While every team dealt with new challenges in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the VCU Rams had it especially bad. After an impressive season where the Rams finished 19-7 in A-10 play, they were rightfully awarded an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. VCU was slotted as a 10 seed and was slated to play the Oregon Ducks in the round of 64.
After the tournament was canceled in 2020, fans and players across the college basketball landscape were ecstatic for the celebration of the sport that was about to ensue. Then, the indiscriminate nature of the pandemic reared its ugly head again. VCU reported a positive case for COVID-19 and was forced to bow out of the tournament without playing a game.
VCU’s leader and catalyst Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland took it especially hard.
I don’t even know where to start.. Growing up as a kid who came from nothing these type moments was all I dreamed of. Playing in March madness was always a thing of beauty to me. I had a huge feeling we were about to make a crazy run & Just like that my heart is shattered again— Bizzy (@BizzyBones11) March 21, 2021
The sophomore from Wilmington, Delaware was one of the most lethal scorers in all of college basketball last season, and it’s a true shame we didn’t get to enjoy his electrifying game on the sport’s grandest stage.
Aside from not being able to shine in the NCAA Tournament, the last few years of Nah’Shon Hyland’s life have not been easy. In 2018, his family was the victims of a tragic house fire, which left Hyland with a shoulder injury that briefly put his playing career in jeopardy.
Out of high school, Hyland wasn’t pursued by college basketball’s elite programs. He committed to VCU over offers from programs such as Delaware, La Salle, Hofstra, Rhode Island, San Diego State, and Temple. Hyland’s path to the NBA has been anything but ordinary. But following a spectacular sophomore season where he averaged 19.5 points per game, Bones is on the verge of being a first-round selection in the NBA Draft.
Measurables (via NBA.com)
Weight: 169 lbs
Max Vertical Leap: 34 inches
Projected Role: Flamethrower Sixth Man
Shot Creation: As things currently stand, Bones is one of the five best shot creators in this class. Last season, Hyland was unquestionably VCU’s go-to man offensively. This led to Hyland facing tougher matchups, and teams often gave him extra attention to prevent him from getting good looks. As a result, Hyland was oftentimes left attempting difficult shots that he still converted at an impressive rate. Bones is a ridiculous jump shooter, he can pull up from anywhere on the floor to generate offense. During Hyland’s freshman campaign, he shot over 43 percent on three-point attempts. That number slid a bit to 37.1 percent as a sophomore, but this is still an impressive clip considering the magnitude in the difficulty for a lot of Hyland’s looks. Bones consistently hit ridiculous shots, saving possessions that appeared doomed.
There is some concern that Hyland will never be able to finish at the rim at the next level, but those concerns might be slightly exaggerated. Bones improved considerably as a finisher from his freshman to sophomore seasons. While this most likely won’t ever be a strength of Hyland’s game, there is reason to hope that it won’t quite be the detriment some think it will be. One reason why Hyland could improve his scoring near the rim is because he is a good dribbler. Hyland is able to use his handle to beat defenders in one-on-one situations despite not containing elite explosiveness.
Measurables: In addition to his dribbling, Hyland possesses some strong size and length, especially if he is going to play some lead guard. At the combine, Hyland measured in at over 6-3 with a wingspan of over 6-9. The wingspan is immediately intriguing, and definitely should instill hope that Hyland could continue to improve when it comes to finishing at the rim. While Hyland has a thin frame, he also improved at absorbing contact in the paint. Bones is one of the best free throw shooters in this draft, as he shot over 86 percent from the charity stripe last year on four-and-a-half attempts per game.
Defensive Awareness: Hyland’s basketball I.Q. really stands out on the defensive end. While Hyland may struggle in one-on-one matchups, he boasts a lot of potential as a team defender. During his sophomore campaign, Hyland averaged nearly two steals per game. This was comparable to some of college basketball’s best defensive guards such as Baylor’s Davion Mitchell and West Virginia’s Miles McBride. If an opposing player makes a lazy pass, Hyland knows how to make him pay for it. In addition to his ability to generate steals, Hyland is also a strong defensive rebounder for a guard, as he averaged 4.7 rebounds per game.
