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Maxi Kleber has become a key piece for the Mavericks

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Kleber’s shooting and defense make the Mavericks more versatile.

NBA: Playoffs-Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Clippers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Mavericks’ investment in a power forward from Wurzburg, Germany is finally paying off. No, not that guy. Maxi Kleber, plucked from Dirk’s hometown three years ago, has gone from project to solid rotation player on a contender. And with Kristaps Porzingis out for the beginning of the season, Kleber is vital to the Mavericks’ front court depth.

Signed to a team-friendly deal in the summer of 2019, Kleber quickly turned his four year, 36 million dollar contract into a steal last season. Kleber posted career highs in virtually every statistical category, averaging 9.1 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. He also shot 37 percent from behind the arc on four attempts per game.

Kleber also excelled on the defensive end of the court, averaging a little over a block per game while proving capable of switching onto more perimeter oriented players for short stretches. The best example of Kleber’s defensive capabilities came in last March’s game against the Pelicans, when he locked down Zion Williamson.

At the time, Mavs Moneyball’s own Kirk Henderson wrote:

It cannot be explained adequately in words how awesome Maxi Kleber was in man defense against Zion. His five blocks were incredible, as was his sheer effort on boxing out. No one, and I mean no one, has played Williamson that well yet this season in straight up man.

Kleber’s performance that night was completely unexpected. It bodes well for his place on the Mavericks. If his offensive production dips, he can always fall back on his defense to provide value for a competitive Dallas team. Which leads to the big question about Kleber:

Biggest question

Can Maxi Kleber continue to shoot at a high level? It may be that simple.

Kleber continuing to shoot above league average from three helps space the floor for Luka Doncic, especially while Porzingis recovers from knee surgery. It’s important to understand that Kleber isn’t a very dynamic player, but the Mavericks don’t need him to be. All they need him to do is hit open 3’s, set screens, and play tough defense against opposing bigs. His ability to score also helps prop up a bench that sometimes lacks shooting.

When Kleber is consistent from behind the arc, it draws out his defender and opens up the paint for Doncic. If Kleber dips below league average, the Mavericks will be left with only one front court shooter, Porzingis, which could slow down their ultra-efficient offense. Kleber has improved his 3-point shooting every season of his career so far. It’s okay if that doesn’t happen this year, as long as his shooting doesn’t regress. If Kleber somehow pushes it up to 38 or 39 percent, even better, for him and the Mavericks.

Best Case Scenario

The ideal situation is Kleber starting at center until Porzingis returns, as well as when the big Latvian sits for some rest. His shooting opens up the floor for Doncic and the other Dallas guards, and he plays tough enough defense on athletic forwards like Williamson and Anthony Davis to prevent them from going supernova. Kleber stays versatile enough to play with all sorts of lineups, whether starting or from the bench, and still be effective.

However healthy Porzingis will be this season, the Mavericks will be cautious and rest him often. The other big men on the Dallas roster will have to step up in his absence, and if Kleber emerges as the best of them, the Mavericks will be a much better team.

Worst Case Scenario

If Kleber’s shot fails him, his minutes will dwindle. His defense will ensure he’s a usable player for the Mavericks, but if he can’t provide the needed spacing with his shot, Rick Carlisle will get creative and figure out a way to manufacture the shooting he wants. Kleber will go from an underrated contributor on a steal of a contract to a liability.

The Mavericks are much deeper than they were last season, but there are still a lot of uncertainty in the front court. Porzingis and Dwight Powell’s have questionable health. Willie Cauley-Stein is still trying to prove he can contribute to a winning team. Kleber is the only certainty among the Dallas bigs. If he struggles, the Mavericks will be scrambling to find someone as reliable, which is not easy to do mid-season.