Linas Kleiza's Greek vacation has made him a new man

1 Comment

Thumbnail image for Kleiza_Lithuania.jpgHe is scoring 19.1 points a game on 60.4 percent shooting, is getting to the line, has shown everyone what he is capable of on the World Stage and is the unquestioned leader of a team in the FIBA World Championships.

Kevin Durant? No, although their statistics are nearly identical.

It’s Linas Kleiza. The former Nugget and soon to be Raptor who is leading Lithuania up against the Americans on Saturday.

Kleiza was a nice backup guy for the Nuggets, but some who watched him then and now have a question: Who is this guy with the well rounded game and is putting up Durant-like numbers in Turkey?

Player development guru David Thorpe knows, and he isn’t surprised. Thorpe is the executive director of the Pro Training Center (as well as ESPN analyst) who worked with Kleiza a few years back and said he always had this in him.

“In reality what we’re seeing now is just the natural evolution of a guy asked to play the three but was only a guy allowed to shoot threes and dunk in [the Denver] system,” Thorpe said. “He was a much more fluid player than he was allowed to show.”

Denver had Carmelo Anthony and for much of Kleiza’s time Allen Iverson — they had dynamic scorers, better scorers than Kleiza. The result of that is what happened to him happens to a lot of players Thorpe said — they get put in roles that work for the team but do not show off or exploit all a player can do. There are plenty of players collecting NBA paycheck and living the NBA lifestyle in the same boat.

But Kleiza’s answer was different — he broke the mold and went to play for Olympiakos, the Greek powerhouse (along side Josh Childress, now of the Suns). There he got to both show off the variety of his game and gain confidence that he can be a leader and top scorer — he was one of the leading scorers in EuroLeague.

That is what he is bringing back to Toronto.

“I’ve always thought he was a starting level three,” Thorpe said. “He’s very explosive, very rugged and though a guy who can race the floor… He’s your classic mismatch nightmare because he’ll just pulverize smaller players with his strength but he can also hit the three.”

China struggled to find a matchup for him in the round of 16 at the World Championships. They didn’t want to wear out Yi Jianlian on him, so they went with a smaller player and Klieza just backed him down and hit little 8-footers over him. If you go bigger he is too quick and can get open on cuts and in transition, plus he can space the floor.

Team USA may be better suited than anyone to have answers for Kleiza, Thorpe said. Both Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala are quick enough to stay with him on the perimeter but their strength and length will keep Kleiza from getting easy looks around the basket.

But it will not be easy, because if there is one thing Kleiza brings its toughness. He will scrap for what he wants.

Most teams that take on Toronto will face the same matchup challenges that the world has faced in recent weeks, Thorpe said. He added he thinks Kleiza could be the Raptors leading scorer next season or should at least be in the mix.

“He’s a very good three point shooter who can finish around the rim, has great hands and can take the punishment…” Thorpe said. “Not a lot of guys who can do all that.”

Quote of the Day: Joel Embiid says he learned to shoot by watching ‘just regular white people’ on the internet

CAMDEN, NJ - SEPTEMBER 26: Joel Embiid #21 and Dario Saric #9 of the Philadelphia 76ers participate in media day on September 26, 2016 in Camden, New Jersey. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Joel Embiid couldn’t endear himself by playing in an NBA game, because he’s been too injured to do that in two pro seasons.

He’s had to resort to witty nicknames, practice-gym dunks, fun-loving stunts, attention-seeking tweets and self-deprecating humor.

Embiid is scheduled to make his NBA debut tonight, when the 76ers play the Thunder. Soon, we’ll judge him more for what he does on the court.

But, first, Embiid went out with one last bang of a quote.

Embiid, via Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated:

“You know how I learned to shoot?” Embiid says. “I watched white people. Just regular white people. They really put their elbow in and finish up top. You can find videos of them online.”

Tyronn Lue says ‘they said’ LeBron James has a body of a 19-year-old, but nobody else knows where Cavaliers coach got that

Getty Images
1 Comment

LeBron James might be the greatest athlete in NBA history.

