How Elena Delle Donne Is Handling The Pressure Of Her Monster Season

Every now and then, an athlete challenges and possibly makes history. Elena Delle Donne is in the middle of one of those seasons.

Receiving her fourth player of the week award a little more than four weeks before the season even ends, and leading the WNBA in scoring while being in the top five in field goal percentage are only part of it. Her 33.5 efficiency would set a WNBA record if it stands through the end of the season -- a PER on pace to be two points higher than the NBA mark set by Wilt Chamberlain (31.8). Put another way, Delle Donne is having a more efficient season than the man whom basketball touts as the king of efficiency -- LeBron James -- has ever had.

Then there's this: Only one player in WNBA history has averaged more than 25 points per game (Diana Taurasi in 2006, 25.3 ppg), and right now, Delle Donne is averaging 24.5 ppg. So even if she doesn't end the season north of that lofty threshold, her current average would be the second highest in league history.

And all of this is the follow-up to miraculously leading her under-.500 Chicago Sky (15-19 regular season record) to the WNBA Finals last season.

If there's a new "Truth" in professional basketball, she's it.


espnW: Does this season feel special to you? It feels special to us watching you go through it, but how does it feel for you?

Elena Delle Donne: Yeah, it definitely has been and feels like a special year. I think the extra media attention is just great for the league in general and the Sky, so that's been really special. Just to see so much attention on our games. I'm just trying to enjoy the moment and enjoy this journey.

espnW: Is it easy to enjoy or does the pressure of, "I gotta keep doing this, I gotta keep doing this," at times take its toll?

EDD: I feel like it's a balance between both. I mean, it's enjoyable, but then you have to turn around and have a huge game the next day. So I just try to stay even keeled about the whole thing, and then after the season I'll reflect and really enjoy it.

espnW: Has there been anyone who you've been able to talk to about this as you go through it?

EDD: Cappie [Pondexter] has been great. Just being a veteran and someone who has been such a superstar her whole career, she's really helped me. Kind of talks me through everything. Such a great addition for me especially.

espnW: Coming up, especially in college, there was a lot of talk about you reaching this level of play. That once you got to the WNBA there were some, including me, who watched you and honestly felt that you'd become one of the great players we've seen. So now that that moment is kind of here, do you feel a sense of, "OK, I'm here but this is much more responsibility than I expected it to be?"

EDD: No, I knew there would be big responsibilities. It's something I like, You know, there's nobody on this road that's going to put more pressure on myself than me, so any pressure I feel is always coming from myself and that's what drives me. That's what's driven me my entire life. I've worked so hard to get to this place and I'm going to continue to work as hard as I can to continue to improve. That's just the way I am.

"Any pressure I feel is always coming from myself and that's what drives me." Sky guard/forward Elena Delle Donne

espnW: Do you feel the spotlight on you?

EDD: Definitely (laughs).

espnW: Did you feel it before, or are you just feeling it now because of this season?

EDD: No, I've felt it since I entered the league. When I came in, there was that "Three to See" (a rookie campaign that included Delle Donne, Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins, who were the three top picks of the 2013 WNBA draft). Even last year, I went through a lot of illnesses, but even in the playoffs there was the spotlight. And same with this season as well. So, it's been there. Now, maybe this season it's grown a bit, but it's been there.

espnW: That's where I was kind of trying to go in specifics to the spotlight. Brittney started off the season not playing because of her off-the-court issues, Skylar gets injured early on...

EDD: Candace [Parker] was out for a while...

espnW: ... yup, Diana Taurasi shut it down, deciding to take this WNBA season off. Then all of a sudden, not only did you elevate your game and begin to have "one of those" seasons, growing into who you are as a basketball player, but it seemed like the spotlight had no where else to go but to you and Maya Moore. Like boom, it's all on you to carry the game. I wanted to know if you felt that?

EDD: Oh, definitely. But I'd hope to think that's because my play improved as well. That's why I work so hard to improve my game during the offseason each year. Next year I plan on playing better than I have been this year.

espnW: Are you worried about hitting a wall?

EDD: No.

espnW: Not at all?

EDD: Well obviously with my illness and my chronic disease, that's always something that's kinda looming, but I try to take really good care of myself. So when things are getting too much, I know when to put my feet up and rest.

espnW: I wasn't necessarily talking about hitting the physical wall, I was talking about a mental wall of you keeping this level of play where it has been all season. And I only ask you this because in the past, I've talked to players who were going through epic, career-changing seasons and they've told me how, in the midst of it, they've all wondered if/when it was going to end? Kobe Bryant in 2005-06, Derrick Rose in his 2010-11, Gilbert Arenas in 2005-06, Anthony Davis last year -- that "I can't continue to play this well, something has got to give" point. That's the what I'm talking about.

EDD: Yeah. I get that. But for me, I've just focused on the team instead of focusing on myself. I think that's helped me the most and made me not think about hitting a wall. Plus, I think it's not as fun to focus on individual stats, which is kind of why I'm so focused on this team. Obviously, we have a way to go after watching us tonight [a home loss to the New York Liberty in which Delle Done was held to 17 points, though she followed it up with 33 points in a home win against the defending-champion Mercury]. As a team, we have to be better; as a leader, I have to be better. And that's been my focus.

espnW: You said earlier that you liked the media attention that's come with your play this season, but do you still feel there's a fight for you all -- and you personally -- as female athletes to get the credit that you deserve?

EDD: Certainly. As much great attention that there has been, there's still the negativity of people and media that say, "Who cares?" and "No one watches the WNBA anyway" and "Women can't play sports." So there's still that fight, which is so frustrating in 2015. Although I do feel women's sports are at a great place right now, it's a constant fight. It's there. And we definitely know it exists.