to find out.
Today, we look at Thybulle.
‘He sees the game at a really high level’
All three analysts agreed that Thybulle made the right decision not to attend the NBA Combine. That’s especially true if he was shut down by a team, which seems to be the prevailing theory.
Even if he wasn’t, Vecenie said, there wasn’t much for Thybulle to prove in a combine format.
“Assuming he was asked to play in the combine scrimmage games, which I think is likely, his skill set doesn’t necessarily translate to disorganized games where guards are chucking up shots to try and impress and big men are just grabbing offensive rebounds and putting the ball back,” Vecenie said. “His best skill is playing help defense and creating actual plays defensively.”
At UW, Thybulle excelled in Hopkins’ 2-3 zone. As a senior, he set the Pac-12 records for career steals and steals in a season while also becoming just the third player in the last 20 seasons to average at least 2.0 steals and 2.0 blocks per game.
Thybulle won’t be playing zone in the NBA, though, and that’s something teams will take into consideration. Woo used Syracuse as a comparison, noting that the Orange don’t have the best track record of producing NBA prospects. But in Boone’s opinion, Thybulle’s defensive abilities are unquestionable.
“I think he’s the draft’s best defender,” Boone said. “His length is really beneficial for him. He has really high instincts when it comes to anticipating passes and things like that. I think it’s something that teams will explore because when you’re going from one system to another there’s always a question of how it’s going to translate. But for Matisse, I think it will be a seamless transition for him.”
Defense is clearly Thybulle’s primary sell to NBA teams, Woo said. His athleticism makes him an attractive prospect along with his length and ability to cover ground. While there will be some skepticism of a player who played exclusively zone defense for the final two seasons of his college career, Thybulle’s play-making ability outweighs it.
“When you watch him, his instincts, him being able to jump passing lanes and him being able to block everything,” Boone said. “He’s super long and he’s super smart. To me, that stands out. He sees the game at a really high level.”
‘A lot more to give offensively’
Thybulle’s status as an elite defender is undeniable. The impact he can make offensively is less certain.
Thybulle dropped off offensively for the Huskies last season. He averaged 9.2 points per game on 41.5 percent shooting from the field and 30.5 shooting from beyond the arc. As a junior, he averaged 11.2 points per game on 44.5 shooting from the field and 36.5 shooting from beyond the arc.
But Vecenie believes there is more to Thybulle than those numbers show.
“You talk to people around Washington and they will tell you they always felt like Matisse had a lot more to give offensively than what he did, right?” Vecenie said. “His skill is actually I think a fair amount higher than what his offensive production was. He is a guy that can attack a close out.
“Before this season when he shot 30, 31 percent from three, he was a guy that teams felt they had to guard out to the 3-point line and I still feel like they felt they had to guard out to the 3-point line this year.”
For Woo, the outlook on Thybulle is simple. His defense will earn him a chance. But to stick in the NBA, he’ll have to show a little more.
“If he hits enough threes, he’ll be an NBA player and if he doesn’t hit enough, he probably won’t be,” Woo said. “Somewhere in the middle, he’ll be great playing pro somewhere. He’s going to have to be able to knock down shots. I think there’s enough of a track record with him over four years or whatever that you’d think he’ll be able to do it.”
Many analysts have considered Thybulle to be a prototypical 3-and-D player in the NBA. Boone sees that role as his ceiling. But even if Thybulle doesn’t turn into a consistent 3-point shooter, he’s solid enough offensively that he could still earn a spot.
“I think he has good mechanics,” Boone said. “You’ve seen his 3-point shooting percentages tail off but he’s got good-looking shot mechanics and I think it will translate to the NBA.”
‘He can fit pretty much anywhere’
The general consensus among the three analysts is that Thybulle will be selected somewhere in the top 35 picks. Woo said in the 20s at best, the 30s at worst. Boone believes he’ll go in the first round, and pointed to 20 to 25 as a promising stretch.
As for teams that would be the best fit, Boone kept it simple: Almost all of them.
“The way he plays, I really think he can fit pretty much anywhere because he doesn’t need the ball to score and every team needs a switchable defensive player,” Boone said. “If I were to say a dream fit, I think the Lakers would be a good fit just because the Lakers obviously need defense and someone who can lock down on the perimeter.”
Currently, NBADraft.net has Thybulle going to the Brooklyn Nets at No. 26. Vecenie has Philadelphia taking Thybulle at No. 24 while Boone has him off the board at No. 20 to the Boston Celtics. In Woo’s latest mock draft, Thybulle goes to San Antonio with the No. 29 pick.
Woo said it would work in Thybulle’s favor to go to a team with a clear defined ball-handlers and a host of playmakers already on the roster. That would take away from Thybulle’s offensive responsibility.
“Then you can really focus on the defense and the shooting and doing whatever you can,” Woo said. “That would be good. If he goes to a place where there’s a little less structure in terms of roles immediately, I’d be curious to see how it works out.”
Vecenie pointed to a few teams that might make for an ideal fit. While Oklahoma City Thunder doesn’t necessarily need a player with Thybulle’s skill set on their roster, he does fit their mold.
“Very long arms, good athlete,” Vecenie said. “Very good kid, very nice kid, very thoughtful kid. Upperclassmen that will be ready to come in and play immediately is something that Oklahoma City might be able to use right now.”
Vecenie also pointed to Golden State because Thybulle would work well in a switch-heavy scheme. Milwaukee is looking to add length, Vecenie said, while the Portland Trail Blazers could use a defensive wing that can knock down shots. And then there are the 76ers.
“Philadelphia badly needs defenders who can come in and make an impact,” Boone said. “Somewhere in that top 35 there are a lot of teams that make a lot of sense.”