In my thoughts on the game post for Monday night’s overtime loss to the Wizards, I mentioned Linas Kleiza’s recent mini hot streak. In his last three games, Kleiza has scored a combined 62 points on nearly 60 per cent shooting, and he’s done it in just 77 minutes played. That works out to about 29 points per 36 minutes.
Now obviously no one is ready to proclaim Kleiza the team’s sixth man of the future or a finished product based on a three-game sample, but there has been evidence to suggest he is finally figuring things out and getting his legs back under him over the last few weeks.
In fact, since January 22 (a nine game span), Kleiza has been averaging 14.6 points in just under 26 minutes per game. Even better, he’s shooting 46.3 per cent during this recent run and an impressive 42.8 per cent from three-point range. And he’s finding ways to contribute in other facets of the game, like averaging 4.8 rebounds in those nine games.
I’ve said many times that I, like many Raptors fans, was disappointed in Kleiza’s performance last season, especially when we expected more after watching him with the Lithuanian national team. Last season, Kleiza averaged 11 points in 26 minutes per game, while shooting 43.8 per cent and under 30 per cent from deep.
Based on what we’ve seen recently, it really does seem like his struggles in 2010-2011 may have had everything to do with a bum knee and nothing to do with a lack of ability.
If you’re in to advanced statistics, then there is hope there too, as Kleiza is currently enjoying a career-best 15.52 Player Efficiency Rating. When you consider that he averaged just 3.5 points on 28 per cent shooting through his first six games this season (which is understandable given the severity of his procedure), the fact that he has his PER above 15 just goes to show you how lights out he has been since then.
Kleiza plays with a toughness and veteran savvy that has been lacking on Raptors teams of recent years, and almost gives the impression that he is an old, seasoned vet, but Linas is only in his sixth NBA season and just turned 27 on January 3.
His biggest flaw on the court is that he sometimes has a tendency to force things offensively, but most good bench players in the NBA fall victim to that from time to time. The pace he has set in his last few games is almost certainly unattainable over the long run, but given his age and an assumed return to full health for the first time in over a year, Kleiza can be a reliable bench option for the Raptors for years to come, and a scoring option at that.
Perhaps the best part about it is that Kleiza’s contract, which was considered a possible amnesty target just two months ago (if he showed an inability to bounce back from surgery), now has the possibility to look like a bargain. Linas is due $4.6 million next season, with a player option for $4.6 million in 2013-2014, which he may decline to seek a more lucrative deal if he does become a consistent bench scorer in the NBA.
No one knows what goes on inside Bryan Colangelo’s head and what conversations take place between Colangelo and other NBA executives, but this much we do know – if Kleiza can continue to build on his performance over the last two weeks, he will either be a valuable piece of the Raptors puzzle going forward, or will have some serious trade value. The word “amnesty,” on the other hand, will be nothing more than a punch-line.