This year’s winner of the Bryan Colangelo MLE Award was Linas Kleiza, a 6’8″ 245lb Lithuanian small forward who was imported from Olympiakos to bolster the Raptors defense, grit and three-point shooting. The Nuggets chose not to match the offersheet and instead chose to pay Al Harrington more money. We talk to the man from Roundball Mining Company, Jeremy Wagner, about Klezia’s strengths and weaknesses, Denver’s decision and more.

Grab the iTunes feed or the plain old feed. You can also download the file (12:20, 4.23MB).

Summary:

  • Played power forward in Missouri but switched to small forward after coming to the NBA.
  • Added the three-point shot to his game and became one of the better 3-point shooters for the Nuggets.
  • “Not a very accomplished defender”. Doesn’t have the lateral quickness to stay with most perimeter players.
  • Undersized to guard a lot of post-players, a tweener.
  • Overall, lacks defensive awareness, the year the Nuggets made the WCF every player stepped up their defense with the exception of Kleiza who still struggled.
  • Tends to lose his man on the weak side when the ball’s being swung around. Defense was his weakness in Denver.
  • For someone who was a PF in college, he doesn’t have much of a post-game despite his strength. The Nuggets did have Nene, Martin and Anthony so a post-game wasn’t asked of him.
  • After developing a 3-pointer, he was effective driving to the right and getting into the lane. Very right-hand dominant player.
  • Has become a very perimeter-oriented player, easy to classify him as a catch-and-shoot player, and if the jumper is falling, can use his drives.
  • Athleticism: Doesn’t move well laterally but has great straight-line speed. Has a weird kind of explosiveness in that he “dunks on his way up” and surprises a lot of people with his elevation.
  • Solid rebounder, uses his strength to get the rebounds. Good athlete but not to the degree where he becomes a good defender.
  • Has a running hook from the lane which he can use if he can’t get all the way to the rim. Thatcould be a foundation for a post-game, but has never been able to consistently make turnaround jumpers.
  • Has already proven that he can diversify his arsenal by adding a perimeter game, so it’s not a stretch to think that he can improve his post-play, especially given his bulk.
  • The Nuggets not re-signing him last year was a financial issue where the team was trying to get under the tax, it had nothing to do with Kleiza as a player.
  • Doesn’t like the Al Harrington signing, thinks the Nuggets overpaid for a guy who doesn’t do much more than Kleiza except perhaps shoot a better three-point percentage.

We also discussed Kleiza offline and Wagner added:

One thing I never mentioned that is important is Kleiza was a very streaky shooter in Denver. He had a line drive shot and the team worked with him a lot on getting more arc on his shot. It never really happened in Denver though and as a result he would be hot or cold. If you look at his splits from 2008-09 he shot 46.2% from behind the arc in December, but had two months where he shot less than 30% bottoming out in March when he made only 19.4% of his threes.

He is not bashful though as he never stopped shooting regardless of how poorly things were going for him. If Toronto wants him to play on the block more, I think it would be a good thing for his development.

He excelled playing off the attention that Melo and AI drew from the defense and had a lot of open shots. He thrived on being a third or even fourth option. If he is called on to create his own offense I think he will struggle to get good scoring opportunities.

That all being said, I do not know what he might have added to his game in Europe. Hopefully he will work out in Toronto.

Thanks again to Jeremy and be sure to check out Roundball Mining Company, a site with a seriously sick header.