If the Raptors make it out of the season with anything better than one of the five worst records in the league, Canadians everywhere should celebrate – or whatever it is Canadians do in lieu of celebrating. I’ve never actually seen a group of Canadians celebrate anything. Even during hockey season or the first day of maple syrup season, the closest to celebration Canucks ever seem to get is excitedly standing next to someone who also happens to be excited. But if the Raptors escape a cellar spot in the Eastern Conference, everyone up North should go ahead and down a congratulatory LaBatt’s (a “Congrats LaBatts”). If Andrea Bargnani is going to force the positive hand of fate, he’s going to need help. The Raps have a few pieces that may surprise this season, but none so tantalizingly as Linas Kleiza.
Kleiza’s a perfect sleeper because he only showed flashes of quality play in his four previous NBA seasons (he played Euroball last year), plays for a small market team with few eyes on it and is likely taking the starting spot of a man so disliked in Canada that one Torontoan once threatened to say something bad about him at a future date maybe – Canadians aren’t very confrontational. As a member of the Nuggets, he never averaged more than 23 minutes per game and rarely saw the offense move through him (19 USG% since 2006). On the Raptors, he’ll be at least the fourth scoring option on a team that is open to negotiate who its top scoring options are. Wait, what? I’m saying Kleiza will be giving the opportunity to play and succeed, unlike in Denver where ‘Melo and Chauncey and six other people saw the ball before Kleiza. After averaging 17/6 for Olympiacos Piraeus last season, he averaged 19/7 in the Worlds this summer in addition to the 3 3pt/20 pts/5 rbd-line he dropped in his first preseason game. Draft him late and you might find yourself excitedly standing next to someone who also happens to be excited.
2010 Projections: .440/.754/1.5 3pt/14.5 pts/6.5 rbd/1 ast/1 stl/0 blk/1.5 tov