Player Review 2013: Erlana Larkins

By Wheat Hotchkiss | October 17, 2013

Height: 6-1
Position: Center
Age: 27
Years Pro: 4
College: North Carolina
Status: Restricted free agent (According to Indy Star)
Key Stats: Averaged career-best 7.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. Upped averages to 10.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game in playoffs. Only Fever player to start every game this season.

As the injuries mounted and players shuffled in and out of the lineup throughout the 2013 season, Indiana Fever head coach Lin Dunn must have felt like she had to write her lineup in pencil. But there was one name she could etch in stone: Erlana Larkins.

In a year full of roster turmoil, Larkins was Indiana’s rock.

Larkins was the only Fever player to start every game this season. She was one of just two players (the other being Karima Christmas) to appear in every game.

She matched her consistent health with dependable production. The 6-1 North Carolina graduate had easily the best season in her WNBA career, setting career highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and field goal percentage. Larkins embraced the challenge of taking on bigger and often more-heralded players in the post, and more than held her own.

PHOTO GALLERY: Erlana Larkins Season Gallery »

Her success really dates back to late last season, when Dunn inserted her into the Fever’s starting lineup heading into the playoffs. Larkins responded, coming just shy of averaging a double-double (9.9 points and 10.9 rebounds) in 10 postseason games and becoming the unexpected catalyst to Indiana’s WNBA title.

She entered this year as a full-time starter for the first time in her career – a considerable achievement considering she entered training camp a year earlier fighting just to make the Indiana roster.

After college, Larkins played in 45 games over two seasons with the New York Liberty from 2008-09. She was out of the WNBA the next two seasons, unable to stick with a team. But Larkins stayed ready, and eventually turned a 2012 training camp invite with the Fever into a permanent gig, latching on to a roster spot and eventually earning a starting role.

“I think coming out of school and being a good player, you just think some of these things (starting, playing a key role on a WNBA team) may have happened earlier,” Larkins reflected on her professional path after the 2013 season. “…I’m thankful that it happened at this point.”

Larkins got off to a solid but unspectacular start in 2013. Through June, she averaged a respectable 6.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. But as she gained more comfort and the Fever roster began to experience a little more stability, Larkins’ numbers took off.

She averaged 8.5 points and 8.3 boards for the remainder of the regular season. Though she was undersized against most opponents playing the center position, Larkins fought above her weight class night in and night out, both on the glass and on the block.

She grabbed 16 rebounds against New York on July 23, and tied two franchise records with 10 offensive and 17 total boards against Atlanta on Sept. 4. Larkins never took a ton of shots on the offensive end, but she was extremely efficient – her .545 field goal percentage ranked sixth in the WNBA.

On the other end, Larkins was the underrated cog in the league’s best defensive unit. She used her quickness to her advantage, swiping 1.41 steals per game, ninth-best in the league. Her speed also allowed her to switch on to smaller players without being outmatched and her relentless effort against bigger opposition allowed for the Fever to limit its double teams.

Nowhere was Erlana Larkins’ progression as a player more on display than in Indiana’s first round matchup with the Chicago Sky. Larkins drew the unenviable assignment of squaring off with Sylvia Fowles, five inches taller, All-WNBA First Team and Defensive Player of the Year. Making the task more difficult, Larkins’ primary backup for the majority of the season, Jessica Breland, had been released a week earlier to clear room on the roster for guard Katie Douglas.

Larkins didn’t shy away from the challenge, she embraced it, putting up consecutive double-doubles and shooting 10-for-16 from the field while holding Fowles under 50 percent in both games. The Fever rolled to two easy victories and a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Though the Fever fell to Atlanta in the next round, 2013 was a year that Erlana Larkins won’t soon forget.

“The journey was really tough,” she said the day after the season ended. “It was a roller coaster full of ups and downs, and we made it a lot further than people expected.”

In a short time, Larkins – or “E,” as she’s better known by teammates – has become an integral part of Indiana’s roster. Her effort and energy have made her a fan favorite, the top choice to take the microphone and rile up the crowd before a home game. Like guards Shavonte Zellous and Briann January, she’s just entering the prime of her career. She is a restricted free agent, and re-signing her is almost assuredly the organization’s top offseason priority.

Her future will be resolved in a few months, but for the meantime, Larkins is headed overseas, where she’ll play for Jiangsu in China. She still sees room for herself to grow, particularly on the offensive end.

“I want to be a stretch post,” she said. “I want to be able to step out and shoot the 12-15 foot jumper. And then if people come out, just drive right past them and use my quickness.”

We’ll see next season if she is able to make those improvements, but rest assured, no one is going to outwork Erlana Larkins.

FeverBasketball.com is doing Player Reviews for each player on the 2013 Indiana Fever. Check out other stories from this series:

Player Review 2013: Shavonte Zellous
Player Review 2013: Layshia Clarendon
Player Review 2013: Karima Christmas
Player Review 2013: Jasmine Hassell
Player Review 2013: Erin Phillips
Player Review 2013: Briann January
Player Review 2013: Katie Douglas
Player Review 2013: Tamika Catchings
Player Review 2013: Jeanette Pohlen