The new era of the WNBA is upon us, as top picks Brittney Griner and Elena Delle Donne have made their respective debuts. Behind a marvelous performance from Delle Donne, the Chicago Sky defeated the Phoenix Mercury by a score of 102-80.
So how did the WNBA's brightest new stars fare?
Delle Donne, the second overall draft choice, was on fire, finishing with 22 points, eight rebounds, two assists and four blocks on 9-of-21 shooting from the floor and 2-of-3 from beyond the arc. With Epiphanny Prince going for 26 points, five assists and four steals, Chicago pieced together a season-opening road victory.
The Twittersphere instantly praised Delle Donne for her dominance.
Delle Donne is a real life problem!!— Darius Johnson-Odom (@KingMe_DJ1) May 27, 2013
Griner, the top selection, overcame foul trouble to finish with a solid stat line of 17 points, eight rebounds and four blocks on 7-of-11 shooting from the field. Unlike Delle Donne, who saw a substantial amount of playing time, Griner was limited to 27 minutes.
As Griner was known to do on occasion during her collegiate years at Baylor, she sent a jolt of excitement through the crowd with a thunderous dunk as the fourth quarter wound down.
By that point, though, the game was clearly in hand, and when it was all said and done, it was Delle Donne who got the first laugh.
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Elena Delle Donne
Coming into the WNBA, the No. 1 strength that Elena Delle Donne had displayed is her uncanny ability to create offense. Whether she was taking opponents off the bounce or spotting up for a jump shot, Delle Donne did it all while attending Delaware.
It was more of the same in her WNBA debut.
Delle Donne's jumper was smooth, as she moved well off screens and converted looks from all over the floor. She did a superb job of setting screens for her teammates, then diving or popping out for mid-range finishes.
The one-handed floater seemed to be her go-to move, but Delle Donne didn't need to enter the paint to make a difference.
Delle Donne just opens the floor for the #Sky.Creates easy offense for her more than capeable teammates. Prince will score a lot this yr.— Donny Rodriguez (@DonnyRad) May 27, 2013
And that's the key.
Delle Donne did an excellent job of creating space for her teammates, specifically lead guard Epiphanny Prince. Not only was she shooting well, but when coming off screens, Delle Donne displayed a veteran's poise as she drew her defender away from the paint.
Most rookies aren't developed enough to make that small, but key decision.
Defensively, Delle Donne used her size to make an impact both along the interior and on the perimeter. She aggressively contested jump shots, managing four blocks along the way.
Equipped with an efficient and responsible offensive attack in which she took care of the ball and shot well until the closing quarter, Delle Donne was in Rookie of the Year form.
Brittney Griner may not have dominated this game, but she made her mark and proved just how imposing a physical specimen she can be. From her intimidating defense to the surprising ball-handling skills she displayed, Griner is the real deal.
That was never more evident than when she stole the ball with roughly two minutes left in the fourth quarter, drove the lane and dunked it so hard that her legs nearly hit the backboard. Moments later, she dropped in a finger roll.
The dunk was of rather legendary proportions.
Brittney Griner's dunk was the 4th ever in a WNBA regular season game, the 1st since Candace Parker in 2008.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 27, 2013
Even in limited action, she made her presence felt in the eyes of those that questioned her legitimacy.
For those that watched this game, you know that the throwdown was not a fluke, but instead a sign of things to come. Griner is supremely athletic for her position and displayed more explosiveness than previously expected.
The truth of the matter is, her best moments won't show up on SportsCenter or the stat sheet.
In just 1 career WNBA game, Brittney Griner already has as many career dunks (2) as any other player in WNBA history.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 27, 2013
Griner grabbed multiple loose balls and made precise saves to her teammates. This led to assists at some points, but even when it didn't, it proved that she has the offensive versatility necessary to thrive at the next level.
Overcoming foul trouble in the first half and looking significantly more comfortable in the third and fourth quarters was the necessary breaking of the ice.
What's Next for Delle Donne?
Elena Delle Donne and the Chicago Sky next play on Friday, May 31. They'll play host to the Connecticut Sun in their first home game of the season.
Delle Donne took to Twitter following the game to express her excitement about the upcoming home game:
Back to Chicago tomorrow! Can't wait to play in front of that home town crowd Friday night! #skyhigh— Elena Delle Donne (@De11eDonne) May 28, 2013
Delle Donne will face former college rival and Connecticut Huskies star Kelly Faris.
What's Next for Griner?
Despite an impressive debut, Griner is determined to get better. She tweeted after the game:
Learn a lot today! Can't wait to get in gym and work out the wrinkles! We will be fine!— Brittney Griner (@brittneygriner) May 28, 2013
Brittney Griner and the Phoenix Mercury will look to turn their luck around on Sunday, June 2 as they travel to play the Seattle Storm. That game would pit Griner against three-time WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson, but we'll miss that opportunity due to a season-ending injury.
Even still, this will be one to watch.