When Maxi Kleber arrived in Dallas last year he came without buzz or much in the way of expectations. In year two, Kleber needed to move from being a project player to a meaningful rotation piece.
With the Mavericks trying to move out of rebuilding mode, Kleber’s minutes the first half of this season meant significantly more than last year. In 2018-19 Maxi started only 18 games as opposed to the 36 he started his rookie year. However, Kleber did jump from 16.8 to 21.2 minutes per game this season. It was good progress from the other Würzburg, Germany native.
This increased role came because Kleber found his niche in the NBA and with this Dallas team as a strong interior defender and a stretch four. This is why Dallas signed him to a two-year contract before last season. Rim protection is a valuable commodity in the NBA and it’s rare to find players who can provide that and shooting.
Most of Kleber’s minutes came at the power forward position because the Mavericks envision him as a stretch four on offense, not as a rim rolling five in their system. Last year Kleber shot just 31 percent on 1.8 three-pointers attempted per game.
During the off-season Kleber retooled his shot to adapt to the deeper NBA three-point line. The work paid off as Kleber shot 35 percent on 3.1 attempts per game this season. Kleber ranked 18th in three-point percentage among players 6’10 or taller who attempted three or more triples per game, according to NBA.com’s stats page. That ranks just behind Kelly Olynyk, Al Horford, and Lauri Markkanen.
The majority of Kleber’s offensive game this season consisted of catch and shoot triples, almost 55 percent of his shot attempts this season. Of his shots this season, just over half were wide open threes, on which he shot 38 percent. That’s the Luka Doncic effect for you.
Kleber’s defensive numbers were not assisted by the Doncic effect, they stood on their own merits. This season Kleber averaged 1.1 blocks per game. That by itself doesn’t impress much, but let’s put it in context.
Instead of per game, let’s look at Maxi’s blocks per 100 possessions, help judge Kleber’s performance against some of his peers that played more minutes. This year Kleber’s 2.5 blocks per 100 possessions ranked 25th in the NBA among those with at least 40 games played. That ranked ahead of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Clint Capela, and Serge Ibaka.
Two of Kleber’s best defensive games of the season came against one of the toughest power forwards in the NBA: Blake Griffin. In his first game against Detroit, Kleber struggled a bit early with foul trouble but came up huge down the stretch with two blocks against Drummond and Griffin to seal the win. In that game Kleber had four blocks and four made threes, a statistical rarity.
That second game against Detroit was the day after Dallas traded for Porzingis and the team had only 10 active players with Luka Doncic out nursing an injury. Maxi was the primary defender on Blake Griffin and held him to 8-26 from the floor and 2-7 from behind the arc.
Players like Maxi Kleber who can protect the rim and hit threes consistently don’t grow on trees. Of qualifiers who took 2.5 three point attempts per game, only 10 players averaged one or more blocks per game while shooting 34 percent or better.
If you include those who hit at least 30 percent from deep, then add Anthony Davis and Joel Embiid to the list.
To get this production out of a bench player who can also start on occasion — all for the bargain price of $1.3 million — is a steal.
Though Kleber is a restricted free agent this summer, the Mavericks have been quick to say how much they love his game and want to bring him back next season. Kleber himself said several times how much he enjoyed Dallas and being a part of the Mavericks organization, but all of that could change depending on what happens starting July 1.
No matter what free agency brings, Maxi Kleber took a big step forward this season. The changes in his shot stuck and they were absolutely necessary for him to establish himself as a valuable player in this league. As Holger Geschwindner told me about his shot before the adjustment, “it was always going to be short!”
The adjustments really stuck when the calendar flipped to 2019. Kleber struggled mightily from deep in November and December shooting 30 percent and 20 percent in those respective months. Changing a shot takes time and to be fair, Kleber struggled with a toe injury that lingered through the month of December.
In 2019 Kleber shot 41 percent from three on 2.1 attempts per game, a definite improvement and a bright spot as the Mavs toiled toward the bottom of the standings after trading away most of their starters for Kristaps Porzingis and cap space.
Because of the Porzingis addition, Kleber is a near certainty to come off the bench next season. Dallas needs shooting alongside Porzingis and Doncic next year, but Rick Carlisle’s offense functions best with a rim-rolling center alongside a stretch power forward. Kleber’s numbers as a roll man leave something to be desired. In his paltry 10.1 percent of his possessions as a roll man, Kleber averaged 0.94 points per possession which ranked him in the 27th percentile.
Dwight Powell on the other hand averaged 1.33 points per possession as the roll man, which consisted of 25 percent of his total possessions. That placed him in the 90th percentile in the NBA. That’s an elite level rim roller like Brandan Wright in the 2014-15 historically good Mavericks offense — pre-Rondo trade.
As a roll man, Porzingis has averaged right around one point per possession which puts him at average to below average in that category. Plus he’s so versatile offensively the Mavericks likely won’t relegate him to simply rolling to the basket. Porzingis will be here to can threes in pick and pops around Luka.
A bench role on this team allows Kleber to thrive where he’s at his best. Kleber’s progression this season holds significance if Dallas can keep him around next season. With their two stars secured, the Mavericks need quality role players like Kleber in order to transition out of rebuilding mode.
Whether he stays in Dallas next year or signs a big deal with some other team, Kleber established himself as a legitimate rim protecting stretch big this season. All signs suggest Dallas believes in the improvements of their sophomore and desire to keep a Wurzburg native on the Mavericks for seasons to come.