Most late first round picks — especially when drafted by the Denver Nuggets — have a hard time contributing as early as year one in the NBA. Denver selected Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland was the 26th pick in the 2021 draft, which is a draft slot that has rarely produced a ton of talent in years past.
For reference, these are the last 11 players who were selected 26th overall: Payton Pritchard, Dylan Windler, Landry Shamet, Caleb Swanigan, Furkan Korkmaz, Nikola Milutinov, P.J. Hairston, Andre Roberson, Miles Plumlee, Jordan Hamilton, and Quincy Pondexter.
Not the most inspiring of lists, but Bones has what it takes to break the streak of players selected at 26 overall. It has been on full display from the moment Bones put a Nuggets jersey on at summer league and has carried on into training camp and the preseason.
Michael Malone completely unprompted: "The guy who I think has had a tremendous camp is Bones Hyland."— Harrison Wind (@HarrisonWind) October 5, 2021
All the reports out of camp sound like Bones is turning heads, but it’s not just in practice where Hyland is making his presence felt. In the Nuggets first preseason game, Hyland had a pretty remaklabe professional debut scoring 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field, 1-of-5 from three to go along with four rebounds, two assists, one steal, and one block. Bones did all that while committing just one turnover in 24 minutes of action.
Hyland set the bar pretty high after his first game only to build on that in the Nuggets second preseason game last night against the Warriors. Bones didn't score as much — just 11 points on 5-of-11 shooting from the field, 1-of-5 from three — but where he did make his presence felt was dishing out six assists.
Those six assists were a team high for both Denver and Golden State as Bones was able to get his teammates involved whenever he was on the floor. Hyland did all that while committing just one turnover as he's now only committed two turnovers in two games to go along with eight assists. Not a bad assist to turnover ratio if you ask me.
Nikola Jokić on Bones Hyland:— Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn) October 7, 2021
"He can push the tempo...He plays for the team. I like that."
Went on to say that Bones still has a lot to learn, just like any rookie, but that he has an opportunity to play and help the team.
Bones is getting an opportunity to show what he's got as the Nuggets are now afraid to throw this rookie into the fire. Through two preseason games, Hyland is averaging 24.6 minutes per game, which is the most on the team. Bones is currently third on the team in points per game at 15 — trailing only Michael Porter Jr. (23) and Nikola Jokic (17) — and is second on the team in assists per game at 4.0 trailing only Monte Morris (4.5).
If Hyland is able to continue his positive impact it will be hard to keep him on the bench once regular season play begins October 20 in Phoenix. Jamal Murray is still going to be out for awhile so this is the opportunity for Bones to make the most of his chances and hopefully earn a rotation spot to start the year.
The Nuggets and Michael Malone don't have a history of throwing rookies “into the fire,” but Bones could easily be the exception. This kid is built different not just with his play on the court — which reminds me of a young Jamal Crawford — but the positive impact he has off the floor can be just as invaluable.
Tim Connelly and the Nuggets front office is known for finding guys that fit the Nuggets culture to make this basketball team just as good off the court as they are on it. Bones fits that mold and his impact on the floor certainly presents a skill set that could be extremely useful for the Nuggets early in the season and beyond.
The speed and creativity in which Hyland plays with has really stood out after just two preseason games and four summer league games. The game never seems to be moving to fast for Hyland and he’s often made the right decision with the ball in his hands. Whether it’s making a play for a teammate or creating for himself, Hyland is an x-factor that Denver has frankly been searching for to bring off the bench.
As long as Hyland can limit his turnovers — which he’s done a good job of thus far — there is no reason for Malone to not trust him with at least 15 minutes a night. Hyland’s real competition for playing time may be with Facundo Campazzo and Austin Rivers. Those players certainly have their role on this team, but continuing to play the younger option in Hyland and letting Rivers and Campazzo compete for those minutes is the way I would go.
Hyland projects to be a big part of this teams future and there’s no better time to get him ready than right now. Bones also brings a spark to the Nuggets, who could use one with Murray out of the lineup. Nuggets fans certainly aren't going to complain if Bones is on the floor more often because you just never know what awesome and insane thing he is going to do next.
It’s early and he still has a long ways to go, but it certainly looks as if Bones could break the trend of past players selected at 26 overall. Luckily for the Nuggets, they have been lucky more than a few times in the draft over the years and Hyland might just be another player they can add to that list.