Somewhat low-key, Maxi Kleber has turned him into an indispensable on the Mavericks. With Dwight Powell out for the season due to injury and Willie Caulie-Stein sitting out Orlando due to the birth of his child, Kleber’s importance has only solidified as the Mavericks prepare for the restart of the NBA season in Orlando.
Kleber is fourth in total minutes played for the Mavericks this season (Basketball Reference). Only a starter for 21 of 66 games, his value is often underappreciated from big media outlets. Despite the lack of recognition nationally, all Mavericks fans know how valuable Kleber is. I’d even argue he’s the fourth most valuable player on the team behind Doncic, Kristaps Pozingis, and Tim Hardaway Jr. His value is in part due to his skill as a true two-way player. Just a week before the Mavericks last game against the Nuggets was the famous Kleber vs. Zion Williamson match up. In Kleber’s only assignment against Zion this season, he defended him for 43.3 partial possessions — more than anyone else has this season. What made that match up even more impressive is that Kleber also held him to one of his worst shooting nights of the season at 46.7 percent (NBA.com/Stats). His ability to go straight up and contest every shot Zion took is the embodiment of all the things that make his defense impressive: patience, smarts, anticipation.
When Donnie Nelson hinted at a small-ball starting lineup for Orlando, I thought it was not only predictable but smart. Teams typically go smaller in the playoffs, so Kleber not starting could have been foreseen. Coming off the bench offers the Mavericks both good offense and defense when starters need rest, or the opposing team goes bigger.
In my Luka Doncic preview, I mentioned how important the pick-and-roll was to the offensive success of the Mavericks. Kleber is in the 89th percentile of roll men and owns a score frequency of 57.4 percent (NBA.com/Stats). When he’s not rolling to the basket, he’s likely taking a catch-and-shoot three. According to NBA.com/Stats, 312 of Kleber’s 466 shots this season have been jump shots. All but 26 of which were three pointers, which he shot at 37.4 percent. In an offensive system that’s usually at least four-men out, Maxi is the perfect option as a big man. He’s a great option coming off the bench to get you a couple buckets and lock down the post. His utilization as a sixth man is something that helped the Mavericks a lot in the regular season and something that is definitely a key to success in the upcoming playoffs.