It’s not like Naz Hillmon was struggling previous to the 2020-21 season.
In her sophomore marketing campaign, the 6-foot-2 Michigan forward averaged 17.4 points per game on 56.7 percent shooting from the sector. She was a finalist for the 2020 Katrina McClain Award, given to the nation’s high energy ahead.
However the Hillmon we’re seeing this yr is subsequent degree. She’s averaging 25.9 factors per sport, third within the nation, on 65.1 % capturing from the ground. She scored 50 factors in a sport towards Ohio State, together with 31 within the second half, leading her coach, Kim Barnes Arico, to say this: “I’ve coached some actually nice gamers — actually, actually nice gamers — in my time. No, I’ve by no means seen a efficiency like that.”
And no, this was not a one-off. If you happen to needed to generate a warmth map representing dominance on the rim, it could look quite a bit like these from CBBAnalytics.
Neither is she a one-dimensional performer. Hillmon is twelfth within the nation in offensive rebounding share. She has minimize her turnover charge from 17.6 to 12.1 %, and she or he’s greater than doubled her block share from 0.8 to 1.8.
Put merely, Hillmon has managed to search out one other degree. In regular occasions, this is able to be noteworthy however unsurprising — as school gamers develop expertise, study their techniques, construct energy within the weight room and get capturing reps in video games, their abilities typically sharpen.
However the gamers who’re doing it this yr aren’t enhancing in a traditional season. I don’t assume I’m breaking any information right here after I let you know that COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on school basketball.
Hillmon is a main instance: After her 50-point in late January, her college’s athletic division shut down for several weeks after a rash of COVID-19 instances. She didn’t play from Jan. 21 till Feb. 11. Regardless of: She’s scored 21, 31, 23 and 27 in her 4 video games since.
So sure, it is a take a look at some large leaps ahead by a few of school basketball’s brightest stars. But it surely looks like one thing greater than that. Discovering methods to enhance, in a disrupted season and through a difficult time, speaks to a participant’s capability to take care of adversity. WNBA groups are going to recollect this when it comes time to draft.
Talking of drafting, there’s little motive to assume anybody aside from Charli Collier of Texas must be at the top of the WNBA draft this spring ought to she come out (although Finnish energy ahead Awak Kuier will probably be within the combine as effectively), A season for the ages from Collier, on a crew that’s struggled at occasions to offer the assist to make her even higher, has solely bolstered her already elite trajectory.
The scouting report for taking part in the Longhorns begins with determining a approach to gradual Collier in any respect prices. That is exacerbated by a backcourt that has run into issue discovering Collier at her finest spots — the Longhorns are 306th in the country in assisted shot charge, and with the crew hitting simply 30.8 % of its threes, spacing is at a premium.
Even so, the 6-foot-5 Collier is dramatically extra environment friendly from the sector this season, up to 51.1 percent after capturing 43.2 % in 2019-20, with a rebounding share that’s twenty ninth within the nation, reflecting a top-50 mark on each the offensive and defensive boards. Now think about what these numbers would appear like in an offense with extra constant level guard play and a capability to get her open seems to be.
On the perimeter, few can match the extent of enchancment we’ve seen from Chelsea Dungee of Arkansas, already an elite scorer however who has taken her capability to search out the best shot, not simply the primary shot, to a different degree this season.
A second-team All-SEC member final yr, Dungee is a lock for the primary crew this yr, due to elevating her field-goal share from 37.3 to 43.6 percent overall, together with a rise from 32.7 to 39.5 % from past the arc. And she or he hasn’t given up her opportunistic forays into passing lanes on the defensive finish, with a steal share of two.2 %, up barely from final season.
Discover, nevertheless, how a lot of her dramatic enchancment has come not past the arc, but at the rim:
At a solid 5-foot-11, Dungee has taken her sport to a spot that may get the senior’s title known as early on draft night time and helped to make Arkansas a dark-horse decide to win all of it.
Talking of groups which have an actual probability to win all of it, Maryland is in that blend, on the high of a hyper-competitive Large Ten convention — and sophomore Diamond Miller’s leap ahead is an enormous motive why.
The athletic 6-foot-3 Miller has upped her field-goal share from 40.9 as a freshman to 49.5 percent as a sophomore, whilst her area objective makes an attempt per sport are up virtually 80 % and her makes an attempt from three have practically doubled. That has not come on the expense of driving, both, along with her free throw makes an attempt climbing from 2 per sport final season to five.2 this yr.
As Maryland head coach Brenda Frese told The Washington Post in January: “Her ceiling is ridiculously excessive. She’s a three-level scorer. After which when you concentrate on two-and-a-half extra years of including energy within the weight room and she or he sort of will get her feelings in test. … it’s loopy to assume what the endgame goes to be for her and attending to the subsequent degree.”
Seems like somebody who’s going to be on this listing subsequent yr, too — hopefully below extra conventional circumstances.
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