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.