"There's not 10 better defenders in this league, I can tell you that. There may not be 5."
– Doc Rivers on Matisse Thybulle
(h/t @jackfrank_jjf ) pic.twitter.com/VKn2vHKXbE
— NBACentral (@TheNBACentral) April 26, 2021
I don’t know what anyone expects Doc to say in this situation other than what he said. It isn’t true but what else is he supposed to say? I didn’t want to just come on here and start slandering Doc or Thybulle because I do like both of them and I really do think Thybulle is a good, young defender.
I am putting any and all perceived bias aside for this and going in with an open mind. I am a big eye test guy but the eye test can not only lie but it makes for a less fun blog if you ask me so I’m doing an NBA stat dive.
What I’m going to be looking at is Steals (S) and Blocks (B) per game for basic stats. Steal % (S%), Block % (B%), Defensive Win Shares (DWS) and Defensive Plus/Minus (+/-) for advanced stats. Steals and Blocks per 36. Steals, Blocks per 100 possessions and Defensive Rating.
So, I’ll do it like this. I’ll list a few guys with their stats in the above categories as just the raw data than I’ll throw out my much needed opinion.
- Matisse Thybulle 1.5Spg, 1.0Bpg, 3.7S% (#1 in NBA), 4.5B%, 2.2 DWS, 4.1 +/- (#1 in NBA), 2.8S per 36 (#1 in NBA), 1.8B per 36, 3.7S per 100 (#1 in NBA), 2.4B per 100, 104 Rating
- Jimmy Butler 2.1Spg (#1 in NBA), 0.4Bpg, 3.1S%, 1.2B%, 2.5 DWS, 2.6 +/-, 2.3S per 36, 0.4S per 36, 3.1S per 100, 0.6B per 100, 107 Rating
- Jrue Holiday 1.8Spg, 0.5Bpg, 2.6S%, 1.4B%, 2.0 DWS, 2.7 +/-, 2.0S per 36, 0.6B per 36, 2.6S per 100, 0.7B per 100, 110 Rating
- Kawhi Leonard 1.7Spg, 0.4Bpg, 2.4S%, 1.1B%, 2.2 DWS, 1.1 +/-, 1.8S per 36, 0.5B per 36, 2.4S per 100, 0.6B per 100, 109 Rating
- Ben Simmons 1.6Spg, 0.6Bpg, 2.3S%, 1.7B%, 2.7 DWS, 1.8 +/-, 1.7S per 36, 0.7B per 36, 2.3S per 100, 0.9B per 100, 107 Rating
- Myles Turner 0.9Spg, 3.4Bpg (#1 in NBA), 1.3S%, 9.0B% (#1 in NBA), 2.3 DWS, 1.7 +/-, 1.0S per 36, 3.9B per 36 (#1 in NBA), 1.3B per 100, 5.2B per 100 (#1 in NBA), 107 Rating
- Rudy Gobert 0.5Spg, 2.8Bpg, 0.8S%, 7.2B%, 4.4 DWS (#1 in NBA), 2.5 +/-, 0.6S per 36, 3.2B per 36, 0.8S per 100, 4.4B per 100, 100 Rating (#1 in NBA with qualified players)
- Giannis 1.2Spg, 1.3Bpg, 1.7S%, 3.4B%, 3.0 DWS, 2.7 +/-, 1.3S per 36, 1.4B per 36, 1.7 S per 100, 1.8B per 100, 106 Rating
- Bam Adebayo 1.1Spg, 1.1Bpg, 1.6S%, 3.4B%, 2.9 DWS, 1.9 +/-, 1.2S per 36, 1.2B per 36, 1.6S per 100, 1.6B per 100, 107 Rating
I want to be clear, the guys I picked were for various reasons. I didn’t just go through and pick certain guys to make anyone look better/worse. I wanted to make sure I had a wide array of guys. I also made sure that everyone who ranked first in the category I was looking at was included on here. These aren’t the 9 guys who I think are the best defenders in the league.
I think my biggest surprise was seeing how many categories Thybulle ranked first in. The per 36 and per 100 possessions stats are going to be a little skewed because of minutes played (he is the only guy on this list not playing at least 30MPG, he only plays 20MPG) but impressive nontheless. For stats like those, where they’re not so much earned stats, I don’t put much weight in them but it does help tell the story. What I mean by that is this, Thybulle averages 1.5Spg but he only plays 20 minutes a night. So, if you take his minutes and add another 16 minutes on top of them you would end up with 2.8Spg. The issue with a stat like this is it is projecting. There is no way to ACTUALLY know how many steals he would get in 36 minutes unless he played for 36 minutes which he has only done twice this season. 36:39 vs the Bulls where he had 1 steal and 35:44 vs the Suns where he had 2 steals. That is why you can’t really put so much weight in projections like per 36 or per 100. Per 100 is becoming a bit more of the industry standard the last few years but again it is a projection.
Unfortunately, the two defensive stats I put the most stock in are Defensive Win Shares and Defensive Rating. Rudy Gobert is first in both of those which really hurts the narrative Aidan and I like to push on Drunk Off PNR (which you can listen to by clicking here).
The biggest thing I thought was impressive was Thybulle leads the league in Steal Percentage. A very real stat that deals in absolutes and not projections. For the people who aren’t familiar, basically if Thybulle is guarding you there is almost a 4% chance he is going to steal the ball. For people who are sick of percentages and don’t like math I can help you out some more. If Thybulle guards you for 100 possessions 4 of those possessions will end in a steal.
Now, I’m still going to say Thybulle is not a Top 5 defender. He’s also only 23 so maybe in a year or two he’ll get better and I’ll change my story. I’m gonna say he is somewhere between 8-15 depending on which day of the week or what fan base you ask.
In all of my research I did find this piece of information quite interesting. In the 11 stats I looked at Matisse is better than Ben Simmons in 9 categories… I do want to say that numbers do in fact lie sometimes and the real test is always the eye test if you ask me BUT it does raise the question, can Simmons be DPOY if he isn’t even the best defender on his team?