At the free throw line, Elena Delle Donne is as dependable as it gets

Including Sunday's 10-for-10 performance on free throws, Elena Delle Donne is shooting 96 percent through 21 postseason games (97 of 101). Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

ATLANTA -- Right foot toeing the free throw line, standing at a slight angle to the basket. Three dribbles. Right arm lifted to a 90-degree position. Line up the shot. Pause. Flick of the wrist with a lift of the ankles.

That's the routine of one of the best free throw shooters in basketball history. And the Washington Mystics' Elena Delle Donne has done the exact same thing since eighth grade.

"For me, it's about making the shot as simple as possible, taking away anything that could go wrong," Delle Donne said. "Simplicity is what gives me confidence."

And seeing her at the line gives opponents a feeling of dread. No one in the WNBA or NBA has a better career free throw percentage than Delle Donne's 93.36. She has made 830 of 889 in 159 regular-season games over six years.

In the playoffs, she's even better: 96 percent, or 97 of 101, in 21 postseason games. That includes Sunday's 10-of-10 effort from the line as she scored 32 points in the Mystics' 87-84 Game 1 victory in their semifinal series with Atlanta.

In Tuesday's second game at McCamish Pavilion (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET), the Dream will try to keep Delle Donne away from the line as much as possible, but that's difficult to do. Delle Donne is 6-foot-5 and able to shoot from anywhere on court, plus her shooting mechanics frustrate defenders.

"She's one of the few players who shoots with her elbow directly out in front and releases on her way down," Dream coach Nicki Collen said. "From a timing perspective, her elbow comes into you. And then right at the top of your jump, when you think you're going to contest her shot, she hesitates before she actually releases the ball. That's why she draws a lot of those fouls where you catch her on the elbow.

"Then when it comes to free throw shooting, she leaves no room for error."

As Dream guard Renee Montgomery said: "You could take clips of her shooting free throws from any year, and they would all look identical."

That's by design, going back to when Delle Donne's high school coach told her in the eighth grade that as good as she already was from the line, she could be even better. She listened, breaking down her routine to the basics.

"At first, I wasn't good at it, and I thought I should go back to my other shot," Delle Donne said. "But I trusted in the simplicity of it, knowing if I could get it down, it would be really effective.

"I didn't have to jump then, but I did have my more legs involved in it, where I was really bending my knees. Whereas now, I literally just have a little ankle pop-up."

Delle Donne shot 91 percent from the line during her college career at Delaware. And that has carried over into the WNBA.

The next-best career percentage behind Delle Donne in the WNBA is Becky Hammon, who retired in 2014 with an 89.68 accuracy (1,182 of 1,318 in 15-plus seasons). Las Vegas' Kayla McBride (89.21, 438 of 491 in five seasons) is the second best active WNBA player at free throws behind Delle Donne.

The NBA's career leader in free throw percentage is Steve Nash at 90.43 (3,060 of 3,384 over 18 seasons), with the active leader being Golden State's Steph Curry at 90.33 (2,271 of 2,514 in nine seasons).

Those four players are all guards. Delle Donne has guard skills, but in a forward's body. And although the Mystics would love to have Emma Meesseman, who's with the Belgian national team this summer, her absence means Delle Donne is at the power forward spot rather than small forward.

"As good as Meesseman is, when Delle Donne plays the 3, there isn't as much room for her to operate," Collen said. "Elena is the ultimate stretch-4 because she's so good from behind the arc, but she can put the ball on the floor. She is very much a tendency player, but she has enough of a counter game that when you take away her strength, she can spin back and score."

Delle Donne averaged 20.7 points in the regular season, with an effective field goal percentage (which gives extra weight to 3-pointers) of 54.2. That's down a smidge from last year's 54.5, but better than the 50.1 of her MVP season in 2015. That year, Delle Donne had her highest free throw percentage, 95.0 (207 of 218).

Her percentage at the line during this regular season -- 88.7 (110 of 124) -- was the lowest of her six years in the WNBA. But there's an explanation for that. A slight shoulder injury over the winter carried over a bit into WNBA play.

"It changed my shot for a good part of the season, and I had to fine-tune it and get back to what I do," Delle Donne said. "But it's about staying confident in it, and just return to the basics."

And it's not just Delle Donne; the Mystics set a WNBA record this season for team free throw percentage at 85.8, topping the 2009 Mercury's 85.5.

"At the end of games, everybody we have on the floor can make free throws," Washington coach Mike Thibault said. "We don't spend a lot of time talking about it, though. We practice it some as a team, but they all have their routines where they shoot on their own.

"With Elena, she just has a rhythm that she's had for a long time. You have to establish a simple routine that feels the same every time, so that you could do it with your eyes closed. Mostly, it's just a feel thing. For some people, though, it's, 'Can you block everything out in pressure times?' But if you have the same routine every day, you can do that a little bit better."

"When it comes to free throw shooting, she leaves no room for error." Atlanta coach Nicki Collen on Elena Delle Donne

Delle Donne for the most part isn't bothered by late-game nerves. But she said that when she has dealt with the after-effects of Lyme disease over the years, she sometimes has felt her hands shaking a little on the line. Even then, she has gone back to the same mantra in her mind: "It's going in."

Asked if she ever watches other players at all levels of basketball miss a lot at the line and thinks, "I bet I could help that," Delle Donne chuckled.

"I do, a lot in the NBA. I feel like so many of them have way too much motion in their free throws. They're such big, strong guys. I feel like if I could just work with them and have them commit to it for a couple of months, they could fix that," she said. "But I also understand at this age, when you're a pro, you have a routine and you don't want to change that up -- unless you're really struggling. Which is why I think it's best if you do it from a young age.

"My advice to kids would be to simplify your shot, make it as minimal as possible, to get rid of all the things that can go wrong. So that, mentally, you're not overthinking things when shooting free throws."