Even during the stale, empty ritual of a post-draft press conference, Hyland brought energy. Whereas most prospects unconvincingly stumble through how they definitely grew up a lifelong Sacramento Kings fan, Hyland spoke with real enthusiasm. He talked about rapping for the Nuggets’ braintrust during his pre-draft interview; he discussed his fit with the roster and what he’ll add to their offense. He confessed: “I feel like I'm the real Bones though—all due respect to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. I'm the real Bones."
Just as the Bizzy Bones/Nah’Shon dialectic has defined Hyland thus far, his ultimate NBA success will hinge on his ability to maintain his signature flair while scaling his usage to fit within the framework of his team. Viewed pessimistically, Hyland is stuck between traditional basketball archetypes: his frame (6’3” and only 170ish pounds) renders him too small to defend shooting guards, but his negative assist-to-turnover ratio at VCU makes it untenable for him to conduct an NBA offense. His shot-making and accuracy in a variety of contexts (pull-ups, stationary catch-and-shoots, off-ball movement shooting, etc.) may guarantee that he commands minutes, but it could be tricky to construct lineups to fit those minutes within.
“The shot-making is there,” said a member of a Power Five team’s coaching staff, “but the combination of his limitations as a passer and slight frame leave him without a natural position.”
Optimistically, Hyland defies myopic basketball conventions because he fits within a more modern conception of the sport. Players have become skilled in such diverse and sundry ways that basketball in 2021 has transcended the game’s original positional template. The idea of point guard-iness and how it’s in conflict with shooting guard-dom has largely faded into obsolescence, replaced by a broader understanding of how players can fit together on the court.
“To me, Bones is a combo guard, meaning that he’s equally capable playing on or off the ball,” said Rashad Phillips, a former pro player turned NBA Draft analyst and player development trainer. “The best situation for him is one where he’s given the freedom to play his game and be creative, but in ways that don’t pile too much responsibility on him right away.”
Appropriately, the Nuggets play with a peerless weirdness, led by Nikola Jokic, the reigning MVP and the goofiest great player in recent memory. Every NBA team’s offensive philosophy is built to some degree upon the concept of gravity, using their personnel to alternately force defenders to cling to shooters along the three-point or collapse to the paint; the Nuggets, alone, incorporate centripetal force. With Jokic as the slick-passing axle, the other four Nuggets orbit him, creating passing opportunities and disorienting defenses through this regulated chaos. This at once alleviates some of Hyland’s most glaring offensive weaknesses while presenting a new host of challenges: Jokic’s playmaking will scale down Hyland’s creation load and allow him to focus primarily on different ways to weaponize his jumper, but it will also require Hyland to adapt to a novel role without the ball.
“I think in a lot of ways this fit can be mutually beneficial,” said PD Web, the anonymous mayor of Draft Twitter and the director of research and development at Cerebro Sports. “The Nuggets get a shooter while he gets an easier volume of shots. It’s going to be really interesting to see how a guy can handle going from being a mega-on-ball, do-it-yourself creator to being a very good shooter who can leverage his gravity, while also maintaining those other skills.”
In this sense, the Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland Experience requires a kind of enlightened ambivalence, an ability to hold two separate, potentially conflicting ideas, simultaneously and without friction. To PD Web, Hyland’s success with the Nuggets could hinge on how easily he can adjust to subsisting on easier looks. To Rashad Phillips, he needs a structure where he can play free of structure. To Rod Griffin, Hyland is a conscious-free scorer who launches such outrageous shots that opposing coaches rage-quit scrimmages, yet who somehow finds greater delight in simple passes. To Thomas Jackson, it’s impossible for anybody to truly know Hyland and it’s his duty to try to understand him. But what image does Hyland want to project to the world?
“I want people to think I’m an enthusiastic, kind person,” said Nah’Shon Hyland, adding with a Bizzy Bones laugh, “but also that I’ll destroy them if I need to.”