For the past three seasons, Maxi Kleber has been what one might consider a model of consistency. Though he played his fewest number and percentage of games due to COVID-19 and an Achilles injury, he enters his fifth NBA season ready to step into any role the Mavericks might have for him.
Last year was a mixed bag for Kleber, though largely a success given the sheer amount Dallas asked from him on a nightly basis. His accuracy from three climbed to 41 percent, a testament to his improvement since his rookie year, when he connected on just 31 percent of those attempts. He also shot a blazing 92 percent at the line (easily the best of his career), missing just three attempts all season.
A case of COVID-19 with impactful symptoms resulted in Kleber missing 11 games in January. When he returned, Rick Carlisle’s trimming of the rotation had him playing nearly 30 minutes a game for a key stretch from February to mid-April. He was consistently asked to guard the opposing team’s best wing, forward, or sometimes center, and the task wore Kleber down physically. From April through the rest of the season, Kleber dealt with Achilles soreness that at times limited his mobility. He played a key role in getting a jump on the Clippers, hitting seven of 11 attempts from three in the first three games. However, his shooting touch and ability to take jumpers faded hard in the final four contests as he connected on just one of nine attempts.
Where does Maxi Kleber fit in new head coach Jason Kidd’s rotations? He’s a multi-functional player: a power forward who can also play center and can guard either forward spots, big centers in a pinch, and not get killed switching onto most guards. With Kristaps Porzingis as the rim protector last year, Kleber spent a good chunk of his time away from the basket, guarding more and more wings. To some degree that stripped Dallas of his utility as a weakside rim protector. We don’t talk about it much, in part because I don’t know if it matters, but his block percentage declined significantly last season. One of the stranger stats is that while Maxi Kleber finished the season with 35 blocks, Luka Doncic finished with 36.
Kleber’s proved his effectiveness as both a starter and bench player, so there’s no real worry about if he fits, just where.
Best Case Scenario
With the addition of Reggie Bullock as a wing defender, Maxi Kleber slides down the defensive rotation and spends the bulk of his season guarding fours and some fives. Considering the number of Dallas big men, Maxi is also called on for fewer overall minutes. Though it’s a more taxing defensive assignment, he doesn’t have to fight over as many screens or move near as much laterally has he did in the season prior. Dallas still uses him as a wing defender at times, but they do so out of preference as opposed to necessity. Kleber’s three point percentage declines some, but it’s due to a combination of his rim protection duties impacting his legs and the fact that he’s shooting 5.5 times a game from three, well over his career high of 4.3.
The Mavericks make the playoffs for the third straight year, and Kleber shines as a two-way forward now that he doesn’t have to face Kawhi Leonard.
Worst Case Scenario
The Achilles injury that plagued the second half of Kleber’s season nags him just enough. Though he still plays hard, that he’s forced to rest every forth game curbs his consistency. His three point shooting takes a dip and despite being a competent defender on a team needing it, his minutes shrink. Kleber finds himself on the outside looking in on the Dallas rotation and the Mavericks eventually include him in a midseason trade.
I’ve grown quite fond of Maxi Kleber. By the playoffs last year, it was quite evident how important he was to the offensive spacing and the defensive grit, even if team efforts with the latter waxed and waned. I can’t help but wonder if the Mavericks grew over-reliant on his defensive abilities to the detriment of Kleber’s physical stamina, resulting in his nagging injury.
If the wing duo of Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock can guard with more effectiveness than what Dallas cobbled together last year, then it stands to reason Maxi Kleber might have more legs by season’s end.
He’s a very good player, perhaps the last best find of Donnie Nelson’s tenure in Dallas. Given Maxi’s fit in past seasons, there’s plenty of reason to hope for a solid 2021-22 campaign.