Name: Linas Kleiza
Position: Small Forward
Weight: 234 lbs.
Season with Raptors: 2
2011-2012 Stats: 49 GP, 21.6 MPG, 9.7 PPG, 0.9 APG, 4.1 RPG, 0.5 SPG, 43.8 FG%, 34.6 3P%, 81.0 FT%, 12.45 PER
Analysis: Linas is a talented player in his second shot at the NBA. Whether this stint is any more successful than his first, when he disappointed the Nuggets, remains to be seen. Linas’ career arc has been more like a sine wave, punctuated by frequent trips to the injured list and disappointed coaches. While he seems fully recovered from the knee pain which cost him much of the last 2 seasons, Raps fans have reason to be wary. Was his fine play for an undermanned Lithuania at the Olympics a break-out or a tease?
Linas joined Miss Colangelo’s Home for Wayward Euros in 2010, following a year with Olympiacos in Greece. His return to the continent was necessitated when his expected step forward with Denver turned out to be in the other direction. To get another gig in the NBA must have been terrific news in the Kleiza household, but so far joy among the Toronto faithful has been muted.
Linas is a starting-quality small forward when he’s on. He’s plenty quick and very tough. When he enjoys a hot hand from distance, he can change a game by himself. Linas shows no fear, and will mix it up in the paint with the biggest, toughest hombres in the league.
Unfortunately few players are more inconsistent. While I wouldn’t label him a coach-killer, friend Dwane must wonder every game which Linas will show up to play. Linas is a technically sound player, in particular his jump shot displays textbook form – except it doesn’t find the bottom of the basket often enough.
Not that missing his previous 5 shots deters him from jacking up another one at his first opportunity. Commentators admire the quality of forgetting your misses, calling it “a shooter’s mentality.” I call it pigheaded. George Karl eased Linas out of the Denver rotation because he’s supposedly not a playmaker. That was 4 years ago; I’m not sure anything has changed. Linas was the backup to Carmelo Anthony, and to my eyes, some of Carmelo’s ball-stopping characteristics have rubbed off.
Defensively, Linas is a solid contributor who stays out of foul trouble. Early in his career, he was noteworthy for his shot-blocking, but one would assume his knee troubles have put paid to that skill. Last season he managed only 4 total.
Linas is a congenial fellow off the court, and is well-liked by the local press corps. However, he is not shy about getting in the face of anyone, whether opponent or teammate.
The stars are aligned for Kleiza this year. The Raps desperately need what he’s got to offer, namely solid outside shooting, no fear of taking the ball to the rack and a warrior’s attitude. He should be at the nexus of experience, health and youth, and is in the mix for a starter’s job at the 3-spot. He’s a veteran player with something to prove – will he?
Key stat to watch-PPG: But with a caveat: Linas will need to bring it every night. His pattern is 1 good game, followed by 2 indifferent ones. If Linas’ average after half the season is 10 PPG, he’ll need to have performed around that mark for most of the 41 games, and not use a 21-point outburst, or garbage-time buckets, to pad his number.
He stays on the floor if: Sometimes life is simple. If Linas moves the ball on offense, and scores when he takes good shots in rhythm, he plays. If not, I believe Linas will be wearing another uniform before year’s end.
Brian Boake is a staff writer for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.