A narrative that the Nuggets would quickly look to shed, the bench unit started off with an awful outing in a win at Phoenix Suns, where Facundo Compazzo was the most efficient, finishing the night with a -6 net rating. Meanwhile, the starters in that game were all at least +18.
The next several games weren’t much better for the bench and the Nuggets were sitting at 2-2 with a disappointing home loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers and another tough break at Utah with Nikola Jokic sitting out the second half after a knee contusion.
Things would begin to change as the defense has been the Nuggets calling card to start this young season.
The insertion of Bones Hyland has been a spark to this bench unit in the past few games. Hyland made his debut in a home loss to the Cavs, scoring seven points on 3-5 from the floor in only ten minutes of play.
After sitting out of the Utah game, Malone has kept Hyland in the bench rotation in every game since, and their most recent outing against the Indiana Pacers proved just how valuable Bones can be. He and Zeke Nnaji picked up the scoring slack with Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. both out for the contest, scoring 12 and 19 respectively off the bench.
After the game, head coach Michael Malone had a lot of high praise for both of his young bench pieces:
"“And what I love about Bones is that when he gets into the paint or gets around the basket, he’s not forcing tough shots. He’s finding guys. He’s playing with a poise beyond his years.“What I love about Zeke, and I think he gets this from his parents, he is dedicated, he’s disciplined, and he’s one of the hardest workers on our team. And that’s when he’s not even playing, he’s not even in the rotation.”"
On the young season, Bones is averaging around seven points per game and two assists, shooting about 37 percent from the floor. Not gaudy stats by any means but it has shown results during the Nuggets current three-game winning streak. The Nuggets bench unit now ranks in the top half of the league in plus/minus rating with a +0.4 per NBA.com.
Adding Bones Hyland has elevated the level of play from the other guys on Denver’s reserve squad and that’s due in part to the style and confidence that Hyland brings to the Nuggets team. He has already impressed coach Malone enough to get consistent playing time as a rookie and has become a fan favorite in the Denver community.
The Nuggets continue their homestand on Friday against the Atlanta Hawks and on Sunday against the Portland Trail Blazers, both teams who rank in the bottom half of the league in bench plus/minus.
With the trending success of Bones Hyland and the Nuggets bench, fans of Mile High Basketball could see the reserves put together a couple more solid outings behind Hyland’s lead.