Elena Delle Donne and the Chicago Sky haven’t had the smoothest summer. A year after EDD’s MVP campaign led the Sky to a 21-13 record, and second place in the Eastern Conference, Chicago opened the 2016 season 1-4. Now, about two-thirds of the way through the season, the Sky sit at 10-12, right amongst the pack of six teams within two wins of each other vying for the Nos. 4-8 playoff seeds.
Due to the new playoff format, and the fact that nearly every team is still alive in the postseason chase, each progressive game becomes more and more important. Sunday night’s game against the Storm was no exception, especially considering just one win separated the two clubs entering the game. As the Sky make their push for the playoffs over the last dozen games, they’ll need EDD at her MVP-best. Which is right where she was on Sunday in Seattle.
Delle Donne poured in 35 points on a neat 14-for-24 shooting, grabbed 11 rebounds, and drained the game-winning three right over Breanna Stewart’s outstretched arm with just one second remaining.
It was an offensive clinic, with Delle Donne dominating the Storm from all over the floor, then breaking their hearts in the final second.
Her versatility was never more apparent, as she scored from all three levels. In the process, she packed a whole season’s worth of moves into her performance, giving us a perfect case study of why she’s so difficult to guard.
Let’s start inside, first taking a glance at her work on the offensive boards. At 6-foot-4, Delle Donne is one of the league’s taller players, but due to her elite athleticism she often operates on the perimeter. This frequently forces opponents to try and guard her with a wing, usually giving Delle Donne a decided size advantage.
Such was the case Sunday, as Alysha Clark received the unenviable task of being the Storm’s first option against last year’s MVP. The 5-foot-11 Clark is a veteran, but experience only goes so far. On both of these occasions, Clark starts with inside position, only to see Delle Donne simply jump over her or muscle her out of the way.
Offensive rebounds aren’t the only way to score inside, of course. Here we’ll see Delle Donne show off her guard-like ball-handling and quickness to put the ball on the deck and cruise past Sue Bird. Then, a second later, she reminds everyone of her toughness by finishing through contact for an and-one.
On this one play, she came into contact with a point guard and a forward, and beat them both at their own game.
Again we’ll see Delle Donne’s full skill set on this possession. After grabbing the defensive rebound, she pushes the ball up the floor like a point guard, takes a few hesitation dribbles to lull the defense to sleep like a wing, then finishes through contact down low like a post.
Next we’ll move out to the mid-range. First, Delle Donne once again shows the downside to defending her with a smaller wing, as she casually rises up over Clark to bury the pull-up jumper. Clark contests well, but there’s nothing she can do giving up five inches to EDD.
Then Delle Donne backs Clark down in the mid-post before draining the turnaround jumper. Solid defense once again, but the height difference gives Delle Donne the upper hand.
Finally, though not operating on the block, Delle Donne shows off her post moves, schooling the rookie Breanna Stewart with a series of fakes.
Last but not least is the three-ball, which Delle Donne is knocking down at a 42.1 percent clip, the second-best mark of her career and good enough for ninth in the league.
As we see on this play, she’s capable hitting from downtown in a catch-and-shoot situation, just like many other bigs who can stretch the floor.
But what separates Delle Donne once again is her ability to combine guard-like qualities into a forward’s body. Few players in the league can hit three-pointers off the dribble like this, let alone 6-foot-4 forwards.
Even with the long arms of Breanna Stewart in her face, Delle Donne is unbothered, rising up to hit the game-winner.
Sunday night in Seattle, EDD was versatility personified, bringing the basketball buzzword to life with a fierce MVP-like performance that earned the Sky a crucial victory.
And on Tuesday night against the Mercury, she’ll try to do it all over again.