Competitiveness: A competitor to his core, Bones will enter the league with a chip on his shoulder. I simply can’t see a scenario where Hyland fizzles out of the league — he’s an elite shooter, which gives him a high floor for a player projected to go near the end of the first round. Aside from his incredible shooting, he’s a fierce competitor that will be on a mission to prove he belongs in the league. Bones is the type of guy that will go the extra mile to make sure he makes it.
Athleticism: Unfortunately, athleticism is one thing that can’t be coached. While Hyland isn’t a bad athlete, he lacks the elite athletic fundamentals that scouts drool over these days. His vertical leap is poor, which is one reason teams are concerned he’ll struggle to finish at the rim when facing NBA competition. While Hyland was a good defender at the collegiate level, there is valid concern that he will struggle to stay in front of quicker and stronger guards at the NBA level. It’s the nature of the beast with being a mid-major prospect, but Hyland will of course face questions about the level of competition that he faced while at VCU. While the A-10 is far from a shabby conference, Hyland also wasn’t really faced with a gauntlet of a schedule. The best team VCU played last year was West Virginia, and this was also arguably Hyland’s worst game, as he only scored 13 points on 5-16 shooting. There will even be questions pertaining to Hyland’s offensive game and how it will translate when faced with the more athletic and longer defenders of the NBA.
Tweener concerns: It feels like we have at least one player like this in every draft, but Hyland is a shooting guard in a point guard’s body. While the impressive wingspan could certainly help him here, there are also plenty of questions about how Hyland’s thin and wiry frame will hold up on both ends when matched up with bigger and stronger players. If Hyland could solely play the point, this could help shield a lot of these concerns. However, when Hyland is operating as the lead guard there are a ton of questions about his ability to protect the ball and create for others.
Distribution: Solely due to his size, Hyland would probably be most effective in the NBA as a point guard. However, if he is going to spend significant minutes as a lead guard, his distribution is going to have to improve. Bones averaged just north of two assists per game last year, coupled with over three turnovers per game. This is a dreadful assist-to-turnover ratio, and if it doesn’t improve, Hyland could be fighting hard for meaningful minutes. While Hyland’s handle does give him the ability to beat some defenders in one-on-one situations, he usually gets tunnel vision and flies to the rim to get off a shot even if that’s not the best option. He could certainly improve on looking to pass off the dribble.
Player comparison: Devonte Graham
I usually despise player comparisons as it is oftentimes misconstrued as easy-to-crunch analysis, and really, no two players are the same! There were a few players that ran through my mind when coming up with a comp for Bones, but my favorite one ended up being Charlotte’s Devonte Graham. Similar to Hyland, Graham struggles to score near the rim but he possesses a shot that can be deadly. Graham also has some tweener qualities himself, frequently playing both guard positions for the Hornets. Graham has turned himself into an underrated NBA defender as he displays impressive tenacity and attention to detail. Perhaps Hyland turns himself into a better NBA defender than expected with some similar attributes. I expect Hyland to be a better NBA shooter than Graham, but Graham also possesses considerably more ability when it comes to creating for teammates.
Graham exploded onto the scene last year after Kemba Walker’s departure, and while he fell out of Charlotte’s starting lineup due to the emergence of LaMelo Ball, he was still one of the NBA’s premier sixth men and has set himself up for a handsome payday this offseason. I love to think about Bones in a similar role; while he may never become an everyday starter, his combination of scoring ability and competitive drive could one day be a formula to be the NBA Sixth Man of the Year.
Prediction: Pick 25 to the Los Angeles Clippers
There have been plenty of drafts in the past where Hyland would be a top-20 or maybe even a lottery selection. Personally, I have Hyland higher than 25 on my big board. But this draft is deep, which means it is likely Hyland will get chosen toward the end of the first round or at the very beginning of the second round. There are multiple teams slated to pick toward the end of the first round that could benefit from Hyland’s skillset, but the Clippers seem like a match made in heaven.
Led by Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers have a roster ready to win a championship right now. The Clippers boast what is arguably the best defensive roster in the NBA, but they could use more bench scoring, especially in the backcourt. Bones would be ready to contribute here from day one, and on a team stacked with defensive standouts, it could be much easier to mitigate some of his defensive woes.