Last season’s Denver Nuggets had a nasty habit. So bad, in fact, that coach Michael Malone deemed it worthy of a name.
An internal review this summer found that upon hoisting a shot, the Nuggets were habitual ball-watchers. Malone deduced that instead of crashing the glass in hopes of an offensive rebound, or a committed effort to get back on defense, his team had a penchant for standing around, leading to a transition defense that was abysmal and worse, indecisive.
This preseason, Malone introduced “The Hubie,” – in honor of former Coach of the Year Hubie Brown. Even though the reference is in homage to Brown, it’s got a negative connotation. In the aftermath of Monday night’s preseason opener, an uninspiring loss to Oklahoma City, a lengthy film session on Tuesday revealed 25 “Hubies.”
Nuggets second-year guard Bones Hyland didn’t know the origin of the reference but knew he’d been guilty of them nonetheless.
“The whole game,” he said after Tuesday’s practice.
Hyland drew the brunt of criticism from Malone on Monday night after he failed to organize the second unit and didn’t play with the effort Malone wanted. There were defensive lapses all over the roster, but when asked about the second unit’s cohesion, Malone honed in on Hyland.
“Bones has to do a better job of running his team, and when things aren’t going your way, keep playing,” Malone said. “I thought he took some plays off, which is unacceptable.”
With 4:53 left in the third quarter and 21 seconds left on the shot clock, Hyland stepped into a deep 3-pointer that came up short. The shot was so deep, his only option was to hustle back on defense in anticipation of the Thunder’s oncoming rush. Instead, he meandered back as Thunder forward Josh Giddey stepped into an uncontested 3-pointer.
Malone called a timeout, and Hyland earned one of the more glaring “Hubies” of the game.
In an effort to become a top-five defense, which is the team’s stated goal, identifying “Hubies” are just the beginning. The film session revealed how the Nuggets were lacking on the glass (the Thunder had 13 offensive rebounds) and weren’t connected in the paint. Denver’s containment, in an effort to slow dribble penetration, wasn’t there, either. But the honest film session also gave Malone a chance to test his team, and more specifically, Hyland.
“I was proud of Bones,” Malone said Tuesday. “I think he showed growth. He came in here today ready to work, ready to get better, and he owned it. He didn’t come in here feeling sorry for himself. That’s a big step for him.”
Similar to how he parents his two daughters, Malone told Hyland that he’d hold him accountable precisely because he cares so much for him.
And to Hyland’s credit, he didn’t let a shaky performance dictate his effort at practice Tuesday.
“I’m not the type of kid, I don’t dwell on poor performances,” he said. “… I know how I’m supposed to perform, and I know that (last night’s) nothing like me. I’m not gonna come in here and be pouty.”
Jokic’s wrist: Nikola Jokic spent the second half of Monday’s game on the bench with a wrap around his right wrist. Although none of the starters played the second half, it was still mildly concerning to see the two-time MVP nursing an injury so early into the season.
On Tuesday, Jokic didn’t seem anxious about his wrist, simply describing the feeling as “weird.”
Malone said Jokic was a full participant in Tuesday’s practice, though the Nuggets didn’t do a lot of live work. Given that Jokic already has some basketball under his legs this summer via EuroBasket, the Nuggets will not only monitor him closely but also be mindful of his workload with the regular season set to tip in about two weeks.