July 1, 2024 

How Naz Hillmon is steadying Atlanta amid rocky 7-10 start

How forward Naz Hillmon is making her impact for the Dream on and off the court through the team's early struggles

At the 3:46 mark of the first quarter in Sunday’s 81-75 loss to the New York Liberty, Atlanta Dream forward Naz Hillmon was inserted into the game for the first time. Her impact was immediate. She set a hard pin-down screen moments after checking in, clearing the way for guard Maya Caldwell to hit a 3. Defensively, Hillmon swiftly rotated from the weak side to defend a driving Breanna Stewart, baiting the reigning MVP into a difficult floater

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The Dream’s season has been riddled with inconsistencies, highlighted by their struggles on offense. According to Across The Timeline, Atlanta is the first team since the 2018 New York Liberty to score 55 points or fewer in multiple games in a season. Hillmon’s role is crucial in steadying the Dream during these challenging moments. There’s never a question of whether she will make the right pass, take the right shot, or provide consistent effort—her energy never falters.

“[Naz is] our glue,” wing Rhyne Howard told the media after Atlanta’s win against the Dallas Wings on May 21. “I know a lot of what she does doesn’t show up in the stat sheet, but we’re asking that of her every day.”

While Hillmon isn’t known for stretching the defense with her 3-point shooting, she effectively utilizes cuts, relocations, screens, and quick passing to create interior spacing and maintain the flow of the offense when she’s on the court.

“My coaches put a lot of pressure on me to do that,” Hillmon told The Next. “I have good players around me, so it’d be super selfish not to get them the ball, so any chance I can, I want to look for them.”

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In 11 games in June, the Dream had a -3.7 net rating with Hillmon on the court – the best mark among qualified Atlanta players – and a -14.3 net rating with Hillmon on the bench, per WNBA.com

Hillmon’s impact on the team’s performance is clear, and her approach to leadership plays a significant role in this. “Nobody wants to listen to someone who isn’t doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing, so I try to do that first,” Hillmon said. “For the most part, I know exactly what the coaches want from me, but also my teammates.”

Her leadership qualities haven’t gone unnoticed by her teammates either. “I would definitely say Naz [Hillmon],” forward Nia Coffey told For The Win’s Meghan Hall when asked who has the most vocal presence in the Dream’s locker room. “She’s really stepping up into her leadership role.”

This past offseason, Hillmon played overseas for the first time in her professional career, joining Australia’s Melbourne Boomers. The 24-year-old forward averaged 15.2 points and 9.1 rebounds on 56.5% shooting from the field, earning All-WNBL second-team honors. 

“I definitely think it helped my game,” Hillmon said. “My first [offseason], I worked out and stayed in shape, but being able to work out and put your skills to the test every other day was really helpful for me.

“It’s great competition over in Australia, there’s a handful of WNBA players, so it wasn’t like a huge dropoff from the W… [so] it definitely helped my confidence.”

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Hillmon’s Year 3 improvements are evident in her development as a finisher. After shooting just 55.1% at the rim in 2023, she has surged to 66.7% in 2024, a percentage that ties for the sixth-best in the league, according to Synergy Sports.

“Coming into this season, I knew where my spots were going to be at—especially in our offense,” Hillmon said. “Also, by your third year, you should pretty much know everyone in the league. I know how they’re going to guard me, I know who I should speed past, compared to who I need to get my body into [before looking to score].”

Additionally, according to Her Hoop Stats, Hillmon has shot 60% from 2 in 10 games this season, second only to New York’s Jonquel Jones (15 games). In contrast, fellow Dream bigs Tina Charles and Parker-Tyus have achieved this feat in a combined seven games. 

With seven remaining games on the schedule before the Olympic break, Hillmon must continue to play a crucial role off the bench to help the Dream get its season back on track.

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Written by Hunter Cruse

Hunter Cruse covers the Atlanta Dream and the WNBA Draft for The Next.

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