DALLAS — Quick, raise your hand if you thought Maxi Kleber could do this:
If you have your hand raised you’re a liar. What isn’t a lie is Maxi Kleber played 21 minutes of energetic and extremely competent NBA basketball Tuesday night against the Spurs.
Kleber’s most impactful game before this was his 22 minutes against the Timberwolves back on Nov. 4 when he scored only two points but was a plus-18 and gave the Mavericks a big boost. Outside of that, most of Kleber’s time has been spot minutes and mop up duty in blowouts. Before Tuesday, Kleber played a combined 10 minutes in the last three games.
“That’s part of my job, what I gotta do,” Kleber told Mavs Moneyball after the game. “I’ve got to stay ready all the time so when coach calls me, I’m ready.”
Against the Spurs, Kleber checked in early while the game was still close and immediately changed the flow of the game. He had two dunks and the block in the second quarter and for a while the Mavericks didn’t look overwhelmed physically or athletically. Kleber gave the Mavs something they have been desperately searching for — a big that can give Barnes a breather, play next to Dirk and still keep up with the modern NBA.
“Guys need to be ready and he has proven that he is ready, really continually,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said after the game. “He’s done a good job, I liked the way he played tonight.”
Kleber has needed to stay ready because no lineup is impossible with Carlisle and this season’s Mavs. Now 2-13, Carlisle is ready and willing to try any sort of combination of players to get the team back on track, while also just seeing what he has.
Kleber is a rookie, but he’s played the previous two seasons with Bayern Munich, a top German team competitive in the EuroLeague. Kleber started 54 games with them over the last two seasons, so it’s not like he’s a complete wide-eyed rookie. He knows how to play.
The spurt from Kleber was fun but it isn’t a guarantee he’s in the rotation moving forward. “I’m not going to make any sweeping statements about the rotation or any promises. That would be a foolhardy thing to do,” Carlisle said. But he’s certainly rooting for Kleber to keep it up and start making some threes too.
With the NBA three-point line being longer than the Euro line, Kleber hasn’t quite made the adjustment. He missed both his threes on Tuesday and he’s 2-of-11 on the season.
“The difference between the European three-point line and the NBA three-point line is something that he’s working very hard on,” Carlisle said. “Those two shots he took were good looking shots — I was pulling for them to go in for us but also for him. He’s working so hard, but they’ll go in and he’s just gotta stay with it.”
“I’m investing a lot of time, I’m still shooting it like a Euro three so I’ve got to work on it,” Kleber added. “I work on it everyday and my shot’s getting better, I just gotta get one to fall.”
If the threes start falling, maybe the Mavs do have something. Hell, he shares a hometown with Dirk so maybe they’re already on the right track.