Chicago’s Elena Delle Donne has proven in her three seasons in the WNBA that as long as she’s healthy, she’s going to be a major handful for opponents to try to stop. That’s been the case this year, and Wednesday, Delle Donne was named the league’s MVP as she prepares to lead the Sky into the playoffs.
Delle Donne, 26, is the first Chicago player to receive the honor, and just the fourth from the Eastern Conference. (That includes Cynthia Cooper’s first MVP in 1997, when Houston was in the East. The Comets moved to the West in 1998, when Cooper won it a second time.) The other two East winners were Indiana’s Tamika Catchings in 2011, and Tina Charles, then of Connecticut, in 2012.
Delle Donne, who was chosen No. 2 in the 2013 draft behind Brittney Griner, was rookie of year that season and led the Sky to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Last year, she played in just 16 games during the regular season because of the lingering effects of Lyme disease, which she has battled since her college days at Delaware.
Yet Delle Donne was back at least closer to full strength by the 2014 postseason, and she had a monster performance with 34 points in the Sky’s series-clinching first-round win over Atlanta. The Sky then beat Indiana to advance to WNBA Finals, but once there, back issues limited Delle Donne’s effectiveness as the Sky were swept by Phoenix.
This year, though, pretty much nothing has gotten in her way. She opened the season with a 31-point, eight-rebound performance against Indiana, followed by 40 and nine against Tulsa. That set the tone for what kind of season it was going to be for Delle Donne, a 6-foot-5 guard/forward.
She finished the regular season averaging a league-best 23.4 points, and also has the WNBA’s top free-throw accuracy at 95 percent (207 of 218).
Delle Donne’s player efficiency rating of 32.72 this season is the best in the league since Lauren Jackson’s 2006 (34.91) and 2007 (35.04) seasons in Seattle.
She received 38 of the 39 first-place votes from a national media panel of sportswriters and broadcasters. Minnesota’s Maya Moore, who won the award last year, received the other first-place vote.
New York’s Charles finished third. Phoenix’s Griner was fourth and LA’s Candace Parker was fifth.
Despite the individual accolades, Delle Donne remains focused on what she hopes to help the Sky achieve.
“A WNBA championship is by far the biggest goal,” she said during a live interview on SportsCenter on Wednesday. “That would by far be the most amazing thing to bring home to Chicago.”
LeBron James tweeted congratulations to Delle Donne after the announcement.
There’s never been a question that Delle Donne would be an elite scorer at the pro level, but Sky coach Pokey Chatman wanted her to increase her rebounding production this season, too. Mission accomplished, as Delle Donne doubled her 2014 average of 4.0 rebounds to 8.4 in 2015. Delle Donne also has averaged 1.4 assists and 2.0 blocks this year.
Delle Donne is also very active off the court, as for the second year in a row, she won the Dawn Staley Community Leadership award for her work with the Special Olympics and Lyme disease awareness and research.
Delle Donne and the Sky finished second in the Eastern Conference at 21-13, and they’ll face Indiana in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Thursday (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET) in Chicago.