Letâs start with the viral video. Itâs a late September night in 2017 at the CheckRock streetball league in Wilmington, Delaware and a crowd has gathered to watch NahâShon âBonesâ Hyland (the-then 17 year-old streetball legend and now-20 year-old Denver Nuggets first round draft pick) play one-on-one against two guys who donât seem to know what theyâve gotten themselves into. Game to seven, scored by ones, make it take it.
Up first, Green Shirt. After 30 seconds, Green Shirt is down 3-0, his lineless oval face progressively scrunches with frustration as heâs beaten 7-3. White Tank Top fares much worse, losing 7-0 and only ever touching the ball when he embarrassingly tosses it at Hylandâs head to try to save face. None of this is remarkable on its own; in fact, Hyland canât even recall exactly who those guys were or why they deserved such ignominy. But the messageâthe cascade of double stepback jumpers on unforgiving double-rimsâis clear.
âIâm a killer, straight up,â Hyland said as he prepared for the NBA Draft. âWhen weâre on the court, I need you to know that you canât guard me.â
To a degree, this video (appropriately named NahâShon âBonesâ Hyland Destroys Two Philly Trash Talkers) is really a public service announcement, introducing its 3.3 million viewers to not just NahâShon Hyland, but Bizzy Bones, Hylandâs on-court alter-ego. Whereas NahâShon is polite and affable, Bizzy Bones (Bizzy because he gets busy with the ball; Bones because heâs so skinny and long-limbed) is ruthless. NahâShon is a basketball player; Bizzy Bones is a hooper. NahâShon wants to laugh with you; Bizzy Bones wants to make people laugh at you.
âOff the court, heâs energetic, heâs joking around, heâs lampinâ,â said Thomas Jackson, a quasi-big brother figure for Hyland and the CEO of the Wilmington-based streetwear brand Carry My Own Weight. âBut when itâs game time, there are no more jokes and no more friends: heâs going at you.â
When Hyland was ten years old, he made the neighborhood YMCA his personal exhibition space, transforming a children’sâ rec-league into a showcase where he would unveil the crossovers and dribble moves that he learned from watching AND1 YouTube mixtapes of Hot Sauce and spent the last seven days practicing in the mirror. More, this was where Bizzy Bones was born.
âI was, like, 10 years-old, dropping 50 points just about every weekend,â Hyland remembered. âI was making ten threes in a half. The other kids were just looking at me like, âDamn, thereâs nothing I can do about that.ââ
For four years at St. Georges Technical High School, Hyland continued his reign of terror over the Wilmington youth basketball circuit. As such, he quickly became a celebrityâor at least the Delaware high school equivalent of oneâas people swarmed to watch him exhibit the depth of his scoring bag.
âOur gym was always full,â said Rodney Griffin, Hylandâs high school coach. âFrom his Junior year on, no matter where we wentâNew York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Marylandâthe games were sold out. People would show up to root for Bones and watch him play.â
With good reason.
âThere was one scrimmage where Bones got super hotâhe was shooting from everywhere, he could shoot it from the ocean,â Griffin said with a laugh. âDuring a timeout, he comes up to me and tells me heâs going to shoot from behind halfcourt. So, on the next play, he does and he splashes it; the net doesnât even move and the crowd is going nuts. And right away, the other coach calls the gameâhe ends the scrimmage because he said heâd seen enough.â
Although Hyland held scholarship offers from basketball powerhouses like Michigan and UConn, he ultimately committed to Virginia Commonwealth University because they were committed to himânot only were they one of the first notable teams to offer him a scholarship, but they never wavered in recruiting him, even after he tore his patella tendon so severely by jumping from the window of a burning building that doctors feared heâd never play basketball again.
