The pressure is on for Bones Hyland next season, likely being the first guard off the bench and taking a more leading role when Jamal Murray rests. But should he start for the Denver Nuggets next season?
The most likely starting lineup for 2021-22 is Jamal, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Jokic. The addition of KCP gives Denver a floor spacer who can take the most intimidating perimeter option but if Michael Malone wants to go all-out offense, sliding in Hyland would help.
And building off of that, when it comes time to win games, does the best five-man lineup include Bones Hyland?
Since he has only played one season, it’s hard to project what these lineups might look like, but Bones’ ability to create for himself while also hitting shots off the dribble at a solid rate bodes well.
In 69 games this past season, Hyland took 36.3 percent of his 3-pointers in catch-and-shoot scenarios, drilling 36.7 percent of them. Only 24.7 percent of these shots were pull-ups but he hit an excellent 37 percent on those takes and we’ve seen him do it when it matters.
In the 2021-22 season, the most played five-man lineup combination with Bones on the court featured Austin Rivers and Bryn Forbes alongside him. While rookie guards are rarely effective on defense, he shared the court with other defensive holes and teams seldom targetted him.
It’ll be interesting to see if opposing offenses go at him next season. After trading away Monte Morris, Bones is likely the guard scorer and distributor off the bench for the Denver Nuggets, sharing his time with bench and starting units. In those minutes with the starters, he might be picked apart.
On the other hand, Malone has had to hide weaker defenders in the past with MPJ a major target in playoff settings, especially 2021’s second-round loss to the Phoenix Suns.
Speaking with Buckets, an NBA podcast, DeMarcus Cousins spoke highly of his former bench guard:
"“You know guys are like ‘I want all the smoke’ and when the big moment comes, and it’s like ‘where are you?’. [Bones is] on the front line. You got a guy like that and to be a young guy on a big stage doing it… Bones’ future is bright. I’m excited to see the pro he continues to turn into. He’s a special talent.”"
Bones is already well ahead of his developmental curve, growing into an effective scorer in his rookie season. His progression was recognized by Calvin Booth, giving him the ability to trade Monte and Will Barton in a deal that weakens the bench unit but addresses a major need on the wing with KCP. I don’t think that move gets made if there isn’t a natural answer at backup point guard already on the roster with Hyland.
Some didn’t think Bones would progress to where he is already and after showing out in various offseason videos and tearing up NBA defenses, maybe Hyland’s ceiling is much higher than we anticipate? If he’s a more talented scorer than we realize, he could be starting for this Denver Nuggets squad.
At the beginning of the season, we’ll likely see Caldwell-Pope get the nod but it’s worth keeping an eye on the lineups Malone chooses down the end of games. These closing lineups could influence the eventual starters.