|Team: NON-NBA College Team: Milano|
H: 6' 8"|
W: 233 lbs
(31 Years Old)
|RSCI: 17||Agent: Rade Filipovich ||
High School: Montrose Christian
Hometown: Kaunas, Lithuania
Drafted: Pick 27 in 2005 by Trailblazers
Best Case: Andres Nocioni
Worst Case: Brian Cardinal
Overview: An offensive specialist who will knock down shots from the perimeter at a solid rate. Has good size and strength for either forward spot, but isnít incredibly agile. Surprisingly good straight line speed. Doesnít get by on his physical assets. A very good spot up shooter when heís on his game. Will put points on the board in a hurry and can get extremely hot. Not a very good defender due to his lack of athleticism. Possesses a very high basketball IQ. Offers some rebounding on both ends. Was a much better rebounder in his college days. Attended Montrose Christian HS, the same school that produced Kevin Durant, but hails from Lithuania. Spent only two seasons at Missouri before declaring for the NBA draft. Put up good numbers, but wasnít dominant. Has developed his shooting stroke significantly, but remains inconsistent. Something of a streak shooter. Brings a lot to the table as a bench player or spot-starter. Could put up big numbers in the right situation.
Offense: A talented offensive player who gets more than half of his touches in catch and shoot situations. Will also get some easy baskets at the rim due to his willingness to run the floor hard. Possesses a sweet shooting stroke. Will go on very streaks from three point range and is lights out from the corner. Capable of hitting shots off the dribble with good consistency. Takes the ball to the rim when he puts it on the floor. Heavily favors driving with his right hand. Takes a big first step, and attack the rim with reckless abandon when he decides he wants to get there. Doesnít have the agility to change directions when heís met with a defender. Will try to dunk the ball in traffic. Gets a lot of dunks on run outs. Always sprints to the offensive end. Not a great leaper, but takes the ball strong to the basket. Goes to the line at a good rate. Shoots a solid percentage from the stripe. Makes smart passes, but doesnít offer anything in the way of playmaking ability. Handles the ball pretty well with his right hand, but doesnít go left very often and wonít get separation when he canít go straight to the rim. Decent on the offensive glass. Will score some points every game due to his high basketball IQ, but will also have some huge nights due to his shooting stroke. Production fluctuates based on shooting trends.
Defense: Plays with good intensity on the defensive end, but isnít quick enough laterally to make an impact. Does a good job staying in position and doesnít miss many rotations, but lacks the foot-speed to keep up with the more athletic small forwards in the game. Will get beat of the dribble pretty frequently, and while he is strong enough to keep some players out of the lane, many are capable of blowing by him. He compensates for his lack of quickness by playing off his man, allowing him to take jump shots instead of making him give the ball up. Rebounds the ball at a decent rate, but will leak out rather than helping out on the glass on some occasions. While he is smart enough to know his limitations, heíll need to shed some weight to become quick enough to be a factor on the defensive end.
Linas Kleiza was drafted 27th in the first round of the 2005 NBA draft. Kleiza was much bulkier coming into the league as he had played primarily as a power forward at Missouri. Kleiza showed great touch and potential as a small forward in terms of skill set, but needed to re-shape his body and work on gaining the quickness and court awareness necessary to play full time on the perimeter.
Over the past two seasons, Kleiza has really molded himself into a valuable wing player for the Nuggets. While he only played about 8 minutes per game his rookie year, Kleiza showed a work ethic and tenacity that got George Karlís attention, even earning him a couple of starts mid-year when the team was playing listlessly and needed a wake-up call. Kleizaís minutes jumped in his second year, and by mid-season, he was a regular in the rotation.
This season, Kleiza has been a key component to the Nuggets rotation, averaging nearly 23 minutes per game off the bench and contributing substantially to the teamís offense as a spot up shooter and finisher near the basket.
Kleiza came into the league with good potential as a jump shooter (although he only shot 40% from the field and 27% for 3 in his final year at Missouri), but has really worked to increase his range, consistency, and versatility as a perimeter player. Much like teammate Carmelo Anthony, Kleiza has great size and strength for a wing. Despite his efforts to become leaner and more agile, Kleiza still has a strong wide frame and is physically stronger than just about any small forward he matches up against. He plays with tenacity and energy, which helps to feed the rest of his teammates. His style of play fits in very well with the Nuggets transition attack, as he is very comfortable on the break or in motion half-court sets.
Initially, Kleizaís sweet spot was from 17 feet and in, but by year two he had gotten comfortable with the NBA three point line and was hitting at a very respectable 38 percent. That percentage is down a bit so far in year three, but his shot volume isnít particularly high yet, so there is plenty of time for it to come up. He gets his shots off quickly and has very good fundamental form, which he maintains when set and when in motion.
