Player Review 2013: Karima Christmas

By Wheat Hotchkiss | November 1, 2013

Height: 6-0
Position: Guard/Forward
Age: 24
Years Pro: 3
College: Duke
Key Stats: Appeared in all 38 games, starting 32. Averaged career-best 8.6 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. Upped those averages to 10.8 points and 6.0 rebounds in the playoffs. Ranked fifth in the WNBA with 1.85 steals per game.

Karima Christmas was a valuable contributor to the 2012 world champion Indiana Fever. But for the 2013 squad that reached the Eastern Conference Finals, she proved to be invaluable.

Several Fever players took on bigger roles in 2013 and thrived – Shavonte Zellous and Erlana Larkins, for example – but Christmas’ growth was the most dramatic.

PHOTO GALLERY: Karima Christmas Season Gallery »

The Fever acquired Christmas in July of 2012 from Tulsa in exchange for Roneeka Hodges. Joining Indiana midseason, Christmas had to learn new schemes on the fly, and saw the court sparingly. She appeared in 16 games, but her 2.9 points per game was the lowest scoring average of the 11 players on the Fever’s final roster.

Christmas did not play for most of the Fever’s 2012 playoff run, but stayed ready. After not appearing in either the conference semifinals or finals, Christmas was pressed into action in the WNBA Finals when both Katie Douglas and Jeanette Pohlen went down with injuries. She played 32 minutes in Games 3 and 4 – both Fever victories – and contributed seven points and five rebounds in the title-clinching game.

That experience carried over to this year, as a determined Christmas entered training camp with a fuller understanding of Indiana’s system and a burning desire to prove herself worthy of a larger role.

“Always staying ready,” Christmas said of her mindset entering the season. “You never know what could happen, what position you’ll be playing, what role you’ll be playing. I just came in with a chip on my shoulder, just ready to work hard and to do whatever my teammates and my coaches wanted me to do.”

Christmas started the year coming off the bench, but after a solid performance June 12 against Connecticut, head coach Lin Dunn inserted the third-year player into the starting lineup at small forward on June 16 against Washington. She became a mainstay in that spot, starting all but one game the rest of the year.

As a starter, the Duke University graduate thrived. She had nine points and four steals in her first start, and two games later recorded her first career double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds against Atlanta. She scored in double figures in the next three games – all Fever wins. The more she played, the more comfortable she looked.

“The confidence factor is really big for me,” Christmas said. “And just having my coaches and my teammates push me and tell me great things when I do stuff in the game. Being able to take that and roll with it and get better each and every game is something that really helped me out a lot this year.”

In many ways, Christmas was the “glue” of the 2013 Fever’s starting lineup. Briann January handled the ball, Shavonte Zellous scored, Erlana Larkins crashed the boards, and Tamika Catchings was Tamika Catchings. Christmas filled in wherever she was needed, displaying considerable versatility.

The third-year player developed into a defensive stopper, often drawing the assignment of guarding the opposing team’s best player. She finished fifth in the league in steals, averaging nearly two per game.

On the offensive end, Christmas found ways to score without the team running a lot of plays for her. She showed a knack for crashing the glass from the wing, recording 64 offensive rebounds, second only to Larkins on the Fever roster. In one seven-game stretch after the All-Star break, Christmas scored in double figures in every game.

The best example of Christmas’ versatility can be found in two games – the regular season finale and first game of the playoffs. When Douglas returned from a long absence near the end of the season, the Fever had to cut ties with replacement player Jessica Breland. With Breland gone, Christmas was asked to practice at power forward, a position she’d never played before.

In the last regular season game against Connecticut, Dunn gave Catchings the night off and started Christmas at power forward. Christmas rose to the occasion, scoring a career-high 21 points to go along with five rebounds and three steals.

When Douglas reaggravated her back injury before the playoffs, Christmas slid back to small forward, while also playing some minutes at power forward in relief of Catchings. In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the top-seeded Chicago Sky, Christmas had 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting and nine rebounds in a double-digit victory. Dunn made a point of choosing Christmas as the player to accompany her at the postgame press conference.

“We brought Karima with us because she had such a great night,” Dunn told the assembled media after the game. “She played the 3, the 4, she defended the 3, the 4, and just really came up big for us.”

Christmas’ evolution from underused reserve to a consistent cog in the starting lineup bodes well for the future. Christmas is just 24 – the youngest Fever starter by two-and-a-half years – and has plenty of opportunities to continue her growth. She wants to improve on her outside shot (she shot 30 percent from behind the arc in 2013) and continue to work on her ball-handling.

Christmas is currently in Israel, where she just started a new season with Maccabi Ramat Hen. She had 16 points and seven rebounds in her first game on Oct. 28.

There is no question that the 2013 WNBA season was a breakout year for Karima Christmas. When asked about all her accomplishments after the season, Christmas couldn’t help but smile as she looked back:

“I’m grateful for the opportunity and I just feel so great that I accomplished what I wanted to do and I took the opportunity and I didn’t waste it.”

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: Erlana Larkins
Player Review 2013: Layshia Clarendon
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