In just three pro seasons Elena Delle Donne has done more than some athletes do in an entire career. She's led the Chicago Sky to three straight playoff berths, including a 2014 WNBA Finals appearance, after seven years of futility.
She's made the All-WNBA Team on two occasions, was named the 2013 WNBA Rookie of the Year, and last season she became the league's Most Valuable Player.
Delle Donne's 2015 season was unique for various reasons. Then Sky center Sylvia Fowles sat out the first half of the season after demanding a trade to Minnesota. The absence of Fowles hurt Chicago defensively, as she was their anchor in the paint. Fowles' absence also unequivocally made the Chicago Sky Elena Delle Donne's team.
Having more opportunity to go to work Delle Donne did just that. She led the W in scoring with 23.4 points per game, and was third best in the league in rebounding (8.4 RPG) and blocked shots (2.1 BPG). The Delaware native made a historic 95 percent of her shots from the foul line.
Despite a dominant individual season, the Sky bowed out early in the playoffs, losing to Indiana in three games. During the regular season, the Sky gave up the second-most points per game in the WNBA (78.8).
The teams' defensive issues did not improve in the postseason. Indiana shot 47.6% against Chicago and averaged 87 points a game in the first round series, while averaging just 77 PPG throughout the regular season.
In the eyes of many Delle Donne is the future face of the WNBA. She's accomplished a great deal in a short amount of time and will only get better. Delle Donne is also an athlete that will never rest on her laurels, so her offseason isn't used to supplement her income; it's used to improve her already amazing game with the objective being a WNBA championship.
Swish Appeal: You came into last season with an emphasis on rebounding and being more vocal. What have you added to your repertoire this season?
Elena Delle Donne: "Now it's just all aspects on the defensive end of the floor - working on containing dribble penetration, being in help side, and communicating -- especially on defense. That's the focus for everybody on this team, especially myself. So far it's been going well. We're improving every day, and we're excited because when the pieces of the puzzle come together, it looks great."
SA: Last year there were defensive issues, has fixing those issues been the main focus of training camp?
EDD: "Yes. We were eleventh in the league in defense, and you're not going to win that way. We saw that in the playoffs. We really haven't put in any offense at all. We don't talk about it very often. Literally all film is defense, all we drill is defense, that's just the focus, and that's different from any other year that I've been here."
SA: In preseason I think you missed three shots total...
EDD: "[Laughs] I didn't take many shots. Preseason was pretty good. Once again, though, the focus has been on defense. We had a bit of a slip up against Connecticut. We were able to fix some things after the half and the next game we were able to put it together. It's going to be a process. We're not going to be perfect. We just need to continue to improve and focus on it. We can't lose sight of what's most important."
SA: A person who might help with the defense is the rookie Imani Boyette. What have you seen from her so far in practice?
EDD: "Yes, yes! Her length is amazing and she's able to move, too. I'm not going to talk about her offense because like I said the focus is on defense. There has been times where someone gets beat, and you think that they have a clear path to get a layup and she just throws it! She's a rim protector, and we've been missing that since we lost Sylvia."
SA: You've been criticized for your comments on how the game could be improved. One of the things that I believe will help the league's exposure would be more transparency. Unfortunately some of the things that interest sports fans have nothing to do with the game itself. It's rumors, rivalries, salaries, and a peek into the athletes personal lives. What's your take on the league being more transparent to get more eyeballs on the game?
EDD: "That's true. Adam Silver actually had a talk with some of us WNBA players about that. He spoke about showing your feelings sometimes, not always being perfect and putting on that perfect role model face. We were like, "Hey, so if we do something wrong, are we not going to get fined?"
"I think the biggest thing is our stories need to be told. People get sick of hearing about Elena, the basketball player but if you tell them I'm into DIY that gets exciting and might bring in some interesting fans.
"You need to hear the stories of a Maya Moore and a Skylar Diggins just to become more of a fan of them and understand where they come from, and maybe you can connect in some way. I think that's the biggest thing; through marketing being able to tell the story of different players who are incredible."
SA: How do the changes in the structure of the playoffs affect the league?
EDD: "It affects the league greatly. Obviously, it's tough to play an entire season for it to come down to one game. It's not something that an athlete loves. I don't love it, but if it's gonna grow the fan base and more people are gonna watch then fine, I'll support it. But it's just kind of frustrating, to know that a whole season can lie on one game."
SA: Is there any extra pressure on you to play to the level of your MVP season or surpass that?
EDD: "That's not my focus at all. My focus is making everyone around me better. It's not about the individual accolades; it's about how great of a team can we be and how can I influence that to the best of my abilities."
SA: I know your goal this year is to win a WNBA championship, but you're also competing for an Olympic gold medal. What's it mean to you to represent your country in Brazil?
EDD: "It means the world to me. It's hard for me to put words to it. Obviously, I want a gold medal, and I want to continue the legacy of USA Women's Basketball because it's absolutely unheard of. I can't wait to get there and compete."