Hoops 2021-22: Two Exhibitions, Three Takeaways Each
Naz Hillmon is swishing three-pointers and Hunter Dickinson is hitting righty hooks. We're gonna have some fun this season.
Both the men’s and women’s basketball programs played exhibition games last week. Given the soporific nature of the football team’s win over Indiana, I’d much rather write about hoops today, even if it regards games that didn’t count against Wayne State and Grand Valley State. This is called “playing the hits.”
I know which sporting events got me the most amped, though. Both basketball teams saw their superstars showing new skills, eye-opening contributions from role players, and comfortably big wins — 87-54 for the men over WSU, 80-57 for the women against GVSU. Also, the directors of these games weren’t begging me to tweet about the decay of capitalism during one of countless commercial breaks, which was nice.
Happy Learned How to Putt, WBB Edition
Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha everyone else is dead.
Naz Hillmon shot 2-for-3 from three-point range, drilling a pair of wide open looks and having a more contested third attempt go halfway down before popping out. She posted a Hillmonian stat line: 25 points, 9/12 FG, 5/6 FT, 6 offensive rebounds out of 14 total boards, a block, and a steal in 29 minutes.
Those threes were new, though. When Kim Barnes Arico discussed Hillmon extending her range in the offseason, I assumed she meant a more developed midrange game. After all, Hillmon attempted only eight (eight!) of her 315 field goal attempts in 2020-21 from outside the paint. In her first three years at Michigan, she went 0/1 from beyond the arc.
Hillmon is developing her game for the WNBA; a benefit of that is she might lead the country in scoring this year.
It wasn’t just the shooting. Hillmon looks like she’s in phenomenal shape. She showed off more developed ballhandling, taking the ball up the court herself a few times, including to set up her first three-pointer. We’re not just going to see the best form of Hillmon this season; we’re going to see what happens when a great player adds an entirely new dimension to her game.
Happy Learned How to Putt, MBB Edition
I loved this set from Juwan Howard before it ended in a right-handed hook by Hunter Dickinson. Watch Eli Brooks, starting on the near side, cut to the basket and set an off-ball screen on Dickinson’s defender, allowing the seven-footer to catch the ball in excellent position:
Dickinson’s defender overplays the turn to the left-hand enough that Dickinson can’t even get his right foot down where he wants it on his initial move. Last year, he probably tries to go left anyway or kicks it out to reset the play and try again. This year, he pivots into a righty hook.
On the next trip down the floor, Dickinson got the ball on the left side of the paint again, this time a little farther from the hoop. He took a couple backdown dribbles, then spun left for a layup. If that right-handed shot keeps falling, he’s going to have an easier time getting to his dominant hand.
WBB: Bombs Away?
I wrote this about Hillmon’s 2020-21 post production last week:
She did this in what I’d judge wasn’t the most post-friendly environment last season. Michigan only attempted 25% of their field goals from beyond the three-point arc, ranking 258th out of 343 D-I teams, per Her Hoop Stats. They only hit 30.7% of those triples, ranking 185th. This didn’t exactly dissuade defenses from collapsing into the post when Hillmon got the ball.
Michigan had a markedly different offensive approach on Thursday, attempting three-pointers on 37.5% of their field goals, which would’ve been their highest rate in any game of 2020-21, and knocking down a robust ten of 21. The ten makes would’ve been their best mark last season, beating out three games with nine, and they needed at least 23 attempts in each of those games.
To my eye, the team relied less on the high-low actions they ran with Hillmon and Hailey Brown last year, instead leaning more on ball screens and four-out/one-in sets that kept the floor well-spaced around Hillmon. If the defense didn’t collapse, Naz could easily work a one-on-one matchup into a bucket:
If the defense did help down, opportunities arose for wide-open three-point looks…
…or driving lanes for Amy Dilk, who played a stellar game with 15 points, eight assists against a lone turnover, and two steals.
This could be the influence of one of the three new assistant coaches, Val Nainima, a former South Carolina and Fijian national team standout who spent the last seven seasons as either a video coordinator or assistant coach at Fordham. The Rams finished among the top 26 teams in the country in three-point rate (3PA/FGA) in four of those seven seasons, according to Her Hoop Stats.
The increased emphasis on outside shooting particularly benefited junior guard Michelle Sidor, who shot 3-for-4 on three-pointers and finished third on the team with 11 points. Six Wolverines hit at least one from beyond the arc and that number didn’t include Leigha Brown or Emily Kiser, who both have the range.