Commentary

Why Elena Delle Donne is top rookie

Updated: July 31, 2013, 1:39 PM ET
By Rachel Eldridge | ESPN Stats & Info

Elena Delle DonneShane Bevel/Getty ImagesElena Delle Donne is ready to head back to the East Coast to see long-time fans, including sister Lizzie.

For a player listed at 6 feet, 5 inches, bigger has always been better. But it's the small things, the things beyond the box score, that will help Elena Delle Donne win the 2013 WNBA rookie of the year award.

On the most basic level, Delle Donne is a step behind No. 1 overall pick Brittney Griner. The Phoenix rookie leads the league in several offensive and defensive categories, including field goal percentage (59.8) and blocks per game (2.83). But Griner's injury in the third game of the season puts her at a disadvantage. Griner has missed six games this season, more than the previous 15 rookie of the year winners combined. The most missed by any ROY winner was two games, by Cheryl Ford in 2003.

Delle Donne and Griner both score more than 1.00 point per play and rank first and second respectively in points per post-up play this season. One of the biggest differences between the two is how their teams perform when they are on the court compared to when they are not.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Sky are plus-150 with Delle Donne, while the Mercury are only plus-20 with Griner.

The difference is even bigger in the paint. Chicago shoots less than 40 percent from the field without Delle Donne, while scoring 5.2 fewer points per 40 minutes in the paint. The Mercury shoot well regardless of whether Griner is on or off the floor.

Delle Donne has been able to showcase her versatility, but Griner has had difficulty both offensively and defensively beyond the perimeters of the key.

More than 55 percent of Griner's plays are post-ups, with putbacks ranking second (11.5 pct). Delle Donne uses the entire court to score -- 27.2 percent of her plays are isolation, 17.2 percent spot-up jumpers, and 12.3 percent post-ups.

Her defense was a concern entering this season, but Delle Donne has kept up with Griner's dominance down low. Both rank in the top 15 in opponent field goal percentage (min. 90 plays) and are allowing fewer than 0.77 points per play when they are the on-ball defender.

According to Elias, Delle Donne's presence matters more to the Sky than Griner's does to the Mercury. The Sky allow 10.3 fewer points in the paint per 40 minutes with Delle Donne on the court.

The Mercury, on the other hand, record two fewer blocks per 40 minutes without Griner, but still allow opponents to shoot better than 41 percent either way.

In just 17 games this season, Delle Donne has catapulted the Sky to the best record in the Eastern Conference and set up Chicago to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

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