Maximilian Kleber is finally back on the court and the Mavericks have been missing him. The versatile stretch five left a glaring hole during the four game stretch he was out.
Without Kleber, Dallas went one and three. I’m not saying it was due to Kleber’s absence alone, but it certainly did not help to have one of their most versatile defenders unavailable.
His ability to defend on the perimeter as well as by the rim makes him an elite defender, up there with the best in the league. The Mavericks have no other player, who can defend pretty much all positions - and it’s not something you see every day. It makes switching on defense much easier, because mismatches rarely occur with Kleber.
Despite not starting, Kleber is Jason Kidd’s first option to close games at the five, and he provides a gravity in the defense that the Mavericks are missing when he’s not there.
“I think Maxi’s very underrated for what he does for us as a team. He can play above the rim, change shots and guard one through five. I truly believe he’s the glue that will help us win games,” Jason Kidd said last year.
I’m not sure whether it’s that he comes from my neighboring country Germany, speaking a language very similar to my mother tongue, or if it’s because of the fact that he started out playing for the same club as Dirk Nowitzki in Würzburg, but I have a soft spot for Maxi. He feels like home, is not pretentious, has no need for special attention or praise - he just does the work he’s there to do: Defend at an elite level and shoot the three.
Back in the late 90’s, when Dirk Nowitzki had just joined the Mavericks, young Maxi Kleber found the joy of basketball back in Germany. But it was actually not Dirk who got him into basketball to start with, he told HoopsHype back in 2017, when he had just joined Dallas.
“I actually started playing because of my brother. I think he was eight and I was six back then. I watched him play all the time, he went with his friends and I couldn’t really play because I was too young. But when I was old enough I finally started.“
Playing in the NBA became a childhood dream pretty fast for Kleber, who started following Dirk’s career.
“When I was eight, Nowitzki was already playing there and of course got pretty big after that.”
Already before Maxi Kleber landed in Dallas, he was known for his work ethic both in Spain and Germany, where he played before signing with Dallas at age 25.
With the current Mavericks team, his work ethic is both needed and rewarded. With the bang bros (Reggie Bullock and Dorian Finney-Smith) not performing on the level we saw last spring, neither offensively or defensively, Kleber becomes all the more important. He is a veteran on this team at this point and provides some stability and leadership, especially on defense, that the Mavs are in dire need of right now.
Covering for Wood
With Jason Kidd clearly being hesitant to trust Christian Wood, it has been a battle to get Wood more minutes. Kidd has often opted to play the two together, so Kleber can cover for Wood on defense. Not an easy task, which really shows how important of a piece he is for the team to function.
On offense, Maxi Kleber often plays the five, being a big on paper at 6’10, but not really playing center - similar to what he does on defense. Because he is an excellent 3 point shot when he gets hot, he spaces the floor, which makes room in the paint for Luka Dončić and Spencer Dinwiddie to iso or post up.
Overlooked and underappreciated, Kleber is more than a defensive player:
“I don’t know if he’s really appreciated. His basketball IQ defensively and offensively, the things he can do for you – play multiple positions. He’s not just a shooter, he creates space, he can put the ball on the floor, he can (make plays). He’s able to be a decision-maker,” Kidd said last year.
And it’s this understanding of embracing the often overlooked role as defender, even if you’re not contributing much on offense, that was part of getting Kleber the big extension this summer.
Kidd trusts him. To be honest, I think most teams would like a Maximilian Kleber on their team to do the dirty work and not sulk when they don’t get attention for their efforts. That kind of effort does more than meets the eye and what you see on the stats sheet - it boosts the energy of the whole team.
Kleber is an invaluable asset to this team. With him on the defensive end, the Mavericks have a chance to set things straight and compete. But when he’s out, the team seems to struggle even more, wobbling without their defensive anchor.