But even he has shown signs of decline at age 31.

He has gotten multiple back injections and even took a break during the season to rehabilitate in Miami. The forward has treated the last two regular-seasons as glorified warmups for the playoffs.

Just where does LeBron stand physically?

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue gave quite the answer.

Joe Vardon of

Lue said James, at 31, “had a chance to get tested this summer and they said he had a body of a 19-year old. Maybe he’s getting younger. Benjamin Button.”

It was a little perplexing because neither James, nor his personal trainer, Mike Mancias, nor general manager David Griffin had any real idea what test Lue was talking about.

This reminds me of Derrick Rose attributing the Knicks and Warriors being super teams to “They’re saying.” Who is they, and what are they smoking?

That LeBron, Mancias and Griffin won’t cop to knowing is quite revealing.

LeBron does not have the body of a 19-year-old. Years of other-worldly play and long playoff runs has taken a toll.

Because he’s declining from such a high peak, LeBron should remain elite for a while. His athleticism might even fluctuate as it trends downward overall.

But Father Time is undefeated, and LeBron didn’t just get a mid-career reset to his rookie physical form.

Draymond Green says technical foul won’t dissuade him from yelling after dunks

1 Comment

Draymond Green has apologized again and again and again in the last year.

But the Warriors forward has also maintained he must remain true to himself.

So, after getting technical foul for yelling (presumably because it was toward LaMarcus Aldridge) following a dunk in Golden State’s loss to the Spurs last night, Green – under more intense scrutiny than ever – dug in.

Green, via Monte Poole of CSN Bay Area:

“Next time I dunk, I’m gonna yell again,” Draymond declared after the loss. “I mean, it’s kind of universal. I’m gonna continue to be me, and whatever happens, happens.”

Expect Green to keep getting technicals. Even if the one last night was relatively weak, Green nearly constantly toes the line. He had 12 technical fouls last season, and a league-high five in the playoffs (boosted by Golden State advancing all the way to Game 7 of the NBA Finals).

And if the Warriors are winning, that’s fine. His emotional energy does more to lift the team than hinder it.

But, as we’ve seen, there is a definite downside.

Report: Hawks signing Dennis Schroder to four-year, $70 million contract extension

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Dennis Schroder #17 of the Atlanta Hawks poses during media day on September 26, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Update: Marc Stein of ESPN:

That’s an even better deal for the Hawks.


The Hawks traded a former All-Star in his prime (Jeff Teague). They waived two experienced backups (Jarrett Jack and Will Bynum), leaving only rookie Malcolm in Delaney in reserve.

Atlanta is putting all its point guard eggs in Dennis Schroder‘s basket – not just as the starter on a team that expects to make the playoffs, but a long-term building block.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Paying Schroder $17.5 million per year seems fair, because he could wind up drastically underpaid or drastically overpaid.

Schroder drives into the lane with abandon and usually produces quality outcomes as a result. He possesses impressive tools and is already beginning to utilize them, including in several clutch situations.

But he must make better decisions with the ball, finish better at the rim and shoot better from outside for Atlanta’s bet to pay off. It’s also help if he becomes more than just an occasionally pesky defender.

Just 23, time is on his side.

If Schroder develops into a quality starting point guard, he’ll be a bargain. The Hawks will have done well to lock him up before he proved his ability, and their other moves indicate they believe in him making this step.

But if a larger role just exposes Schroder’s flaws, this could backfire. For all the justifiable reasons to have faith in Schroder’s ascension, it’s important to remember he’s not there yet.

This is a relative high-variance bet by Atlanta, which I like in principle. Teams are generally too conservative with rookie-scale contract extensions.

If Schroder doesn’t break out as they hope, the Hawks will have problems regardless of whether or not they extend him. It’s not as if handling him restricted free agency would be a walk in the park.

Now, if Schroder lives up to the hype in Atlanta, the Hawks’ return on investment will be even greater.