Bones Hyland’s determination and perspective has propelled him into the Nuggets rotation

Nov 1, 2021; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Bones Hyland (3) looks for an open teammate during the first half against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to taking on the Houston Rockets for a matinee showdown on Saturday afternoon in the Mile High City, Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone sat down in front of the podium for his pregame availability to answer questions from the media.

While many would expect the questions to be focused on the problems they are facing such as Denver’s offensive struggles, the lack of production from the bench, or Denver’s propensity to turn the basketball over far too often – all of which are reasons for their lackluster 4-4 start through eight games at the time – the media availability went another direction.

“I did not know this is a Bones press conference,” Malone joked with a smile draped across his face after answering question after question about his rookie guard. “I love it. I love it.”

Bones Hyland, drafted 26th by the Nuggets in the 2021 NBA Draft, has not only captured the fanbase in Denver, but seemingly everyone he has crossed paths with including his head coach Michael Malone. Saying that Hyland’s energy and enthusiasm is contagious might be the understatement of the year. He approaches all challenges or opportunities presented to him with every ounce of passion in his soul and with the joyfulness of a child on Christmas morning. He loves every moment of playing basketball and he takes pride in the work he puts into his game behind the scenes. It is cliche, but Hyland truly breathes basketball.

“He is bright, he picks things up, he is engaged; when you look at Bones and talk to him, he is eye to eye and is taking it all in,” Malone said. “He just wants it so badly.”

Hyland’s attention to detail and vigor for acquiring more knowledge of the game are important aspects of what has allowed his learning curve to bend sharply upwards. He is incredibly honest and self aware when evaluating his own strength and weaknesses and actively seeks out coaching. While possessing a confidence and bravado, he is still humble enough to admit to his struggles and find solutions even if that means asking for help. That balance between audaciousness and humility is the key to his growth and his infectious personality that has captivated so many.

Malone gave a perfect example of exactly what I am talking about.

“We were playing a game in Tulsa in the preseason and he was our point guard out there,” Malone said. “I called him over and I said, ‘Bones, you have to get us organized; you’re our point guard’. He looked at me and said, ‘coach you have to help me’. I loved his honesty…I share that story not to make fun of Bones – I would never do that – I share that because often we forget that here is a young kid coming in trying to learn so many things on and off the court.”

“That really struck a cord with me.”

Because of Hyland’s honesty, the Nuggets have allocated more resources to help him learn the many aspects of being a lead guard which has accelerated his understanding of running a NBA offense.

“I make sure now in practices at all times either myself or another coach is with Bones at all times talking to him and helping him out,” Malone said. “You have to teach the why. You can’t just throw things out there as if they got it. You have to teach the why to help them understand what we are doing it and why we are doing it.”

That might just seem like a minor detail, but point guard – or in this case lead guard, which requires the same skills – is by far the most difficult position to learn for young players. When considering how advanced and athletic NBA defenses are compared to the collegiate level, it makes sense that learning the nuances of leading an offense are the most difficult skills to master. Every read has to be made quicker or it can easily lead to a turnover. Every pass to a shooter has to be on target or a defender will be able to close out and deter the shot. Every dribble move has to be crisp and with intention or it will allow the opposing defense to throw off the timing of a set play being ran. The margin for error is so incredibly small that being able to instinctually make those types of plays is a prerequisite that must be met before being able to run a coherent offense.

Those skills cannot be learned through practice alone. Nothing can truly replicate a real NBA game and, because of that obvious fact, it simply takes playing time to work through mistakes for a player such as Hyland to learn them. Typically, for a team like the Nuggets who are attempting to fight for their first NBA title, giving a rookie enough of a runway to make the mistakes needed to learn these lessons is out of the question, but Hyland has forced the coaching staff to play him through his own determination and the Nuggets need for a guard who can create plays for either himself or others.

“My first three years, we were not a playoff team – we came really close in that third year – but we were allowed the opportunity to play young guys and let the play through mistakes,” Malone said. “Now we have raised the bar higher and higher and higher and now the expectations sometimes are a little bit crazy in my opinion, but they are there. Now Bones is being afforded an opportunity to play and play meaningful minutes and the only way he is going to learn and get better is by being allowed to play through those mistakes.”

Hyland did not earn Malone and the coaching staff’s trust by luck. He has proven himself in practice, has constantly looked to get better, and when given an opportunity on the floor, he has shown that he belongs in the NBA. Not every player is able to step on a NBA court as a rookie and already have the talent, skill level and tenacity to belong right away, but Hyland is one of those exceptions.

“I will tell you, in the minutes he has had, not once have I said, ‘wow he looks like he is completely out of his element like he does not belong’. Here is a kid who was taken 26th in the first round who has shown time and time again that he belongs,” Malone said. “Is he going to play perfect? No. None of our guys are. But he is about all of the right things and all of these experiences are just going to speed up that development and allow him to be, by the end of the season, a really good basketball player.”

With Hyland’s increased role as of late, Malone has already witnessed growth from his 21-year-old guard.

“A couple things that have jumped out to me is for the last couple years, we would be out on the fast break and we will have numbers or an advantage, but we won’t finish because we will try to make the spectacular play. What I love about Bones is here is a guy with a lot of flair to his game – he can do a lot of things – but lately what I love is that Bones is coming down, coming to a jump-stop, and making a two-handed bounce pass a la Bob Cousy,” Malone said. “You don’t see that very often anymore.”

The patience already displayed by Hyland despite being a rookie without a full understanding of how to run a NBA offense or how to play at the speed NBA basketball has been impressive. He knows how to play at his own pace, not force his own shot, and always keep his head on a swivel. Despite only having 11 assists, Hyland has shown a strong aptitude for when and where to create for his teammates and when to create for himself.

“There is a time and place to be a little bit flashy…There is also a time and place to be fundamental and make the right play,” Malone said. “I think Bones, even in his two years at VCU, he was a point guard his first year and off the ball his second year. He is a guard. Give him the ball and he can make a play. He can get his own shot or he can make a play for a teammate. He has been fun to watch for all of us.”

All that is left for Hyland is to continue doing what he can to help the Nuggets and continue to have the same excitement for learning he has shown so far. With his combination of innate talent, work ethic, perspective, and desire to be coached, his future looks very bright.

“Bones is in the rotation now,” Malone clearly stated. “I am excited for him because he is only going to get better with every opportunity and experience that he is able to participate in.”

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