Denver Nuggets: The pressure is on for Bones Hyland

Denver Nuggets guard Bones Hyland (3) flexes after a play in the fourth quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies at Ball Arena on 7 Apr. 2022. (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)
Denver Nuggets guard Bones Hyland (3) flexes after a play in the fourth quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies at Ball Arena on 7 Apr. 2022. (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports) /

After trading away Monte Morris and Will Barton, it’s clear that the Denver Nuggets believe Bones Hyland has what it takes to anchor the second unit. But is he ready?

Denver has prioritized wing defense and tax relief by trading Monte and Will to the Washington Wizards for Ish Smith and Ketavious Caldwell-Pope. Monte was one of the best backup point guards in the league but his role was seen as expendable with the imminent return of Jamal Murray and rise of Bones Hyland.

After the 2022 All-Star break, Michael Malone decided to lean into his rookie point guard, essentially excising the inefficient Facundo Campazzo from the rotation and naming Bones the first guard off the bench. He excelled in this role, averaging 12.8 points and 4.3 assists in 23 games after the break.

His shooting and speed were enough to help Hyland play as the primary facilitator with the bench unit while also blending in with the starters as a floor spacer. In the 2021-22 season, it was like found money – to get significant contributions from a rookie is an amazing piece of business, but now he’s going to be relied on for an entire season.

Calvin Booth is making this call based on a small sample size and what appears to be a priority from management to duck under the luxury tax. The Monte-Barton trade, on top of the JaMychal Green salary dump, sees the Denver Nuggets creep under the luxury tax line while picking up a much-needed 3-and-D wing in KCP. But more on that in a minute.

In the 23 games after the All-Star break, Bones was extremely efficient across the floor. He took a majority of his shots from behind the 3-point line and it buoyed his offensive efficiency, boasting a 59.3 effective field goal percentage according to Cleaning the Glass.

Using the same data, Bones was one of the best combo guards in the league after the break at scoring in the paint, making 77 percent of his baskets in the restricted area. Pair that with a near 40 percent from behind the arc and that’s a highly efficient scorer right there.

The second year for guards is where you usually see them make a major leap and this post-All-Star efficiency is something to build on if he can keep it rolling.

After the Monte trade, Bones is going to be the permanent first guard off the bench behind Jamal and without Will Barton soaking up shots, Bones will surely see an increase in minutes and shots, a welcome sight.

The cynic in me just has to wonder whether the Denver Nuggets saw this as an opportunity to move on from Will Barton while also elevating Bones Hyland? Or if they saw Hyland’s growth as a rationale to dump Monte’s contract as well, slipping below the luxury tax for now. If Denver ends up using the traded player exception they created in the JaMychal trade or using their full mid-level exception, this won’t matter as much, but it’s a question for now.

It was never going to be a choice between Monte or Bones as well, both can share the court at the same time. Alongside this, Jamal Murray will likely see some injury management and rest days after coming back from his injury so there’s a need to buff up the guard rotation for the games he misses.

Either way, Bones Hyland will have a bigger role next season and only time will tell if he can continue to grow.

Next. Could the Nuggets make a move for Malcolm Brogdon?. dark