He's a professional basketball player who can head a ball soccer-style into the hoop. He grew up in Eastern Europe, but has a slight American accent. On the court, the 6-foot-8 Lithuanian is adept at each forward position.
Linas Kleiza is not a guy you can pigeonhole, and that suits him - and the Toronto Raptors - just fine.
"I like to be all over the place," Kleiza said after practice on Monday. "That's what they never took advantage of in Denver. They never took advantage of me being down in the post, using my strength and going down and battling."
Among the questions heading into training camp was what role the former Denver Nugget would play - small forward or power forward. With one practice to go in Vancouver, it's assumed Kleiza will be the team's starting small forward, and he will be asked to slip into the power forward position when the team needs to go small.
This is a major departure from his first foray into the NBA. In four seasons with the Nuggets, he was mostly required to jump off the bench and score. Fed up, he transferred last season to Olympiakos, in Greece, finishing second in the Euroleague in scoring. There, he found his old game, the one he played in college in Missouri. Specifically, he spent more time down low, battling bigger guys or overpowering smaller ones.
"That kind of helped me a lot," he said.
Kleiza is big, strong, mobile and can shoot, as he demonstrated with 15 points on Sunday, when he was the team's top scorer during an intrasquad scrimmage. What remains to be seen is how he will fare defensively, particularly in the power forward spot. Although Kleiza spent most of his minutes there during a stellar run at the world championship last summer, averaging 19 points and 7.1 rebounds a game and being named to the all-tournament team, whether he'll be able to defend down low against the likes of Chris Bosh is a question mark.
No matter where he steps in, Kleiza will appreciate every minute. "I'm happy to be playing basketball," he said. "It's a great life. How can you ask for more?"
Note: Raptors guard Leandro Barbosa, who injured his ankle during practice on Saturday, was back in action on Monday.
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