After a relatively muted freshman season at VCU, Hyland fully emerged as Bizzy Bones during his sophomore year. Despite only being named to the Atlantic 10âs preseason third-team by the conferenceâs coaches, he became the conferenceâs clear star and best NBA prospect. By seasonâs end, he was named the conference player of the year. He proved to be unguardableâalthough A10 is perennially one of the best mid-major conferences in college basketball, no team was equipped to handle Hylandâs combination of game-breaking shooting and speed. Over the course of 12 conference games, Hyland averaged 20 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.1 assists, shooting 37.6 percent on nearly eight three point attempts per game and hitting an array of shots so difficult and mind-bending that at one game, his defender couldnât help but congratulate him.
As Hyland stands at the precipice of a professional basketball career looking back at his amateur basketball days, he has only one regret: he wishes that positive COVID-19 tests on his VCU team hadnât abbreviated their 2021 NCAA Tournament run before it began.
âI broke down when I heard the news [that we had been disqualified], because I thought that I lost my shot to show the world who I am,â Hyland said. âBefore the game, I swear to God, I had a feeling I was going to go crazy [against Oregon in the first round]. I was gonna get 40. I knew it.â
Next, Hyland imagines, his Rams wouldâve continued their run to the Sweet Sixteen by notching an upset against a second-seeded Iowa team that spent the bulk of the year ranked in the top ten. âThey were too slow for us,â Hyland declared. âWe wouldâve run them off the court. We were going to put [Luka] Garza in the pick-and-roll and I wouldâve made him fall.â
Now, looking forward to the NBA, the first league that he wonât be able to dominate on talent alone, Hyland is unfazed. As predicted by mock drafters and media pundits, Hyland was selected towards the end of the first round, picked 26th by the Denver Nuggets as the 16th guard off the board. If there are 15 better guards than him in the draft, thatâs news to him.
On the competitive dynamics of the pre-draft process: âDuring all this pre-draft stuff, I havenât run from anythingâIâve played in any workout, I scrimmaged at the combine. Other guys get caught up in all this ranking stuff and have been ducking me [in workouts for teams] because they know itâs not gonna end well for them.â
On his status compared to his peers: âIâm the best scorer in the draft. Iâm way shiftier with the ball than any other guard. I shoot it better and I shoot it with more range and I can create space with my stepback to get it off.â
Iâm the best scorer in the draft.
On his worries about Patrick Beverly and the elite defenders that await him: âIâve played against defenders better than Pat Bev. Heâs just aggressive and Iâve faced aggressive defenders beforeâI use that against them and they get themselves in foul trouble.â
Cocky? Maybe, but self-doubt is incompatible with the way that Hyland plays: hoisting jump shots from 30 feet away with your momentum carrying you away from the hoop requires a certain fortitude and strength-of-will. Itâs this kind of confidenceâa physical charisma that radiates outward from him like a heat shimmerâthat allows NahâShon to become Bizzy Bones.
The important thing about Bizzy Bones is that just about everybody likes to watch him play basketball; the important thing about NahâShon Hyland is that just about everybody likes him. Talk to enough people in his orbit and a common theme quickly emerges: he sparks joy.
âCoaching him was so much fun,â said Griffin. âHe plays with a lot of joy. More than scoring, I think the source of his joy is setting up his teammatesâmaking passes and getting everybody involved. Whenever Bones would pass to one of our good shooters, heâd be running back on defense with three fingers in the air before the shot even left the guyâs hand.â
Similarly, âI met him in 2017 or 2018,â said Jackson, âand I could tell that heâs different almost right away. Thereâs just something about his dedication and his leadership that draws people in.â
Beyond his immediate inner circle, Hyland shares a special bond with the city of Wilmington. In 2018, the city rallied around him in the aftermath of an unimaginable family tragedy (Hylandâs grandmother and little cousin died in a house fire that he managed to survive by jumping out of a window). âNobody else can know what heâs been through,â said Jackson, âbut itâs our responsibility to give him a space where he can feel understood.â In addition, a family friend set up a GoFundMe that raised over $23,000 from people all over the state who wanted to help Hylandâs family recover.
