Naz Hillmon can go for minutes at a time without even touching the ball. For most, this would constitute ineffective, lackluster play. But for the junior forward, simply being on the court is enough. Her presence, lurking in the paint, is what makes her so lethal. 

After a breakout freshman season, Hillmon asserted herself last year as the undisputed leader of the Michigan women’s basketball team. She averaged 17.4 points a game and took almost double the shots of anyone else. Hillmon’s game is relatively simple, but she executes it with near perfection, shooting at a 56 percent clip from the field and finding open teammates when she draws double teams.

With Hillmon at the forefront, the Wolverines have a stellar offense, ranking sixth in the conference in points per game.

“There’s not really kids in the country that can play with that kind of motor and that kind of enthusiasm and that kind of toughness,” Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said of Hillmon after the Wolverines beat the Spartans Feb. 23. “I just have always been respectful of what she has been able to do. For us to give her 17 points in the first half, that was just absolutely ridiculous.”

The Daily broke down her film to see just how much she adds to Michigan:

Playing through contact:

At 6-foot-2, Hillmon plays primarily in and around the paint and typically draws the most contact of anyone on the floor. When she gets the ball in her hands down low, particularly after cutting toward the ball, she is extremely hard to stop. Defenders recognize this and try to slow her down by fouling her, but she shakes them off with ease. Hillmon has the strength to not only make the basket but draw the foul. Last season, she attempted 180 free throws, 60 more than her next closest teammate. 

Hillmon led the Wolverines to an upset victory over Iowa in February with a 30-point scoring outburst highlighted by two three-point plays. Hillmon catches the pass in the middle of the paint, and with one dribble and a spin move, easily shakes off the defender for an easy layup, finishing through the foul.

On the next possession, the Hawkeyes still hadn’t learned their lesson, and Hillmon made light work of their defense yet again, scoring the layup and drawing another foul. 

High-percentage shooting:

Hillmon knows what she’s good at and doesn’t stray from it. She’s nearly impossible to stop when she has the ball in the paint, so she makes a concerted effort to play inside, rather than taking mid-range jump shots. This enabled Hillmon to lead the team in scoring and average 17.4 points per game.

In Michigan’s biggest game of the season against Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, Hillmon led the Wolverines to the upset victory with 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting. She was fed early and often by her teammates when posting up in the paint. She showcased her signature move in this game when, with her back to the defender, she caught the ball from guard Akienreh Johnson, dribbled and spun around her defender toward the basket. 

This was a move that Hillmon consistently went back to and it paid huge dividends for the Michigan offense. 

Finding open teammates when she’s double teamed

Hillmon’s presence in the offense is enough to help her team perform efficiently. Because she is a constant mismatch whether or not she has the ball, she often draws a double team from opposing defenses, leaving someone on the wing open. Whether or not she is the one passing her open teammate the ball, the double team allows the offense to flow and generate points. This way, whether or not Hillmon is scoring, she is always a dynamic force in the Wolverines’ offense. 

Against Northwestern during the Big Ten Tournament, the Wildcats double-teamed Hillmon as guard Amy Dilk inbounded the ball. This left forward Hailey Brown wide open behind the three-point line for the easy score. Hillmon’s presence and off-ball movement was the only reason Brown was able to get the ball and score. 

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