WNBA: Elena Delle Donne's Sensational Season Impressing Everyone But Herself
WASHINGTON – In just her third season in the WNBA former Delaware All-American Elena Delle Donne is demolishing league statistics at a time when most of the league's younger players are just beginning to hit their comfort level.
She leads the WNBA in scoring with a 23.8 point per game average, free-throw percentage and in double-doubles.
Delle Donne has scored 30 or more points four times this season, including a magnificent 45-point performance against Atlanta in early June and has been named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week five times.
She’s being compared to some the greatest players (men or women) to ever play the sport, including Michael Jordan.
Yet, Delle Donne remains unimpressed.
While the rest of us mere mortals remain in awe of her jaw-dropping numbers, Delle Donne doesn’t have time to study the amazing season she’s enjoying for the Chicago Sky.
Her numbers are at a historical pace topping past performances from some of the all-time greats who have since earned Hall of Fame stature.
The Blue Hens graduate who went second overall in the 2012 draft behind Baylor's Brittney Griner has never been into personal statistics.
However, what she has done has been hard to ignore this season.
She’s even slightly embarrassed that many national pundits have mentioned her as the front-runner for this year’s MVP award.
Delle Donne is too focused on rewriting last year’s ending for the Sky, who were swept in the WNBA Finals by a historically great Phoenix Mercury squad.
“I’ll use the offseason to reflect,” Delle Donne said succinctly following the Sky’s 66-64 victory over the Mystics Sunday at the Verizon Center. “Right now my focus is on how we can get better as a team and win our next game.
"I am focused on our team numbers more than anything else right now. Anything individual, I’ll use the offseason to reflect. I am always trying to improving.”
One area she developed that leaves Delle Donne in a great mood is her rebounding.
Ten double-doubles later, Delle Donne is third in the league averaging 8.8 rebounds per game.
“At the end of last season (Chicago Sky head coach Pokey Chatman) challenged me to be a better rebounder,” Delle Donne said. “I feel like that’s something I’ve made a conscious effort to improve and to crash the glass on every single time. It’s something I am proud of because I was challenged to get better at it.”
Delle Donne is happy and healthy for the Sky this season.
Last summer, Delle Donne missed17 games after a serious flare-up of her Lyme disease. In the WNBA Finals last year, Delle Donne battled through an achy back.
She delivered a playoff performance for the ages despite not being 100 percent when she scored 17 of her 34 points in the fourth quarter to help the Sky rally from a 16-point fourth quarter deficit to beat the Dream, 82-81, in an elimination game on the road last season.
It was like watching Mozart play in his prime.
This year she missed one game in New York because of a tender ankle.
“It’s been really good this year,” Delle Donne said when asked about her health. “It’s been great being out on the court and a huge improvement and difference from last year.”
With a healthy Delle Donne unleashing her fury on the rest of the league this season, the WNBA has benefited in positive ways. She has become one of the faces of the league. It was needed after some of the negative offseason headlines.
Delle Donne was profiled in Sports Illustrated last week and on SportsCenter earlier this year following that 45-point, 11-rebound, six-blocked shot performance against Atlanta.
“It means a lot,” Delle Donne said after being asked about being the face of the WNBA. “I worked really hard on and off the court to grow the brand of the league, myself and the Chicago Sky.
"I put in a lot of work with media and making appearances at different events. It’s nice to hear that it’s paying off and our visibility is continuing to grow. It’s also exciting that we’re gaining new fans of our sport.”
Likely to make her first Olympic squad next year the experience is bound to grow her brand further.
With six games remaining beginning Saturday at home against the Atlanta Dream in a game that will be televised nationally on NBA-TV at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time, the Sky trail the Indiana Fever by two games in the race for second place and the coveted home-court advantage in the opening round that goes with it in the playoffs. The Sky have swept the season series from the Fever this season.
While home court would be a welcomed luxury for the Sky, it can draw on the experience of last season when it advanced to the WNBA Finals as the No. 4 seed without home court in the Eastern Conference.
The battle-tested Sky have won three of their last four games as Allie Quigley and Cappie Pondexter hit game winning shots in less than 48 hours to help Chicago sweep a weekend set from Washington.
“We want homecourt and we know it’s really huge to try and get it,” Delle Donne said. “But at the end of the day, however the cards play out; we’re going to be ready.
"Games like (Washington) are fun especially when you can come out on top. We are focused on winning every single game from here on out.”
If Delle Donne continues producing spectacular numbers during the Sky’s upcoming journey, enjoy it.
Just don’t expect Delle Donne to make a big fuss about them.
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