âThe city has supported me and my family,â Hyland said. âSince it happened, Iâve felt like everybody really welcomed us with open arms and that people care about me and my family. Sometimes it feels like all of Wilmington is embracing us and giving us a hug. Itâs really opened up the world for me and helped me realize the ways I can make a difference outside of basketball.â
Accordingly, Hyland puts on for Wilmington and Delaware, in ways both big and small. His left arm is a billboard for his hometown. Across the outside of his forearm, “WILMINGTON” is tattooed in unmissable block letters; keep looking along that same latitudinal place and TG4Lâa tribute to Tressi Gang, the collective that he formed in high schoolâis visible on the side of his hand, a touch below the pinkie.
A portmanteau of tres (three) and si (yes), Tressi Gang is a testament to the snowball-effect of Hylandâs good vibes. What began as his friend groupâs inside joke morphed into a larger collective of talented young players and then into a minor regional movement with a de facto theme songâthe music video for âTressi Bopâ by local rapper Shizz Nitty has nearly 60,000 views on YouTube and features a dancing Bones Hyland.
âWith Tressi Gang, weâre basically kinda putting our own style on three-pointers,â Hyland explained. âBut bigger than that, weâre a bunch of kids from the inner city and we want to show people that thereâs a road out of the streets and that you can go down it together.â
In a league full of players who have had any public-facing personality smoothed away by media-training and PR-speak, Hyland is refreshingly unpolished. He speaks eagerly and engagingly, punctuating most sentences with a laugh. Even when he dips into standard pro-athlete fare, he sounds genuine and thoughtful.
On his travel itinerary during the pre-draft process: âItâs actually been great, honestly. Iâve been flying all aroundâEast Coast, Midwest, West Coastâand itâs fun to see all these cities Iâve never been to before.â
On his work-ethic: âWhen I take stepbacks and deep threes in a game, those arenât out of the blue. At St. Georges and VCU, Iâd get to practice early and stay late working on those moves and the coaches would see the effort Iâm putting in and feel confident even when Iâm taking tough shots.â
On his larger purpose: âI just want to put smiles on peopleâs faces and help them out in the best way because I know that the blessings will come around tenfold.â
Weâre a bunch of kids from the inner city and we want to show people that thereâs a road out of the streets and that you can go down it together.
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 Nuggetsâ braintrust during his pre-draft interview; he discussed his fit with the roster and what heâll add to their offense. He confessed: âI feel like I’m the real Bones thoughâall due respect to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. I’m the real Bones.”
Just as the Bizzy Bones/NahâShon 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 (6â3â 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.
âThe shot-making is there,â said a member of a Power Five teamâs coaching staff, âbut the combination of his limitations as a passer and slight frame leave him without a natural position.â
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 gameâs original positional template. The idea of point guard-iness and how itâs 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.
âTo me, Bones is a combo guard, meaning that heâs equally capable playing on or off the ball,â said Rashad Phillips, a former pro player turned NBA Draft analyst and player development trainer. âThe best situation for him is one where heâs given the freedom to play his game and be creative, but in ways that donât pile too much responsibility on him right away.â
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 teamâs 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 Hylandâs most glaring offensive weaknesses while presenting a new host of challenges: Jokicâs playmaking will scale down Hylandâs 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.
âI think in a lot of ways this fit can be mutually beneficial,â said PD Web, the anonymous mayor of Draft Twitter and the director of research and development at Cerebro Sports. âThe Nuggets get a shooter while he gets an easier volume of shots. Itâs 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.â
In this sense, the NahâShon âBonesâ Hyland Experience requires a kind of enlightened ambivalence, an ability to hold two separate, potentially conflicting ideas, simultaneously and without friction. To PD Web, Hylandâs 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, itâs impossible for anybody to truly know Hyland and itâs his duty to try to understand him. But what image does Hyland want to project to the world?
âI want people to think Iâm an enthusiastic, kind person,â said NahâShon Hyland, adding with a Bizzy Bones laugh, âbut also that Iâll destroy them if I need to.âÂ