Linas Kleiza shot 9-of-15 and led the Raptors with 23 points and eight boards in a 121-100 preseason win this afternoon at the ACC. He’s also the subject of the latest installment in this month’s Raptors Preview:
So, Linas Kleiza? Let’s plug the guy in there and see what he can do. Kleiza, who the Raptors signed to a four-year, $18.8 million offer sheet in July that the Nuggets declined to match, is back in the NBA after a year with Olympiakos and looking to prove he’s ready to take on a bigger role in the league. Since Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups don’t play for this particular team, he’ll get every opportunity to prove he can handle it.
NBA fans know a little about Kleiza from his four years in Denver, where he came off the bench and attempted to chuck jumpers at the rate of his high-scoring teammates. He averaged 11.1 points in just under 24 minutes per night in 2007-08, but after a decline the following season, landed in Greece and finished second in the Euroleague in scoring at 17.1 points per game last year. This past summer, he carried Lithuania to a bronze medal finish at the 2010 FIBA World Championship, pacing the team with 19.0 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Needless to say, it sounds like he’s ready to produce in the NBA, too.
Kleiza should start at the three for the Raptors and get his fair share of shots, which will likely include more slashes and post ups than he flashed in his Denver repertoire. In his last three seasons with the Nuggets, Kleiza launched 765 long balls, making 264. He’ll have the freedom to take that shot again this season, but after proving what he can do with a more advanced role, he’ll likely be looking to get involved in every way possible.
Though he’s ideally a small forward, the six-foot-eight Kleiza has enough bulk to shift over to the four and bang with the big boys, which he’ll likely be asked to do on nights when Jay Triano chooses to pair his Point Guard of the Week with a couple quick, athletic swingmen. With a developing post game, Kleiza should be able to hold his own on the offensive side, though his 245-pound frame will have to prove it can keep NBA big men off the board on the other end.
2009-10 with Olympiakos: 22 Euroleague games, averaging 17.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. In 31 regular season games, he averaged 14.0 points and 5.1 rebounds, shooting 59.6% from the field, 37.4% from deep and 80.0% from the line.
What to expect: He’ll get a shot to make an impact, and should to the tune of about 15 points per night. For $5 million a year, Kleiza could come as great value.