We’re going to handle preseason player profiles differently this year on RaptorBlog. For each player on the 2012-13 Raptors’ active roster, Joseph Casciaro and I are going to email our thoughts back and forth and then post the resulting conversation on the blog. It’s an edgy new form of journalism! Or something…
Linas Kleiza, SF/PF, 6’8″, 234 lbs.
2011-12 stats: 49 games, 21.6 MPG, 9.7 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.1 BPG, 0.5 SPG, .402 FG%, .346 3P%, .810 FT%, 12.4 PER
Scott: Does Linas Kleiza have a real purpose on this season’s Raptors squad besides being Jonas Valanciunas’ buddy? Landry Fields will presumably get the majority of the minutes at small forward, and there probably won’t be more than a handful of minutes available for Kleiza at power forward once Andrea, Amir and Ed get their share. I think his minutes are going to get cut back this season, and that’s probably a good thing.
It’s not that I think Kleiza is a terrible basketball player. He’s just been a big disappointment in terms of what I expected from him when Bryan Colangelo signed him to a four-year, $18.8 million contract as a restricted free agent back in July 2010. The Nuggets declined to match that offer, and in hindsight it appears they knew something the Raptors didn’t. And yes, I do see the potential parallels with the Landry Fields signing — I’m just choosing to ignore them right now.
Joseph: The only parallel to me between the Kleiza signing and the Fields signing is that the total financial commitment was similar. Fields is younger than Linas was at the time each deal was signed and is a much more complete basketball player, while I’m not even sure Kleiza was a better offensive option at the time.
Anyway, I don’t see much of a role for Linas on this team either, and outside of being countrymen, I don’t necessarily think he’ll be much more of a help to Valanciunas than others on this team. I get that he probably hasn’t been completely healthy in his short time in Toronto, but nonetheless, his tenure here has been marred by inconsistency and frustration, if not by injuries.
If he does see a significantly reduced role this season and doesn’t have much to sell himself on, I expect he’ll pick up the $4.6 million player option he has for 2013-14. If he does, I wonder if the Raptors would then use the amnesty clause. (Do you know if you can amnesty a player with only a player option left?)
Scott: Kleiza would seem to be a good candidate for the amnesty provision next July if he doesn’t prove to be a solid rotation player this season. His $4.6 million option could be useful cap space if Raptors’ senior management allows Colangelo (or his replacement) to use it — which, by the way, I don’t expect they will ever allow a Raptors GM to do. As for whether or not the option year has any affect on the amnesty rules — who do I look like, Larry Coon?
The one argument Kleiza could make for being a useful role player on this team would be if he was able to get his three-point shooting percentage up in the high 30s. Unfortunately, he has only accomplished that once in his career, and that was five seasons ago. I think we’re stuck with a guy who doesn’t do any one thing particularly well, with the possible exception of rebounding and looking pretty badass in the Raptors’ camouflage jersey. He actually looks like an elite soldier in the Lithuanian army.
Joseph: Don’t get me started on the camouflage uniforms, though now you have me thinking about how fitting it will be to see Jonas “Rambo” Valanciunas in combat colours.
Back to Kleiza. At best, he could settle into a seventh or eighth man role on this team, but I realistically see him begrudgingly being forced to settle for something more like the 10th man or beyond. He’ll have his stretches where he looks like a legitimate offensive weapon off of the bench, but for the most part, he’s an inconsistent player who takes too many three-pointers for a guy who isn’t exactly a three-point specialist. Last season, the NBA average was 1.8 three-point attempts per game in 22.9 minutes per game, while Kleiza fired 3.7 attempts in just 21.6 minutes per night, despite being an underwhelming 33.7 per cent long range shooter in his NBA career.
As you mentioned, he doesn’t seem to excel at anything at the NBA level. He’s an average rebounder, at best, for his size. He doesn’t stick out for the right reasons on defence and he doesn’t seem to know how to maximize his offensive effectiveness.
All this, and he’s already 27-years-old with six NBA seasons under his belt, so unless we should believe that injuries are to blame for all of Kleiza’s shortcomings so far with the Raptors, then I just don’t see how he suddenly emerges as anything substantial in Toronto’s plans this season, especially with a much deeper team at their disposal.
The only question I have now is will our lack of faith in Kleiza’s abilities damage the good will we had created with our newfound Lithuanian following?
Scott: As long as Kleiza’s fans are nicer to us than Hedo Turkoglu’s Turkish fans were, I’m prepared to face the Lithuanian folk music. Anyway, Kleiza’s not going to be the focus of their attention this season — but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Bottom line, Kleiza is the type of player that I’d rather not have on my team — he’s a black hole who isn’t that great of a shooter. Luckily, there is one area where I know he can be useful to the team — he can help Valanciunas with his English. That way, he can take credit for the first time Jonas curses out Kevin Garnett. Do you think Linas can explain to Jonas what “fugazy” means?
Joseph: Probably not, but there’s an Italian on the team, so Bargnani probably can, and if even he can’t, I’ll play the Al Pacino to Jonas’ Johnny Depp (or was it the other way around?) and fill him in on how to call a “fugazi’s” bluff.
I’d say we’re just about done here, yeah?
Scott: Is it “fugazy” or “fugazi”? Can we contact Tim Thomas to get a ruling?
(Yeah, we’re done.)