Denver Nuggets’ rookie Bones Hyland flexed those 10-inch (maybe 11) pythons at midcourt of Ball Arena on Friday night. After nailing his second trey of the fourth quarter in the the Nuggets’ 105-96 victory against Atlanta, Bones looked like he’d taken Wrestlemania.
A few minutes earlier, the rookie point guard put his hand to his ear like a little Hulkamaniac, looking to hear more from the crowd. Or was he asking if he’d just won a starting spot?
Bones had taken over the game, stretching the Nuggets lead against a Hawks team that wouldn’t go away. Yet Bones wasn’t alone on midcourt, reigning MVP Nikola Jokic met him mid-celebration and gave him a pat on the head and backside.
It’s not often that rookies earn such immediate respect from both veterans and a hometown crowd. Yet from the moment the Nuggets sent Bones onto the floor to rev up fans before the home opener, it has seemed Bones is different than most rookies.
I’ll admit, I’m a recent Bones convert. I’d seen that he could be an amazing cheerleader, but I didn’t think the low first-round draft pick would make such an immediate on-court impact.
I thought his slight stature, the origin of his nickname Bones, would prevent him from taking it strong to the hole at this level. Yet like an elastic man, the sinewy strong youngster with a sticky handle has sliced and diced the lane.
I also didn’t know if a rookie brimming with so much energy would fit into a lineup with several veterans, including an MVP. I thought the role Bones now occupies, energizer off the bench who fires up the crowd, would still belong to Facundo Campazzo.
Yet Bones is not only giving starting PG Monte Morris a breather, but helping take a little of the spotlight and pressure off Jokic.
In Friday night’s win against Atlanta, Bones logged the second-most minutes and scored the most points (15) of his young NBA career. He might already be the second-most popular player on the Nuggets, but the question is should he be starting?
Let’s take a look at Pros and Cons of Bones becoming a starter now.
Bones plays with a confidence and electricity that’s hard to define let alone contain. Sideline reporter Vic Lombardi caught a snippet of conversation during a timeout Friday.
“They love you, Bones,” a coach said. “Yep,” Bones replied and headed back onto the court. Presumably dropping the mic first.
Without Jokic in the lineup, Bones showed great chemistry with second-year PF Zeke Nnaji, who proved to be Jokic’s substitute rather than the veteran Greens.
And on Friday with Jokic back he kept the chemistry flowing with the veteran, most impressively on a play where he might have tried to force a difficult acrobatic shot after a Jokic feed. Wisely, in mid-air, he instead passed back to Jokic for an easy slam.
Bones has also know Will Barton since childhood and the two seem to play off each other well.
The Eye Test…and The Numbers
You want your best players on the court as many minutes as possible, and Bones creates on offense for both himself and others. The stats support the eye test.
Bones is averaging 8.1 ppg , which translates into almost 20 points per 40 minutes. His scoring efficiency is 1.106.
Bones plays great defense with his long wingspan and doesn’t turn the ball over much. He has a steal/turnover ratio of 1.1 and an assist/turnover of 2.9.
Without MPJ in the starting lineup, Jeff Green has been inserted. Green, the 35-year-old vet, has played admirably, with his best night coming on Friday night as well.
Still, the Nuggets could go younger and quicker by keeping the veteran presence of Monte Morris at the helm with Bones starting beside him.
The two played together a few minutes on Friday night. The lineup of Morris, Bones, Barton, Gordon and Jokic sounds potent to me. At least until MPJ comes back.
Could the expectations and pressure on Bones rise to a point where a 21-year-old might falter? If he has another game like he did against Houston when he scored 2 points on 1-7 FG shooting, would it turn into two or three off nights if he starts to press.
Similar to keeping a high-first round QB as a backup to learn the game gradually from the sidelines, the Nuggets could keep easing Hyland into a lead role.
I was going to suggest that Portland might not be the ideal game for Coach Malone to insert Bones into the starting lineup because of its superstar backcourt tandem. Yet it appears Damien Lillard will miss the game.
Regardless, it might be wise for Malone to be extra careful when picking the first game to start Bones. Whenever he does crack the starting lineup, the Nuggs want it to be a memorable night for the right reasons rather than the wrong ones.
If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It
Ye olde philosophy of keeping a a good thing going could apply here. The Nuggets have four straight wins when Bones is coming off the bench.
Admittedly, I’m having a hard time coming up with Cons. Watch this Bones interview while he plays HORSE with Nuggs reporter/analyst Katy Winge and let me know if you can.