Overall, Kleiza has become much more effective offensively. His decision making on when to drive off his spot up opportunities has improved substantially, and he is hitting his pull-up jump shots at a better rate than in years past. He looks comfortable shooting with a defender close by, and finishes shots very well even under pressure. Kleiza is very effective at finishing near the basket, where his soft touch and powerful frame help him to bull past defenders and put up a quality shot.
Defensively, Kleiza usually knows where to be. He doesnít get caught out of position that often, and he puts in the effort when it comes to trying to stick with his man. Kleiza fights through picks effectively and is good at communicating on switches. His size and mobility make him useful for covering multiple positions, which helps maintain continuity in the team defensive sets.
While Kleiza has come a long way offensively, he still has more work to do if he wants to become a player who can be relied on to play 30 plus minutes each night. Despite his improvements off the dribble, Kleiza is still mostly average in that department. He heavily favors his right hand, and is much more effective when he can find a way to get all the way to the basket. Working on his one or two dribble jump shot when going to the left would help to neutralize his defenderís tendency to overplay him for right side drives to the basket.
Another area that could be improved on his Kleizaís use in post and ISO situations. Kleiza has very good footwork and has shown an ability to hit shots even when off balance or with contact. As a small forward, Kleiza has an advantage over nearly every opponent he faces when on the block. Heís got the ability to shoulder past his man on the face-up and can back down an opponent for a quick spin to the middle or a fall-away baseline shot. In the limited touches he gets in these situations, Kleiza has shown good potential.
Defensively, Kleiza shows his biggest limitations as a wing. While he plays with good energy and awareness, his footspeed is lacking. Kleiza has trouble challenging shooters without giving up the driving lanes. This problem is especially difficult to mask on a team that is as poor defensively as Denver.
Foot-speed isnít the end-all when it comes to perimeter defense, but a slower defender like Kleiza must rely on tenacious ball-pressure with the knowledge that his help defenders will be in position to pick up the driving opponent. Kleiza doesnít play intense perimeter man defense. He is more inclined to get into position and try and react to his opponentís moves. Because of this, he gets beat on ball-fakes and counter moves off the dribble that take advantage of his slower reaction time.
Kleiza has turned himself into a very competent offensive player and should develop into a starting caliber player over the next couple of seasons. Kleiza already has the ability to start on some teams, but needs a little more offensive diversity to legitimize a starting gig on a playoff caliber team.
If Kleiza can continue to improve his shooting off the dribble and take advantage of his size/touch combination closer to the basket, he has the potential to become a real scoring threat down the road. He is already prone to scoring outbursts because of his fantastic touch and ability to play fast and aggressive. Any further development will rely on consistency first and foremost. Itís difficult to gain consistency as a player off the bench whose minutes and shots fluctuate with each game, but Kleiza has made strides every year so far.
As long as Denver has Iverson, Anthony, Martin, Nene and all the rest of their high-priced veterans, Kleiza will a remain role-playing bench contributor. But with age and salary cap issues becoming an ever-increasing concern for the Nuggets, they may be wise to invest some time developing Kleiza for a larger future role. Two or three years down the road, when JR Smith is playing on the And-1 circuit and Iverson is transitioning into a supporting role, Kleiza may have the opportunity to show more.
Kleiza is a unique prospect in this draft, as there are not many prospects with his skill level in terms of how many different things he brings to the table; and the approach you need to take to guarding him.
The first thing you notice about him is the way he fights. Unlike most European draft prospects you are used to reading about, this kid is tough as nails, and relishes contact, especially when he gets to dish it out. He's a competitor, but he's a lot more than just a bruiser, he's extremely skilled as well.
Like you would expect from a European, he is a fundamentally sound player who understands the game, has an excellent feel for how to maximize his time within it, and is best suited playing in the team concept. Although he didn't have many chances to show it off (considering the quality of his teammates), Kleiza is a very good passer who recognizes changes in defense and knows how to make plays with an easy bounce pass. He often gets double teamed playing at Missouri, but he does not panic and usually is very good about finding the open man.
What makes him particularly interesting in this draft is his overall versatility on offense. He's very active and can beat you in many different ways, either by facing up or down low, making him a tough player for the opposing team to find a matchup for. Linas has a good first step, which he can use to slash to the basket and finish strong even with contact. He has a nice stroke from the perimeter, if you leave him open he has the ability to knock down the three with relative ease, although this is something that he will probably have to really master to make an impact in the NBA. In the post he has the hands to catch the ball, and the footwork and strength to maneuver himself around the post and finish with a soft touch. Offensively, I don't think there should be too many concerns around him. He has the skills needed to put points up on the board if he's being guarded straight up.
On the glass, Linas is a very good (and intelligent) rebounder for his size, thanks to his rare combination of smarts and toughness, combined with big and soft hands. He uses his strength very well to box out players and establish position in the paint. He fights hard on the glass and has a knack for anticipating where the ball will end up landing and going after it.
