Before the season began, I highlighted Philadelphia’s Matisse Thybulle as one of the top rookies to watch due in large part to his potential to shine on defense.
The No. 20 pick started the season as a regular rotation player, even starting a few games due to injuries, but saw his playing time dip in early November as he struggled to find his shot.
That's changed over the past few weeks, though, as Thybulle has stepped in for Josh Richardson, who has missed three straight games with a hamstring injury. The Sixers have won four straight and eight of their last nine, and the rookie out of Washington has been a big factor.
In those nine games, Thybulle has clearly become more comfortable with his shot, hitting 71.4% of his 3s (10-for-14) while doing his typical work on the defensive end, notching 13 steals in 17.7 minutes off the bench.
Coach Brett Brown loves what his rookie is giving him -- on both ends of the floor.
“I thought that he played more tame,” Brown said, after Thybulle scored nine points on 3-for-3 shooting on 3-pointers in a win against Utah. “I thought that he took the shots that he should have shot -- under-control shots, his shots. And I thought that he made some defensive plays that were timely. It’s still really interesting for me to see how much ground he covers and getting fingernails on balls and hands on balls.”
Thybulle’s ability -- and eagerness -- to challenge opposing team’s best players will keep him on the floor, and he leads all rookies in steals with 1.5 per game, impressive considering his limited minutes.
“Yeah, that’s why we love basketball, just the competitive nature of it,” Thybulle said after helping to hold Utah’s Donovan Mitchell to 18 points on 6-for-19 shooting. “To be given the challenge of guarding the other team’s best player is an honor in and of itself, but then also the challenge of it is exciting for me, just as a competitor.”
Thybulle’s defense will keep him on the court, but his 3-point shooting -- he’s shooting at a 43.2% clip -- and ability to grow as the season goes on could make Philly a serious contender in the East.
“His shot has surprised me,” Brown said Monday. “And I think that the human being, he’s just elite. He’s a great person and he’s a legitimate teammate, a prideful learner. That side of it I think is as important as the athletic side. I think the partnership equals you can expedite improvement quicker, maybe, then with most.”
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1. Eric Paschall, Golden State Warriors
Paschall makes the jump to the top rung as he’s been the most consistent of the bunch lately in the chase for Ja Morant's spot. In four games this week (all losses), Paschall averaged 18.5 points and 5.5 rebounds on 52.1% shooting. Paschall remains on pace (17.3 ppg) to become the highest-scoring second-round Draft pick in a rookie season, but teammate Draymond Green sees even more in store. “Right now, he’s just scoring off raw talent,” Green said. “He really doesn’t know how to play the NBA game. As he figures out more and more, how to get fouled, he’ll get better and better.”
2. Kendrick Nunn, Miami Heat
Nunn is mired in a serious shooting slump, but the Heat are still winning despite his struggles. In four games this week, the breakout guard averaged 10.3 ppg while shooting 29.3% overall (17-for-58) and 14.8% (4-for-27) on 3-poiners. Nunn was named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month on Tuesday, but with Morant sidelined, this was his chance to steal the spotlight.
3. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
Well, it appears Morant’s back injury is more serious than we first thought. Last week, I praised Morant for his ability to fight through injury, but Saturday the team listed him as week-to-week, proving they’re willing to be cautious with their young star. Morant drops in the rankings due to his blank stat line this week, but he should fully return to the Ladder as soon as he steps back on the court. After all, he still leads all rookies in scoring (18.6 ppg) and assists (6.4) and remains the leader in the clubhouse for ROY.
4. Rui Hachimura, Washington Wizards
Hachimura had a career night Sunday, scoring 30 points on 13-for-23 shooting and grabbing nine rebounds in a 150-125 loss to the Clippers. Hachimura drew praise from both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard afterward. "He's a good rookie, a really good rookie,” George said. “It was great to see him for the first time. We've seen a lot of rookies now, but he definitely stood out as one of the better players and one of the best players in the long run, in his class." Hachimura, whom Leonard called “fundamentally sound”, has struggled through the middle of November but averaged 20.3 ppg in three games this week on 52% shooting. If anyone can make a run at the top players, it’s likely Hachimura as he’ll see plenty of playing time and opportunities for big games.
5. R.J. Barrett, New York Knicks
Barrett had the worst game of his career Monday, scoring two points while missing all nine shot attempts in 20 minutes in the Knicks’ 132-88 road loss to the Bucks. Barrett chalked it up to the second leg of a back-to-back, but everyone saw the performance as a learning experience. “He looked like a rookie today,’’ coach David Fizdale said afterward. “Sometimes that’s what he’s going to look like. But it’s a good learning lesson for him. I remember days watching Giannis [Antetokounmpo] looking pretty crappy when he was 18, 19. That’s part of the deal for these young guys, going through the lumps of the league.”
Just missed the cut:
Terence Davis, Toronto Raptors: The undrafted rookie has scored in double-digits in three of his last five games and has become a key cog off coach Nick Nurse’s bench. His numbers don’t jump off the page, but the Raptors’ gamble on giving Davis a guaranteed contract is looking like a good payoff. With so many rookies putting up big numbers on losing teams, Davis may be one of the few rookies who will actually have an impact for a contender.
PJ Washington, Charlotte Hornets: Washington had one of his best games yet on Friday, scoring 26 points on 9-for-12 shooting in a 110-107 win in Detroit. Washington knocked down all three 3-pointers and grabbed five rebounds and a career-best four steals.
Jarrett Culver, Minnesota Timberwolves: With a large group of friends and family in Dallas on Wednesday, the Texas Tech product put up 11 points, eight rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal and 2 blocks in a 121-114 loss. The No. 6 pick has scored in double-digits in six straight games and averaged 12.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in his two games this week.
Cam Reddish, Atlanta Hawks: With DeAndre Hunter out with a dislocated finger (X-rays were negative), Reddish had one of his best games, scoring a career-high 25 points in the Hawks’ loss to the Nets on Wednesday. The No. 10 pick also grabbed six rebounds and had three steals while going 4-for-7 from beyond the arc. If Hunter misses an extended period of time, this could be Reddish’s chance for increased production.
Jaxson Hayes, New Orleans Pelicans: Hayes continues to provide the Pelicans with an energetic rebounder and defender off the bench. In three games this week, Hayes averaged 9.7 points and 7.3 rebounds while adding a steal and a block per game.
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(All stats through Wednesday, Dec. 4)
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