New Raptor Kleiza shines at basketball worlds

Linas Kleiza led Lithuania to a bronze medal at the 2010 FIBA world championships.
Linas Kleiza led Lithuania to a bronze medal at the 2010 FIBA world championships. (Small_50)

Two players with connections to the Toronto Raptors were singled out as top performers at the 2010 FIBA world championships.

But while fans of the team may feel chagrined at Hedo Turkoglu’s solid play for Turkey, after his one forgettable season with the Raptors, the strong leadership Linas Kleiza displayed for Lithuania should improve their mood.

Both players, alongside Argentina’s Luis Scola, Kevin Durant of the United States, and Serbia’s Milos Teodosic were named to the tournament’s All-Star Five on Sunday.

Kleiza signed a four-year, $20-million US contract with the Raptors over the summer, and the world championships offered Toronto fans their first opportunity to watch the 25-year-old take to the court.
Lithuania finished with a bronze medal on the back of Kleiza’s inspired play and deadly shooting. He tallied 33 points, seven rebounds, and four assists in the third-place game against Serbia.

He averaged 19 points and 7.1 rebounds a game throughout the tournament, including 18 points and 10 rebounds in a 70-68 comeback victory over Canada in the preliminary round.

The 6-foot-8 forward is coming back to the NBA after a season playing for Olympiakos in the Greek League.
Previous to that, he suited up for the Denver Nuggets from 2005-2009. He was a role player in Denver, backing up Carmelo Anthony, with career averages of 19 minutes and 8.3 points a game.

Improved player
During the world championships, he stated that the decision to play in Europe helped him become a better player.

“I just felt it was a good move by me to improve my career and improve as a player,” he told QMI Agency. “I had a big role on a very big team, a very good team.

That kind of helped improve all my skills and allow me to show what I wasn’t able to do in Denver.”

Olympiakos made it to the Euroleague final in his one season with the team, ultimately losing to Barcelona. As top scorer in the regular season with 17.1 points, Kleiza also won the Alphonso Ford trophy.

In returning to North America, the new Raptor said he wants to prove himself as a player.

At the end of his run in Denver, Kleiza was more known for choosing to shoot the three-pointer than taking it inside. But now, he said he’s more well-rounded.

“I had the inside game in college but once I got to the NBA I was only playing outside,” he said. “I forgot that part of my game and became kind of one-dimensional.

“Going back here and putting the work in, going back in playing inside, playing outside, I think that I’ve brought back that other dimension to my game that I was missing.”

It is unknown exactly what role Kleiza will play on the Raptors. But on a team that lost its best player, Chris Bosh, in the off-season, he should have all the opportunity to make his mark in Toronto.