Chicago Sky, Elena Delle Donne Off to a Fast Start

Jaime HeilbronContributor IIIJune 5, 2013

Elena Delle Donne hopes to help the Chicago Sky reach new heights in 2013.
Elena Delle Donne hopes to help the Chicago Sky reach new heights in 2013.

The 2013 WNBA season has begun and brought with it a lot of excitement and anticipation due to the arrival of the top three draft picks in this year’s WNBA draft: the Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner, the Chicago Sky’s Elena Delle Donne and, last but not least, the Tulsa Shock’s Skylar Diggins.

The main focus of the 2012-13 women’s college basketball season was these three players, who are expected to take the WNBA to new heights and have been deemed the "three to see" by the league. Due to that, there was a large amount of hype surrounding the 2013 WNBA draft.

The lottery for the draft took place on Sept. 26, and for the first time ever was televised live during SportsCenter. The draft itself did not take place until seven months later, on April 15, and on this occasion it was once again broadcast live. The first round went on ESPN2 and the second and third rounds were shown on ESPNU.

To the surprise of no one, the Phoenix Mercury picked Griner, an absolute standout at Baylor, first overall. The Sky chose Delaware's Delle Donne and the Shock took Notre Dame's Diggins.

Luck was definitely on the Chicago Sky’s side this time around, as it is extremely remarkable that they were able to nab the second pick on the draft. Out of the four teams that entered the lottery, Chicago had the best record, having missed the playoffs by a single game. This means that the Sky were the team with the lowest chance of being picked, which is usually a disadvantage.

(The Washington Mystics were the team with the worst record in the 2012 WNBA season, meaning they had the best shot at landing the first overall pick. Instead, they got to pick fourth, missing out on all three superstars that entered the draft.)

That lucky turn of events might end up being just what the Chicago Sky needed. The Sky joined the league in 2006 and have not made the playoffs in each of their first seven seasons. Chicago came extremely close last year, finishing one game out of fourth place behind the New York Liberty. One curious fact is that the two teams split their regular-season series last year, losing both games at home and winning on the road. Had Chicago beat New York at home once, it would have made the playoffs for the first time ever.

In the end, missing out on the playoffs may end up being the best thing that could have happened to the Sky. If Chicago would have advanced to the postseason they would not have been able to pick Delle Donne, and the former Blue Hen is already paying dividends.

Chicago has started its 2013 campaign in dominant fashion, going 3-0 and winning each game by double-digit margins. The Sky opened the season by visiting Griner’s Phoenix Mercury and put on a dominant performance in the desert. Chicago won by a score of 102-80, which included setting a franchise record by posting 39 points in the second quarter, led by Epiphanny Prince’s 26 points and Delle Donne’s 22.

Delle Donne also led all Sky players with 34 minutes played, an impressive statistic given that it was a rookie playing her first official contest. Griner, on the other hand, was not quite able to match Delle Donne’s performance, scoring 17 points in 27 minutes played, having run into foul trouble early on.

Four days later, on May 31, the Sky hosted last year’s top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Connecticut Sun and reigning league MVP Tina Charles, for the home opener. Chicago once again put forth a dominant performance, defeating the visitors by an 86-75 score.

This time, center and Olympic gold medalist Sylvia Fowles led the way with 24 points and 22 rebounds. Delle Donne scored at least 20 points for the second consecutive contest, while Prince added 17 to the offensive effort. The Sky’s defense also did its job, containing Charles to 16 points, which was crucial toward attaining the victory.

Two days later, on Sunday, June 2, Chicago hosted Diggins’ Tulsa Shock in what was one of two games every women’s basketball fan in the Chicago area had circled on his or her calendar. In front of the fourth-largest crowd in franchise history, the Sky dispatched the Shock 92-71. This contest in particular brought forth what will most likely be Chicago’s greatest strength this campaign: its depth.

The usual contributors in Prince, Delle Donne, three-time WNBA champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist forward Swin Cash and Fowles scored 19, 15, 14 and 10 points, respectively. In addition, sixth woman Tamera Young came strong off the bench, adding 16 points to the offensive effort.

Delle Donne has already faced off against the other two super rookies and has come out victorious in both the scoreboard and the stat sheet. If she keeps putting together performances like she has in the first three games as the season moves along and Chicago keeps winning, she will no doubt be a favorite to take away the Rookie of the Year award.

At this point in time, however, it is still too early to tell, and many things could change. There is one fact that is undeniable, though—things are definitely looking up for the Chicago Sky in what looks to be a breakout season that could catapult the team to the postseason for the first time.