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Denver Nuggets guard Bones Hyland waits to take the court against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Oct. 25, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Seventy-four minutes of NBA basketball was enough to increase Michael Malone’s belief in Bones Hyland.

After receiving the unfavorable DNP-CD, or did not play – coach’s decision, designation in the box score in his first two games with the Denver Nuggets, the rookie has established himself as a contributor in the six games since. It started with 10 minutes of playing time, and his first three NBA buckets, in a loss to the Cavaliers on Oct. 25. He crossed the 20-minute threshold for the first time Wednesday in Memphis, getting him to 74 for the season, when he posted nine points, four rebounds and three assists. All those figures set a new career-high or matched his previous best.

“He’s in the rotation now,” Malone, in his seventh season coaching the Nuggets said, Friday after a light practice ahead of Saturday’s 3 p.m. home game against the Houston Rockets. “He’s just going to get better just by the experience of playing. The game will slow down for him, but what he brings to the table right now that is so much fun to watch is the energy and pace that he brings.”

The second unit, which Hyland recently joined, has been looking for a boost. Hyland already feels like he can provide that after a little more than an hour of NBA experience.

“I’m trying to take that all on my shoulders, because I know what I can do with the scoring ability that I have,” Hyland said.

In a small sample size to start his career, Hyland’s shooting 44.1% from the field and 36.4% from 3-point range. He’s hit at least one 3-pointer and scored six or more points in all five games that he’s appeared in, posting an 11-to-3 assist-to-turnover ratio.

“Bones gets into the paint whenever he wants,” Malone said. “He generates drive-and-kick (situations). He can get to the rim and finish for himself, so I just love the amount of pressure he puts on the opposing defense.”

The early success, Hyland believes, is a byproduct of the work he’s put into his game dating back to his days at St. Georges Technical High School and two years at Virginia Commonwealth University. In what could have been his junior year in college, the 21-year-old guard is creating a role for himself amongst a group of guards with far more NBA experience.

“Coming in as a rookie, it’s a lot of vets here,” Hyland said. “Just me coming in right off the bat and showing the coaches what I have to offer, it means a lot to myself, because it shows how much work that I’ve been putting in. I honestly feel as though I deserve the minutes as well, too, because I work my tail off.”

The next step of Hyland’s development, Malone said, is digging into the small stuff like mastering entry passes to the post and knowing where to relocate when teams send an extra defender Nikola Jokic’s way. Despite a turnover against Memphis when Hyland lobbed a post feed to Aaron Gordon – Malone compared it to a Ray Guy punt, saying “It’s in the air for four seconds,” – the first 74 minutes have Hyland’s coach anticipating about what’s to come.

“I think he’s playing really well for us,” Malone said. “What’s exciting about that is that he’s only going to get better. As he starts to understand the league, opposing teams’ personnel, he’s just going to be like a sponge taking it all in. That’s going to help his development, and I think it’s going to be a pretty rapid development.”

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