Observations from the bench unit’s upset win over the starters


SAN DIEGO – Bones Hyland’s high-pitched voice screeched across the gymnasium.

“That’s my boy!” he shouted from the sidelines of the Nuggets’ scrimmage Friday afternoon after rookie Christian Braun buried a 3-pointer from the corner. Hyland, whose own 3-point barrage helped Denver’s second unit upend the starters 98-89, has been integral to the cohesion of the bench unit.

“When I have that energy, it’s very contagious, it’s throughout the whole team,” Hyland said. “It’s like a bomb, everybody’s touching it.”

The media only watched the fourth quarter, but it was more than enough time to get a feel for various lineups, discern what type of chemistry this team is building and watch both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. as they return to game shape.

The second unit has the potential to be deep, dangerous: The Monte Morris-Will Barton trade this summer may have emboldened Hyland. Far from a typical rookie last season, he’s now tasked with spearheading a veteran-laden second unit and dictating the flow of that group. There were numerous sets where Bruce Brown handled as a point guard, too, which might foreshadow some flexibility in moving Hyland off the ball.

Christian Braun and Davon Reed both saw time as the backup small forward, and both were effective in their own way. Braun, in particular, shot with confidence, went right at the team’s established stars and even drew a charge against Michael Porter Jr. No role is guaranteed for him, and even if Reed is ahead of him on the depth chart, it’s not hard to imagine coach Michael Malone rolling out the competitive rookie. Speaking of rookies, Malone raved about the effort Peyton Watson flashed on Friday, too.

In the frontcourt, best friends Jeff Green and DeAndre Jordan have been the vocal pairing the Nuggets were missing.

“Last year I think we lacked that, having that vet that wants to speak up,” Hyland said.

The duo can be heard on most sequences, calling out defensive sets, hyping up their teammates, or messing with one another. But perhaps the standout performance from camp has been big man Zeke Nnaji. He added at least 10 pounds to his frame this summer and has been a menace on the glass. Nnaji vs. Jordan was one of the few camp battles that even existed at backup center, and Nnaji has made a significant impression on the coaching staff. Malone has consistently praised him every time he’s been asked.

Murray’s mobility: During one noteworthy moment, Murray snatched the ball from Green, then had a full head of steam as he knifed through the defense en route to a smooth layup. That was hardly the only time he put hard pressure on his knee or deftly changed directions.

Malone said he saw no evidence Murray was favoring his left knee. His agility, and his willingness to change direction, is trending upward.


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