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.)

Comments (18)

  1. You’ll get all the heat from the Lithuanian following!!11!

    But I’m just kidding of course. I can’t argue with your comments on Kleiza, because you are right – he didn’t show any consistent play in the NBA. The only thing that always bothers me is that he’s a true powerhouse in Europe and a solid leader in the international tournaments. It seems that in his case it does not translate to NBA ball AT ALL. And that’s a shame.

  2. He looked great once again in the olympics. Kleiza was a solid player years ago coming off the bench for a deep Nuggets team. I think coming to a losing team can hurt a player’s confidence. He also never had a clearly defined role here in Toronto which can be tough. I think he’s a good option for the Raptors coming off the bench this year…. good health, knowing his role and playing on a winning team should help.

    • He did look good and even a little quicker at the Olympics, but also saved his worst performance for the team’s biggest game (the quarterfinals). In addition, Kleiza looked way better at the 2010 World Championships when he made the All Tournament Team, without it translating to much of anything with the Raptors the following season. So far in his Raps career, he’s notorious for playing well in international tournaments, but that’s about it. I hope this is the year he proves me wrong, but I don’t see why this year will be any different.

      • I agree with you Joseph.

        I think this year will be different because this team has dramatically improved. They have character guys, and hopefully that spreads throughout the lineup. If Kleiza is healthy and this team is winning, and he doesn’t have his best year as a Raptor, then he’s done here.

  3. Wow, I’m surprised by how harsh you guys were on a guy who’s never been fully healthy in his Raptors career so far and basically missed a full calendar year from January 2011 to January 2012.

    I’d still like to see what a fully healthy Kleiza can do on a team other than the 2011-2012 Raptors because let’s face it, not only was he still getting back to full strength, but the 2011-2012 Raptors offense could make LeBron James look like Morris Peterson. He wasn’t that bad in his first season here pre-injury and I expect him to return to his career norms of 44% from the field and approaching 35% from three.

    I’m not willing to overlook the four years of solid play he had with the Nuggets and even his first year here in favour of last year where he was still recovering from a serious injury. I think a healthy Kleiza could be a nice weapon of the bench especially if Casey isn’t bullshitting us and he’ll actually let the team operate more in transition and open up the offense a bit.

    • For all the talk about needing 3 point % to go up and more of that threat, I don’t know why the minutes seem to be allocated to Ross in his rookie year. I’d like to see a healthy Kleiza first get the opportunity behind Fields and maybe see him start over him if its a legitimate option and Kleiza is playing to a higher standard. He always could post, spot shoot and grab boards, sounds like what we’ve been needing so hopefully he fills the void.

      • And not that Ross gets all the minutes but tath he seems to be the answer to the 3 pts, and not Kleiza at all.

        • Nobody is going to call Kleiza the answer to the three-point problems because he’s a career 33.7% shooter from deep and has shot an even worse 32.6% from three-point range in his two seasons in Toronto.

          Again, he’s had short stretches where he looks like a decent NBA shooter, but he’s only shot better than 35% from deep ONCE in his 6-year NBA career. Ross is a much more natural shooter, a better fundamental basketball player and is worth the time investment. I don’t think Kleiza is at this point.

          • Dwayne Casey said “Kleiza gives us the three-point shooting that we need” and Doug Smith wrote “Kleiza gives the Raptors the one offensive skill they sorely lack — consistent three-point shooting” . Apparently he has a shot to be a starter this year, although Fields should get the gig. Just saying……

    • I agree. I was suprised they did not have one good thing to say about such a solid all around player. They love Aaron Gray though….. lol

      • Actually, I didn’t think we gave Gray enough credit. But back to Kleiza, he hasn’t looked like a solid NBA player in four years, let alone a solid “all around” player.

        He’s a streaky shooter who at best, is an average rebounder and average defender, though he’s usually below average on the defensive end. So other than two international tournaments and a couple of decent years with the Nuggets nearly half a decade ago, what are you basing the “solid all around player” statement on?

    • A healthy Kleiza CAN be a nice weapon off of the bench, just not on a consistent basis. As I wrote, he will have his stretches where he looks good, but those stretches are separated by clusters of uninspiring play where he looks more like a chucker than anything else. If you’re team is deep and you only need Kleiza to be a 9th or 10th man and provide occasional scoring, you’re fine. But if you’re team is counting on him to be one of the consistent one or two scorers off of the bench, you’re in trouble.

      • Thanks for the feedback Joseph. I wasn’t basing that “all around player” statement on much actually lol I would have to agree with your assesment now that I think about it.

  4. Also surprised you’re so down on Kleiza, he’s a high IQ player who was one of the few bright spots last season. And when he was off, Casey parked him and that’s the way it should be. I’m guessing Casey likes him and he’ll play a ton of bench minutes.

  5. Kleiza had very good plus-minus for the Raptors last season and I don’t think that was an accident. Even if his career percentages are not great from three, he is not a guy you can leave open behind the three point line. This stretches the defense, especially when he is playing the 4. I expect Kleiza to average 20 minutes a game: he is the raptors second best option at 3 behind Fields, and he may well steal minutes at the 4 from Davis if Davis isn’t playing well.

  6. 27 years old, finally healthy and maybe the right kind of team mates around him. Could be a good season for him. If not, yeah we overpaid him, eac and every year.

  7. My problem with Kleiza is that he’s too streaky, even when healthy.

    I like him as a stretch four who will battle on the glass and can drop a lot of points in a hurry if he’s on, but this team has too many fours, and one stretch four happens to be starting. As a 3, he’s giving up too much defensively. On offence, I prefer his ability to draw the defence out rather than his occasional successful post-up of smaller 3s.

  8. My problem with Kleiza is not him chucking 3′s it’s when Jose passes to him for an open shot and instead of putting it up he tries to post the defender up on his way to what most often ends in a turnover. This is something I’ve noticed time and time again. He can’t dribble his way through anything. Stop trying. It’s infuriating.

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