Naz Hillmon is Living the Dream
Michigan's GOAT is starting to make a big impact midway through her rookie year. Also: the Zavier Simpson hook shot revolution is only beginning.
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Naz Hillmon’s greatest strength as a basketball player may be her ability to take advantage of an opportunity, whether that comes in the form of favorable post positioning, a potential rebound bouncing within her reach, or seeing the chance to outrun her matchup in transition.
When injuries took out Atlanta Dream forwards Nia Coffey and Monique Billings over the last couple weeks, Hillmon got the opportunity to start for the first time in her nascent WNBA career. I doubt anyone who followed her Michigan career is surprised to learn she looks like she belongs, which isn’t an easy feat for any rookie, let alone a second-round pick.
On July 15th, the first time Hillmon played 30+ minutes, she recorded her first career double-double with 13 points (6/10 FG) and 11 boards. Atlanta’s announcing crew repeatedly called her the bright spot in a tough loss against an elite Connecticut team.
Over the last five games, Hillmon is averaging 8.2 points, 9.0 rebounds (2.8 offensive), 2.2 assists, 1.0 steals, and 1.0 blocks in 32.2 minutes per game. Despite being young and shorthanded, the Dream have gone a respectable 2-3 over that span, maintaining their spot in the thick of the race for the final three playoff spots — they’re tied for eighth and eight teams make the postseason.
That included a road win against the Las Vegas Aces, one of only two teams to already lock up a playoff berth. Hillmon reeled in ten boards and shot 3/5 from the field with post buckets that looked like she was back in school:
Em🌹🏳️🌈 @em_adlerNaz's defense has been the x-factor, but I have to imagine her offense will expand with opportunities like this one: PnR, force the switch, get the seal, and then it's just one step and a smoooooth finish -- just like at Michigan https://t.co/YTqOTG2DpY
In a great sign for Hillmon’s long-term future with the Dream, she’s developed some chemistry with #1 overall draft pick Rhyne Howard, who looks like a budding superstar:
Hillmon often still looks like a rookie out there. She’s committed 17 turnovers over the last five games and shot below 50% in three of them. She’s likely headed back to a bench role with Coffey and Billings expected to return soon. If you’re an Atlanta (or Hillmon) fan, though, there’s been a lot more good than bad of late.
There’s been an adjustment period while she’s played an ancillary role for the first time outside of her appearances with Team USA. She’s looking significantly more comfortable playing off the ball and scrapping for points on cuts and rebounds. She looks confident shooting from midrange. She’s hitting 79% of her free throws.
Meanwhile, she still has those deadly post moves and finishing touch. When she gets a switch, the best play is still to dump the ball to her in the post, even at the WNBA level. That alone can take her a long way while the rest of her game comes along at an encouraging pace.
The Gospel of Captain Hook Spreads
Zavier Simpson is coming off another Summer League spent dropping jaws with his unique reliance on the hook shot as a six-foot guard. He’s only expanded his range with the shot — and ability to make it with either hand — since he left Ann Arbor. Bill and Robby are both dedicated Big Ten ball-watchers1 and they’re still very, very impressed:
Robby Kalland @RKallandWatching Zavier Simpson warmup the hook shot is incredible. He's taken like 20 in a row from 8 feet out.
While Simpson will continue to have a hard time sticking with a non-tanking NBA team, his influence may soon reach the highest levels of the game. In one of my favorite videos of the offseason, The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie interviewed 2023 lottery prospects Amen and Ausar Thompson, and the latter cited a familiar source when Vecenie pulled up a clip of him making a running hook:
“If a 5-11 dude can take that shot and never get blocked, you can too,” said the wise father.
I also greatly appreciate Sam’s open disdain for NBA writers who don’t watch college ball and didn’t realize Simpson’s been hitting that shot for years. Michigan fans may very well have watched the genesis of a movement in shooting styles not seen since the popularization of the floater in the 2000s and 2010s.
It’s an aesthetically pleasing and tremendously functional shot. I hope Simpson’s revolution takes hold.
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