There are a lot of superlatives that could be used to describe Elena Delle Donne’s MVP caliber season. The proof of her dominance, however, also can found using a more objective approach — analyzing the numbers.
By most accounts, EDD has been the best player on the best team in the league all season long. Here’s the why: She finished second in the league in scoring (19.5 points per game), fifth in rebounding (8.3 per game) and 11th in blocks (1.3 per game), and the Mystics finished with the league’s best record. But what truly set Delle Donne apart from the rest of the league was her efficiency.
Delle Donne led the WNBA in offensive efficiency as the Mystics scored 116.3 points per 100 possessions while she was on the court. That’s not just the best offensive rating of 2019, it’s the best offensive rating in league history. The Mystics have been a juggernaut on offense all season long and Delle Donne is the nucleus of that attack. She shot 51.5 percent from the field (seventh in WNBA), 43.0 percent from beyond the arc (fourth) and posted a WNBA-record 97.4 percent shooting from the free throw line.
Few players can truly score from anywhere on the court. Brittney Griner just won her second WNBA scoring title, but she does nearly all of her damage inside the paint. Players like All-Star 3-point champ Shekinna Stricklen make their mark from the perimeter, but their percentages and distribution drop from the rest of the court.
As her shot chart illustrates, Delle Donne can score on all three levels – in the paint, from mid-range and beyond the arc. Here are the numbers from this season – the only section of the floor that Delle Donne shot below 50 percent was from the right corner, where she only attempted one shot all season.
|In The Paint (Non-RA)||42||80||52.5||52.5|
|Left Corner 3||2||4||50.0||75.0|
|Right Corner 3||0||1||0.0||0.0|
|Above the Break 3||50||116||43.1||64.7|
That ability to shoot with great efficiency from all over the court was key to Delle Donne making history as the first WNBA player to enter the exclusive 50-40-90 club – a collection of some of the greatest shooters and players in the history of basketball.
Since the 3-point shot was introduced to the NBA in the 1979-80 season only eight players had shot greater than 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the free-throw line, while meeting the minimums to qualify as a season leader in each category. Only two players had accomplished the feat more than once with Larry Bird posting the first two 50-40-90 seasons in the NBA and Steve Nash completing the shooting trifecta four times in five seasons.
|Elena Delle Donne||2019||WAS||51.5||43.0||97.4|
|*won MVP the same season|
Of the 13 50-40-90 seasons on record, Delle Donne’s 2019 performance ranks fourth in field goal percentage, sixth in 3-point percentage and first in free throw percentage. She also ranks seventh in points per game despite the WNBA playing a 40-minute game compared to the NBA’s 48-minute game. Delle Donne’s 29.1 minutes per game are the second lowest among the field to Malcolm Brogdon’s 28.6 last season with Milwaukee.
When the 2019 WNBA season ended on Sunday and Delle Donne had officially become the ninth member of the club, she was welcomed enthusiastically by her fellow sharpshooters.
— Dirk Nowitzki (@swish41) September 9, 2019
— Stephen Curry (@StephenCurry30) September 9, 2019
— Steve Nash (@SteveNash) September 9, 2019
— Reggie Miller (@ReggieMillerTNT) September 9, 2019
Insane numbers. Welcome to the club big dog https://t.co/ifYlzhJkTy
— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) September 9, 2019
There’s no better example of the phrase “real recognize real.”
Every one of the players that tweeted their congratulations to Delle Donne understands the difficulty of her accomplishment and the hours upon hours of work it takes to reach that level of greatness.
If the Malcolm Gladwell idiom of needing 10,000 hours to become an expert at a skill is true, then how many shots have those nine players put up during their 10,000-plus hours to master their craft to the point of being able to shoot so efficiently and prolifically at the same time.
Because that is a key to joining this club. There are plenty of players that have shot 50-40-90, but failed to reach the minimum requirements of shots made to qualify for each category.
In WNBA history, there have been 12 players that have hit the 50-40-90 marks – including three Mystics this season – but only Delle Donne reached the thresholds to qualify in all three categories: field goals, 3-pointers and free throws.
Emma Meesseman (55.2 FG%, 42.2 3P%, 90.5 FT%) fell just short of meeting the minimums in both 3-pointers (19 3PM, 25 required) and free throws (38 FTM, 50 required). Shey Peddy also hit the percentages, but the reserve guard only took 13 FGs, eight 3Ps and six FTs in 71 minutes this season.
Looking back at the previous nine WNBA players that hit 50-40-90 shooting percentages, only Brandy Reed in 2000 came close to meeting the minimum requirements. The others were either role players that didn’t get the minutes to put up enough shots or All-Stars that suffered injuries that cut their seasons short (Becky Hammon in 2003, Seimone Augustus in 2009). Among the 12 players on the list, Reed is the only one to play more minutes, score more points and make more shots than Delle Donne, but she made just 18 3-pointers during her season, which did not meet the minimum requirement.
As close as others may have come, Delle Donne is the first to accomplish the 50-40-90 feat during the first 23 seasons of the WNBA. Others may join the club in the coming years, but Delle Donne will always be the first WNBA player to earn her place among the greatest shooters in basketball history.
Who made this video?! This is awesome. Totally humbled by this. I’m so grateful to my teammates for being the best, and my Mystics family for all their support. It’s been a great season so far, but it’s not over yet! We’ve got work to do #SticsSZN https://t.co/kHWWWOnMxh
— Elena Delle Donne (@De11eDonne) September 9, 2019
But as she tweeted on Sunday after receiving all of her praise, she and the Mystics have more work to do this season. By finishing with the top record in the WNBA, the Mystics earned a double bye to the semifinals and have the next week off before opening their 2019 Playoffs on Sept. 17.
Delle Donne now adds the 50-40-90 club to a resume that already includes one MVP (and potentially another coming very soon), a scoring title, Rookie of the Year, four All-WNBA selections and six All-Star appearances. But those are all regular season honors. For Delle Donne and the Mystics, it’s time to start adding postseason accolades to the collection – beginning with that elusive first WNBA championship.