Elena Delle Donne was supposed to be great. She was supposed to have an impact on the Chicago Sky. Everyone expected that one of the best collegiate players of the last decade would be a dynamic pro, but I don’t know if anyone thought her presence would help turn her new team into one of the best in the WNBA.
On Monday Delle Donne was named the WNBA’s Rookie of the Month in June. Considering this is the best rookie class in the 17-year history of the league, it is quite an accomplishment for the former Blue Hen. But Delle Donne’s brilliance goes beyond merely being the best of the rookie class so far this season, the 6-foot-5 23-year-old is one of the top players in the entire WNBA.
She was also named the league’s player of the week on Monday, thanks to a pair of impressive performances in Chicago-victories over New York and Los Angeles. She averaged 23 points and 7.5 rebounds per game with a combined plus-minus (scoring differential between her team and her opponent while Delle Donne is on the floor) of plus-32. That is pretty significant.
For the season she ranks third in the WNBA in scoring at 19.5 points per game and is fifth in blocked shots at 2.1 rejections per contest. She has been a complete player, helping the Sky on the perimeter and inside as well as on the glass and as a rim protector defensively. Her on-ball defensive skills are more polished than many gave her credit for coming out of school (although she still has room for improvement) and her unselfishness has shocked many (but no one who watched her play at Delaware).
It is that last characteristic which has helped her make such a positive impact on Chicago’s bottom line. She hasn’t needed everything to revolve around her offensively, instead she has excelled within the flow of the game. That has allowed talented teammates like Epiphanny Price, Sylvia Fowles and Courtney Vandersloot to all contribute on that end of the floor. As a result, Chicago now employs what might well be the most balanced offense in the league, averaging better than 80 points per game. Not coincidentally, the Sky have gotten off to one of the best starts in the league, winning seven of the season’s first 10 games.
Chicago will look to continue that success tonight when it takes on the Seattle Storm. The game will be televised on ESPN2. The Worldwide Leader in Sports is hopeful that Delle Donne will bring in similar numbers to the audience she and Brittany Griner drew in their Memorial Day opener. More than 450,000 people watched Chicago and Phoenix square off that afternoon, the highest-rated WNBA game in nine years.
Numbers like that give the WNBA hope it is making real strides with the general public. With a pillar like Delle Donne, it might very well have a chance. That’s how much she has meant to the league, and it’s only been a month-and-a-half. Not too bad huh?