A power forward from Wurzburg, Germany came in and surprised MFFLs everywhere. And no, it’s not the year 2000. When the Mavericks signed Maxi Kleber, the 6’10, 220 pound native of Dirk Nowitzki’s hometown, very little was known — about the motivations behind the signing or the player himself. It’s not often a relative unknown makes his NBA debut at the age of 25 and makes any sort of sizable impact. Now 10 months and 36 starts later, Kleber has helped solidify the front office’s reputation for finding potential in the unlikeliest of places.
It took a month into the season for Kleber to get in the rhythm of NBA play, posting six DNPs in the first 12 games. Then on November 17 (the 16th game of the year), Maxi made a surprise start. Though he didn’t have much of an impact that night against Minnesota (five points, one rebound, one block in 27 minutes), he started 28 straight games and only had four DNPs the rest of the season. His best game in that stretch (a career high in points) was against San Antonio, when he posted 21 points (3-of-4 from deep), three rebounds and three blocks.
Though the German big man only played 17 minutes per game, averaging five points, three rebounds, and just under a block, Kleber showed flashes of the athletic power forward the Mavericks like off the bench. Once he got a feel for the pace of play, and the structure of Carlisle’s scheme, Kleber’s IQ and hustle shone. His athleticism, though, might be his sneakiest weapon; it was on full display here:
And on the other end:
There’s plenty of room for improvement for the seasoned (code for older) rookie. But it says something that he came in and played 72 games under a coach who has high expectations for his big men — even in a very bad season for the team. Just ask Nerlens Noel. He showed flashes of a perimeter shot and filler rim protection, posting nine games with multiple blocks and 11 games with multiple threes. Kleber may still be on the fringes of the rotation, but proving his potential is a win in itself.
Kleber signed a two-year, $2 million dollar offer last summer; the second year of the contract is non-guaranteed. If Dallas keeps him on, he’ll make $1.3 million in the coming year. The Mavericks figure to be a team in transition again this summer, with eyes toward big moves to speed up an early rebuild. There are a lot of names in the draft and free agency that are being floated for Mavericks’ consideration, many playing Kleber’s position. So the success of this summer’s acquisitions might determine Maxi’s stay in Dallas. But with a productive year in the system under his belt, and a very friendly contract, expect Kleber to be around in October.
Assuming he’s still around, Kleber should be pushed to up his game if he wants consistent time. Even as Dirk’s minutes continue to be reduced, Maxi will be competing with any new talent brought in this summer, plus Dwight Powell (coming off a career year), Harrison Barnes (guaranteed time at the four) — and the possibility of Dorian Finney-Smith (non-guaranteed contract, played some small-ball four) and Doug McDermott (restricted free agent) returning.
If he wants to continue to inch his way up the pecking order, Maxi Kleber would be wise to follow the route Dwight Powell paved. DP has been a polarizing player in his time in Dallas (primarily because of his contract), but he’s been a model of hard work and hustle, something Carlisle values, perhaps above all else. If Kleber can show those assets, plus hone his rim protection and outside shot, Carlisle will always find minutes for that.