In terms of his intangibles, he's a hard working player both on and off the court. He has always been described as a gym rat who plays with a lot of heart.
Is he a tweener? Is he a small forward or a power forward, and most importantly, who is he going to guard?
Kleiza's probably somewhere in between 6-7 and 6-8, but lacks the athletic ability that the Grangers, Grahams and Warricks of this draft have to help them make the transition from being a PF in college to a 3 in the pros. Kleiza's athletic ability isn't terrible, it just isn't what you would expect from most NBA wing players.
Defensively is where he is probably going to struggle most. His lateral quickness is poor, and there is no doubt that he'll have problems guarding the more athletic wing players in the NBA. Foul trouble has been an issue for him at times this year, he never really managed to find a middle ground between playing tough defense when he needed to and staying out of foul trouble. For him to show that he can be the Eddie Najera/Darius Songailia/Andres Nocioni type 6th man sparkplug that a lot people can imagine him becoming in the pros, he will have to become a better defender.
Offensively, he shot a very low percentage from the field this year (40% FG, 27% 3P) and showed a tendency to fall in love with the outside shot instead of using his versatility to mix things up offensively by slashing to the hoop and scoring down low. He will have to prove that he can hit the outside shot at a better clip and show off a good handle to give GM's the impression that he can make the transition to the SF position without there being too much of a concern. He took a lot of tough shots this year, forcing the issue at times because of his desire to carry the team, but the fact that he was keyed in on so heavily as the person who needs to be stopped in order to come up with a win played a bigger role in this then it really should have been. A player like him needs space to operate on the perimeter, and he never really got that at Mizzou.
Injuries have held him back in both seasons at Missouri and never really given him the chance to show what he is capable of doing at the NCAA level. How much the scouts remember from his high school and international career will play a fairly large role in determining where he ends up being drafted.
In his freshman season at Mizzou, Kleiza played on an excellent team in terms of talent that was ranked in the top 5 in the preseason, but never really managed to put things together and fell apart completely to eventually miss the NCAA tournament. The big scandal that rocked Mizzou in the begging of the season regarding the payment of numerous former and current players took its toll mentally without a doubt. Kleiza came off the bench behind two seniors in Arthur Johnson and Travon Bryant, and provided an excellent sparkplug to become a key cog on that very talented team. Midway through the season he suffered a bad shoulder injury that shut him down completely for the rest of the year.
With Johnson, Bryant and Rickey Paulding graduating, it was up to Kleiza and the top scorer in the entire NCAA (his freshman year before transferring to Mizzou), Jason Conley, to carry the team. Conley was a complete enigma all season long, and the scoring burned laid firmly on Kleiza's shoulder. Linas jacked up 113 three pointers (not his biggest strength by any means) in 33 games, and shot a fairly poor percentage from the field as well. He once again struggled with injuries, this time with a minor, but nagging knee problem that he took care of once Missouri's season was over, but probably limited his productivity somewhat. Missouri finished 16-17 on the year after losing in the first round of the NIT to Depaul.
Played for the Lithuanian Junior National Team that World Junior Championships in July of 2003 in Greece. Led the tournament in scoring, averaging 29 points per game, nine rebounds on 58% shooting and 84% from the line. Led his team to the finals where they lost to Andrew Bogut and the Australians. At this point he was considered one of the top players in his age group in the world, second to only Andrew Bogut outside of the US.
Claimed his Mr. Basketball title for the state of Maryland at the Michael Jordan Brand Capital Classic in Washington DC and played with the top high school prospects in America (Lebron, Ndudi Ebi, Kris Humpries, Shannon Brown and others) and more then held his own, scoring 16 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in 27 minutes. Was a standout prep at Montrose Christian, highly recruited by teams like North Carolina, Florida State and Duke, but eventually chose Missouri.
Has declared himself eligible for the NBA draft, and probably is far more likely to return to Europe rather than go back to Missouri. He will apparently keep his options open, though, by not signing with an agent at this point.
Should he stay in the draft he looks like a high-mid 2nd rounder early on, with a chance at moving into the 1st round if he's able to show his all-around ability in workouts. He's got the talent for sure, the question is did he show enough in college to warrant that?
Numerous arguments can be made about whether he was given the opportunity to do so, as big guys who can step out and hit the three aren't the most common thing in college and are usually encouraged by their coaches to go back into the post. If Kleiza was coming out of the draft from Europe right now I have a very hard time believing that his stock would not be a lot higher.
There is very little doubt in my mind that he could be a superstar type talent at the European level, the only question is does the NBA have a place for him, and is that going to be now or later?
If he indeed withdraws from the draft and decides to wait another year for an age-limit depleted draft, look for him to finally grant one of those Italian teams that have been hounding him all season long their wish and go play there for a year.
Mr. Basketball in 2003 for the Washington metropolitan area.