Select Team

How Elena Delle Donne’s Spectacular 2015 Season Stacks Up in WNBA History

Note: This article was originally published on August 25 and was updated on September 9 and September 14.

Cappie Pondexter spent the first four seasons of her career playing alongside perhaps the best guard in WNBA history, Diana Taurasi. She spent the 2014 season with one of the league’s top post players in Tina Charles. And Pondexter herself is a seven-time All-Star.

This year, she has ceded the floor to Elena Delle Donne, whose breakout third season has defined 2015 the way the brilliance of Cynthia Cooper, Lisa Leslie and so many others have defined seasons past.

Few are better equipped to put EDD’s play into content than Pondexter, her veteran running mate with the Chicago Sky. And what Pondexter sees is a versatility in Delle Donne’s game that is rare in women’s basketball.

“She can probably play the 1, the 2, the 3, the 4 and the 5, which is kind of scary,” Pondexter said, referring to the point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center positions. “In this league, you don’t see too many 6-5 players who are able to shoot the three, pull-up or handle the ball the way she does. And on the defensive side of things, she can actually defend all five players. She’s an incredible shot blocker.”

Star players have scored at spectacular rates in the WNBA before. They’ve been deadly accurate as a shooter or prolific as a shot blocker. Few have done all of the above.

Here are some statistical nuggets to help explain what makes Delle Donne the MVP frontrunner:

  • Filling It Up: After a blistering start, Delle Donne’s scoring tapered off as the season has dragged on. But her scoring average of 23.39 points per game places her fifth all-time, less than 2.0 points behind Diana Taurasi’s record of 25.29 set in 2008.
  • Dual Threat: Delle Donne has been called the female Dirk Nowitzki or even Larry Bird. Her closest comparison, however, may be a fellow WNBA superstar: Lauren Jackson. A three-time MVP with the Seattle Storm, Jackson is one of just three players in league history to average at least 2.0 blocks and at least 1.0 three-pointers in the same full season, doing so a remarkable five times. EDD joined Jackson by blocking 2.0 shots and sinking 1.4 threes per game this season. (The third player is Elena Baranova in 1997, the WNBA’s inaugural season.)
  • Putting the “Free” in Free Throw: While she just turned 26, Delle Donne can already claim ownership to one aspect of the game: free throws. She has missed just 29 out of 477 attempted in her 77 career WNBA games. Her 93.9% career mark is easily the best in WNBA history, better than Steve Nash’s NBA-leading mark of 90.43%. Combined with her college shooting over four years at Delaware, she has made 889 of 974 foul shots, good for 91.3% over seven basketball seasons. No WNBA player has ever combined the ability to get to the line and be accurate at the line like EDD: She set the WNBA record for free throw percentage during a season with at least 100 free throw attempts (95.0%).
  • Ultra-Efficient: Add up the total package, and Delle Donne has been as efficient in 2015 as all but one player in a single WNBA season. Her Player Efficiency Rating — an all-in-one measure of a player’s contributions to the game — of 31.93 ranks third in league history behind Jackson (35.04 in 2007, 34.91 in 2006, 32.07 in 2003), Cynthia Cooper (32.17 in 1997) and Sheryl Swoopes (32.05 in 2000).
Delle Donne’s 2015 Statistics (All-Time Rank*)
Points Per Game Player Efficiency Rating* Offensive Rating* Free Throws Made FT% (min. 100 attempts)
23.39 (5th) 32.72 (3rd) 125.58 (6th) 207 (5th) 95.0% (1st)

(*Stats via Basketball-Reference.com. Click here for glossary.)