All about Elena Delle Donne — Must-click women’s basketball links — Hear from EDD
The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, April 20, 2022
Happy Basketball Wednesday! I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Elena Delle Donne this week.
Honestly, in this line of work, if you’re not spending a fair amount of time thinking about Delle Donne, you’re not doing it right.
But this week we got to see a different Delle Donne than we’ve experienced of late — a happy Delle Donne, who sounded ready to play during her media day availability on Monday.
“This year, it’s been a whole long time of like figuring out what my body needs — a whole different way of moving,” Delle Donne said. “And just having the right team behind me to keep me on court.”
This is a far easier process to explain than it is to implement. Asking an elite athlete to pump the brakes isn’t just anathema to the process she’s lived her entire life, it requires an entirely new way of thinking. There’s also no guarantee that it works — Delle Donne is navigating stenosis of the spine, all while preparing for the rigors of a WNBA season that’s been compressed by the international calendar.
How she does this — and betting against a player who won MVP and led the Mystics to the 2019 title with three herniated disks in her back is always a fool’s errand — will go a long way toward defining this 2022 WNBA season.
This may be Sue Bird’s final year. This is Sylvia Fowles’ final year. It could be the last season for Candace Parker and Diana Taurasi, too. But that was supposed to be the case, really, given their career lengths and arc.
This is supposed to be Delle Donne’s time, the Three To See’s time — but Brittney Griner is not here, her absence felt acutely, while her teammate Skylar Diggins-Smith is great but in many ways plays in the shadow of the ensemble of stars in Phoenix, more than ever with Tina Charles in tow as well.
Elena’s 32 and we haven’t seen her regularly since she was 29. This is time she’ll never get back, that basketball will never get back. She does things no one ever has before — do we seriously expect anyone, just to pick a skill, will shoot free throws like Delle Donne ever again? She turns the ball over less frequently than any player in the history of the league, too. (It’s not close.)
There’s that next group behind Three To See, A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones, all mid-20s and more than capable of leading this league forward. Really, though, they already have. Wilson and Jones have MVPs in the period of EDD’s absence, along with a pair of finals trips, while Stewart has a Finals MVP and a title from that time.
And as you may have noticed, Parker isn’t ready to fade into obscurity, either.
The thing about Delle Donne is you musn’t just isolate her specific skills of note, because it is vital to take the whole package into account as we grapple with her greatness. I’ve told this story before, I think: there are a handful of players who, when I saw them, I left thinking: well, that’s new. It happened when I saw LeBron James in high school, when I saw Steph Curry at Davidson, and it happened when I saw Stewart and Delle Donne as well.
It may not be realistic to hope for another peak period from Delle Donne. But any further glimpse is that of a player who has dominated like virtually no one else. A handy stat for this is win shares/48 minutes from Basketball-Reference.com. Among players with at least 100 games in the WNBA, only Cynthia Cooper tops EDD’s mark of .347. (It’s an entire other conversation how the gap between women’s pro leagues kept us from experiencing Cooper’s greatness until age 34.)
The Mystics are built to win now, with an understanding that EDD-like players simply don’t come along very often, are not easily acquired, and cannot be replaced in-season. They’ll manage her, of course, but to get where they want to go, the reason Delle Donne has put herself through too much, will eventually require her transcendent impact for big minutes in key games.
I want to play every single game,” Delle Donne said. “I want to play as many minutes as I can. But having people in my corner who can help put together the best season possible for me to be the best I can at the right time and the rest of the team to be peaking at the right time.”
No one knows how that will go for her. She’s the first to say so. But if she manages to will her body to do it once again, make sure you take notice. Because we haven’t seen the likes of Elena Delle Donne before, and I’d be surprised if we ever did again.
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