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Maxi Kleber’s role has changed from necessity to uncertainty

Kleber showed flashes of brilliance, but roster changes have left him on the outside looking in.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

After joining the Mavericks as an undrafted rookie last season, Maxi Kleber showed flashes of everything an NBA team asks of a big man in today’s game. Coming into training camp, he was touted as a stretch four/five who could knock down threes — and we saw some of that last season.

We also learned that Kleber could be an effective post defender—especially as a help defender.

Last season Maxi averaged 16.8 minutes in 72 games and actually finished the season 5th on the Mavs in total starts (36)— the Mavericks really needed him. Now a year later his spot on the roster is secure, but his place in the rotation seems to be influx.

Biggest question

How many minutes are available for Maxi Kleber this coming season? Last season the big man rotation only consisted of 39-year-old Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Powell, out-of-position Harrison Barnes, Kleber, Salah Mejri, out-of-position Dorian Finney-Smith, and whoever else was on the roster at the time (Nerlens Noel, Johnathan Motley, etc).

The addition of DeAndre Jordan siphons 30+ minutes per night that were completely up for grabs last season. But the big change that affects players like Kleber is that the Mavs want to continue to play smaller and faster with Luka Doncic, Barnes, and Finney-Smith playing and even starting at the four consistently. There have even been times this preseason where Doncic and Finney-Smith have been the biggest players on the floor for the Mavs. “Positionless basketball” has been a buzz phrase for years and the Mavs have been flirting with it, but it seems like this is the first year the Mavs will be embracing it fully as an identity.

That being said, the pool of minutes for a big man has seemingly dried up. Jordan and Dirk could play close to 48 minutes at the center spot every night. Doncic, Barnes, and (maybe) Finney-Smith will command a decent amount of time at the four spot. This essentially leaves time for 1-2 more consistent spots in the rotation for a big man. Kleber and Powell will probably battle it out for minutes all season unless there’s some kind of injury.

Both Kleber and Powell are listed as 6’11” and 240 pounds, Powell is just 6 months older than Kleber, but they’re both very different in terms of style of play.

Best case scenario

Kleber has to improve as a three-point shooter. This is one area he can really separate himself from Powell. Powell has tried to add a three-point shot to his game and he’s improved it every year. But shooting threes takes Powell away from his one elite skill—rim running. Last season Kleber shot just 31.3 percent from three on 1.8 attempts per game. The adjustment from the FIBA three-point line to the NBA line (about one and a half feet) proved to be difficult but he’s already made 6/12 three point attempts during the preseason—which is a small but good sign.

106 of Kleber’s 128 attempt threes were considered “Wide Open” by (Defender 6 feet away or farther) but he only hit 33.3 percent of those. If he knocks down more of those attempts then defenses will start to respect his shot and he’ll be able to pull off more plays like this.

Or like this...

The other area where Kleber can really separate himself from Powell is defending in the post. Last season we learned that Kleber’s defense can really impact a game.

Most of his blocks came from sliding over to bring help defense. But he’s also shown to be effective in isolation at times.

And even in the post...

These are fairly rare examples but they show flashes of Kleber being an extremely effective post defender, which is something that Dwight Powell simply hasn’t shown in his three years in Dallas.

If Maxi Kleber can simply improve his three-point percentage to 35-37 percent and continue to provide solid post/help defense then he’ll carve out a consistent and effective role in the Mavericks rotation.

Worst case scenario

Kleber remains a 31-32 percent three-point shooter and provides only a few highlight plays on defense. Dwight Powell improves again as a three-point shooter and the addition of Luka Doncic’s passing accentuates Powell’s rim running abilities. Then Powell takes all the backup big man minutes or the Mavericks completely commit to playing one of Doncic, Barnes, Finney-Smith at that other big man spot and there’s nothing consistent left for Kleber.