Career Stats: 340 GP, 19.9 MPG, 8.6 PPG, 44.7 FG%, 33.6 3PT%, 75.2 FT%, 3.6 RPG, 0.8 APG
Season Stats: 39 GP (23 starts), 26.5 MPG, 11.2 PPG, 43.8 FG%, 29.8 3PT%, 63.1 FT%, 4.5 RPG, 1 APG
When Linas Kleiza led Lithuania to a bronze medal at the 2010 FIBA World Championship and garnered an All-Tournament team selection in the process, many felt that the Raptors may have made the biggest under-the-radar splash of the summer by signing Kleiza to a four-year contract.
Then the Raptors’ season started, and Toronto quickly realized that Linas Kleiza was nowhere near being an All-World player.
Kleiza was supposed to be one of the primary scoring options for the young Raptors, but his offensive game was wildly inconsistent all season. He would have some good stretches and some awful stretches through the first few months of the season, but ultimately, he was usually somewhere in the middle – an area we like to call “mediocre.”
At just under $5 million per season, Kleiza didn’t need to set the world on fire to prove he belonged or prove he deserved his contract, but he did need too do a lot more than what he actually accomplished in his injury-shortened first season with the Raptors.
The Raptors didn’t necessarily need him to score 15-20 points per game, but if he was going to toil around 10 points per game, then they definitely needed him to do more than just score. And therein lies the other issue: Kleiza didn’t defend well enough, rebound well enough or share the ball well enough to make up for his inconsistent and less than stellar offense.
To make matters worse, Kleiza underwent dreaded microfracture surgery in February to repair his damaged right knee. Recovery time from microfracture surgery is usually nine-to-12 months, so there’s a good chance Kleiza won’t even be ready to play until well into next season (assuming there is a next season).
An eternal optimist might look at things and assume that knee problems are what limited Kleiza’s first season in Toronto, and that the Lithuanian star will break out in year two. A realist would assess the situation and realize that after microfracture surgery, we may have already seen Kleiza’s best season in Toronto, and now the Raptors are on the hook for another three years at just under $14 million (assuming Kleiza picks up his $4.6 million player option in 2013-14) heading into uncertain economic times in the NBA.
The one thing Kleiza has going for him, like many of the current Raptors, is youth. He’s still only 26 years old, so there is the possibility of him coming back stronger from surgery and contributing to the Raptors rebuilding process.
It’s just hard for me to see the positives in a guy who shot the ball horribly, still hogged the ball despite his struggles, didn’t really defend and barely rebounded.
Linas Kleiza does not fall into the group of guys I would want to keep going forward, but I also understand that there won’t be a long list of teams lining up to take his contract on either, so we may be stuck with him for the next little while.
Scott Carefoot’s take on Linas Kleiza: I hoped that Bryan Colangelo had learned his lesson about overpaying role players from the disastrous Jason Kapono signing, but the initial return on Kleiza with the Raptors indicates that may not be the case. There have been brief stretches in Kleiza’s career (such as the FIBA tournament and his 2009 playoff run with the Nuggets) when he has shown that he can contribute at a fairly high level. Unfortunately, his three-point shooting percentage and free throw percentage have declined in each of his past three NBA seasons so it could be that this is as good as he’ll ever be. If he doesn’t return and show substantial improvement on his shooting and defense, Kleiza will likely spend the remaining three years on his contract at the end of the bench collecting dust — and about $14 million.