Player Review 2013: Shavonte Zellous

By Wheat Hotchkiss | October 11, 2013

Height: 5-10
Position: Shooting Guard
Age: 27
Years Pro: 5
College: Pittsburgh
Status: Under contract through 2015 season (According to Indy Star)
Key Stats: Averaged career-best 14.7 points and 31.3 minutes per game, while shooting 41.5 percent from the field and 34.8 percent from beyond the arc.

2013 was the year Shavonte Zellous took “The Leap,” that hard-to-define but easy-to-recognize moment when a player takes their game to another level. For lesser players, “The Leap” may turn out to be little more than a hop, like going from riding the bench to cracking the rotation. But for a player of Zellous’ caliber, making “The Leap” is a much more arduous task.

During the 2013 season, Zellous didn’t just “leap.” She soared.

To best appreciate all the progress she made this year, it’s important to note how long it was in the making.

Shavonte Zellous stormed on to the scene in 2009 as a rookie out of Pittsburgh. The 11th overall selection, Zellous immediately cracked the rotation for the defending champion Detroit Shock. The 5-10 guard was dynamite off the bench, averaging 11.9 points per game in under 24 minutes. She finished third to Angel McCoughtry and DeWanna Bonner in Rookie of the Year voting, and appeared well on her way to plenty of accolades.

But the next year, the Shock moved to Tulsa and traded Zellous to the Fever just four games into the season. In Indiana, “Z” continued to be a productive scorer over the next two seasons (averaging 15.5 points per 40 minutes), but played sparse minutes (just under 15 per game) on a deep Fever roster.

In 2012, Coach Lin Dunn moved Zellous into the Fever’s starting lineup, and Z was a solid presence all season long, deferring to All-Stars Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas on the offensive end, but proving productive whenever her number was called.

In the playoffs, Zellous took her game to another level. In Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals with the Fever facing elimination, Zellous sank a game-winning jump shot just before the buzzer. When Douglas went down with an ankle injury heading into the WNBA Finals, Zellous rose to the occasion, averaging 17 points in the series, including a magnificent 30-point, 10-for-17 performance in Game 3.

Some analysts might have thought Zellous’ play in the Finals was merely a good player getting hot for a few games. But it wasn’t a fluke – instead, it turned out to be a harbinger of what was to come.

PHOTO GALLERY: Shavonte Zellous Season Gallery »

Just two games in to the 2013 season, Douglas went down again – this time with a back injury, joining the already sidelined Erin Phillips, Jeanette Pohlen, and Jessica Davenport on the injury list. As a result, the Fever stumbled out of the gates, starting the year 1-7. They bounced back, winning six of their next seven to reassert themselves in the playoff hunt.

For that whole stretch, Zellous was the one constant amid a torrent of roster turmoil. Zellous scored in double figures in 15 straight games to start the year. Over that stretch, she averaged 15.8 points per game on 42 percent shooting.

That strong start resulted in a deserved first-time All-Star appearance for the fifth-year pro, and she continued her elevated play throughout the season, culminating in being named the league’s Most Improved Player. With Douglas out for all but four games, Zellous seamlessly stepped into her role as the team’s primary scorer alongside Catchings.

Always an aggressive player that attacked the basket without fear, Zellous showed off a new-and-improved outside shot that provided the perfect compliment on the offensive end. “Z” took over twice as many 3-point shots in 2013 as she did in any previous season, and hit them at a career-best 34.8 percent clip.

On the defensive end, Indiana had the league’s best defense. Much of the credit for that went to All-Defense selections Catchings and Briann January, as well as new starter Karima Christmas, but Zellous was no slouch on that end. She fit in to the team’s defensive schemes smoothly with her quickness and high basketball IQ.

Perhaps the best way to measure Zellous’ impact on the 2013 Fever is to look at how much they struggled without her. Indiana went just 1-4 without its newest All-Star in the lineup, including three straight blowout losses on a West Coast road trip in August while Zellous was sidelined with plantar fasciitis.

In the Eastern Conference Finals, Zellous’ struggles mirrored those of her team. In a Game 1 loss in Atlanta, she battled foul trouble, only scoring four points in the game’s first three quarters. When the Fever were eliminated in Game 2, Zellous was just 2-for-10 from the field.

After both losses, Zellous – known among her teammates for her fun-loving personality – was perhaps the most despondent player in the Indiana locker room. She vowed to carry the loss in her memory for the entire seven months leading up to next season.

“It is going to stay with us throughout the offseason and it’s going to make us even hungrier next year,” Zellous told the day after the Fever were eliminated.

Going forward, Zellous figures to be the cornerstone of the Fever’s future plans. After signing an extension in February, she’s under contract for two more seasons. At 27, she’s just entering the prime of her career. With Douglas and Catchings both in their mid-30s (and Douglas’ future uncertain), Zellous is now the franchise’s star of the present and future.

Some of the next steps for Zellous to continue to progress include taking on more of a leadership role, continuing to improve her outside shot, and putting more of a concerted effort on her ball-handling and getting her teammates involved on the offensive end.

She’s already made “The Leap.” But as Zellous knows, there are a few more hops to be made. Her goal for next year?

“Do what I’ve done this year. But do it even better.” is doing Player Reviews for each player on the 2013 Indiana Fever. Check out other stories from this series:

Player Review 2013: Erlana Larkins
Player Review 2013: Layshia Clarendon
Player Review 2013: Karima Christmas
Player Review 2013: Jasmine Hassell
Player Review 2013: Erin Phillips
Player Review 2013: Briann January
Player Review 2013: Katie Douglas
Player Review 2013: Tamika Catchings
Player Review 2013: Jeanette Pohlen