Last Thursday night, Devin Booker stole the show. His 49 points against the Denver Nuggets were the story; his 16-of-26 shooting performance was the moral of the story, the type of excellance that couldn’t go unnoticed whether you’re a fan of the Suns or not. Even reigning MVP Nikola Jokic’s standard 28, 6 and 6 were overshadowed by Booker.
Booker’s night, resulting in a Suns win, clinched the top seed in the West for the Suns.
If the Nuggets, who are piddling around in 6th place, and their fans were looking for a silver lining, however, Booker was a part of that, too.
When the final horn sounded, Booker, the man of the hour, sought out Nuggets’ rookie Bones Hyland. They met, exchanged a bro hug, a dap-and-slap and a short conversation. Only the two of them know what was said, but there was an obvious respect shown by Booker, who could have easily and quietly dipped out of Denver knowing that he’s one of the sweetest scorers in the West. Bones Hyland, conversely, is an up-and-comer who isn’t quite Devin Booker – yet – but he’s certainly capable of being a Nuggets starter.
More than likely, what Booker told Bones was something along the lines of “Hey young fella, keep up the good work.”
And that is the silver lining in Denver – that Bones Hyland can keep working for as long as the Nuggets playoff inclusion will let him.
Without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. – a realization that seems more real by the day – the Nuggets are highly unlikely to go very far in the postseason. The value, however, of every possible postseason game the Nuggets can play is that Hyland can get real postseason experience. As a rookie, no less.
This is not to say that Michael Malone and his Nuggets shouldn’t do everything possible to win; with an MVP on the roster, there’s always a puncher’s chance. But if there are any personnel decisions that are 50-50 involving the usage of Hyland, the decision this postseason should always – always! – be Bones.
The absence of Murray and Porter Jr. has been a blessing, not just for the Hyland who likely wouldn’t have received the playing time he’s been given this season, but for the Nuggets, too.
If you’re a subscriber to the theory that this season is a “wasted one” in Denver – as in, no matter what happened, without the services of Murray and Porter Jr., the Nuggets had no shot at a title – you’re sorely mistaken. Sure, title hopes aren’t likely at all, but the development (discovery?) of young Bones Hyland is a bonus that should make the 2022-23 campaign special. Assuming Murray and Porter Jr. are back and healthy, not only will the roster be star studded, but a second-year version of Hyland could be “seasoned” at a very young age. In other words, if the Nuggets handle the postseason correctly, Hyland will be battle tested by the time next April rolls around.
And it’s not about whether or not Hyland is starting – although that wouldn’t hurt either – but he should be playing ample minutes and finishing games, as was suggested by the Denver Post’s Sean Keeler last week. After Bone’s performance against the Suns last week, there’s zero reason he shouldn’t be playing starter’s minutes; in just 25 minutes against the best team in the NBA, Hyland was 7 of 13 from the floor, 4 of 8 from beyond the arc, pitching in 23 points. In the first half alone, he was 5 of 7 from 3-point-land and had 19 points.
On Saturday night against the Thunder, he wasn’t quite as effective – 19 minutes, 9 points, 6 assists – but he still managed a few highlight plays. It wasn’t as if Hyland was bad, he just didn’t “wow” as he did on Thursday night.
The ups-and-downs and ebbs-and-flows of a rookie are all the more reason to lean heavily on Hyland in the Nuggets remaining seven remaining regular season games, and in as many playoff games as Denver can last.
Hyland has shown (in big doses) that he belongs. He’s fearless. He’s skilled. He’s everything a coach or fan could ask for in a young player – so much so that it’s incredibly conceivable that he’s a star in the making. And every NBA team can use stars.
The playoffs – and the experience that come with them – could catapult Hyland to star status well ahead of schedule, especially in Denver, where young players are typically brought along a little slower than in other places around the NBA.
From now until the season is over, it’s Bones’ Time. It’s got to be. There’s very little risk, but potential for a huge reward – on that could be realized just a little more than a year from now.