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The Mavericks need to help Maxi Kleber figure things out on offense

Kleber is in the midst of a stunning slump

NBA: Houston Rockets at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Maxi Kleber is struggling. Since the all star break, he has been arguably the worst offensive player in the entire NBA getting regular minutes. He is averaging 4.1 points on 26.2 percent shooting from the field, 14.6 percent shooting from three and 60.0 percent shooting from the free throw line. That equates to a 34.2 percent true shooting percentage.

He is 6/41 on threes during this stretch. He is 0/7 on corner threes. He has not made a mid range jumper and he is 1 of 3 on non restricted paint shots. All told this means that he has made only seven shots outside of the restricted area in the 12 games since the all star break. Iztok Franko demonstrated that this is the worst slump Kleber has been in since his rookie season.

The Mavericks are desperate for size. The Kristaps Porzingis trade has been an absolute home run due to the resurgence of Spencer Dinwiddie, but it left Kleber and Dwight Powell as the only rotation players bigger than 6-7 on the Mavericks. Powell is a good player, but he is not a rim protector. He has only seven blocks despite playing all 14 games since the all star break. Powell is allowing opponents to hit 67.8 percent of their shots at the rim against him since the all star break. Kleber has allowed opponents to hit 61.4 percent of their shots at the rim against him, which is a dramatic increase from the 53.6 percent he allowed before the all star break.

This is what makes Kleber rediscovering his offense so very important for the Mavericks. The Mavericks have no one else with any hope of providing rim protection. If Kleber continues to struggle, the Mavericks will have no choice but to play more minutes with Dorian Finney-Smith, Josh Green and/or Luka Doncic as the nominal centers. Those lineups are fun, and a change that the Mavericks should explore but they cannot be over played. The Mavericks are not the original “death lineup” Golden State Warriors who had an abundance of wings which they could use to paper over their hole at center. Every minute Finney-Smith, Green or Doncic plays at center is a minute they cannot play at their normal positions.

Kleber went in to the break coming off of one of the best two game stretches of his career. The only possible explanation for him completely forgetting how to shoot during the break is that there is a real life version of Space Jam happening and the Monstars needed a glue guy.

All of the skills mentioned in that article should still be there. Kleber is still an incredibly nimble big who can defend all areas of the court. Against the Boston Celtics, Jaylen Brown dunking on Kleber made all the highlights, but Kleber still had a fantastic defensive game.

The importance of Kleber can perhaps best be summed up by the fact that his minutes have only dropped from 25.3 minutes per game before the break to 23.1 minutes per game after the break despite the reduction in offensive efficiency. Plus/minus is a fickle stat, but the Mavericks have still outscored opponents in Kleber’s minutes during this slump.

Perhaps the answer is to start Kleber. Powell has done nothing to deserve to be demoted to the bench, and his pick and roll chemistry with Luka is unquestioned but the Mavericks have to fix Kleber right now. Kleber has been a much more efficient player as a starter than as a reserve throughout his career. He has shot 38.3 percent on the threes as a starter for his career. That percentage has fallen to 34.0 percent as a reserve. This season, the difference has only gotten more pronounced. Kleber has shot 38.3 percent on threes as a starter and 28.8 percent on threes as a reserve this season.

He has also shot much better (35.0 percent with, 30.3 percent without) with Luka on the court this season. Kleber is athletic enough to provide the lob threat that Luka needs and those looks should improve Kleber’s confidence and success as a shooter. Powell actually has a slightly higher true shooting percentage with Luka off the court than on this season. With the addition of Dinwiddie, there should always be someone who can throw him the lobs he feasts on. Jason Kidd addressed Kleber’s struggles and the faith that the team still has in him after the Minnesota Timberwolves game. Kidd said,

“What I love about Maxi [Kleber] and what he’s doing is he’s shooting the ball still; most people just turn it down and not even look. He’s shooting it and they do look good — I swear they’re going in. But I think at some point when they do, it’s going to be a lot of fun for him and the rest of his teammates on the floor because they keep throwing him the ball. He has to take them. He’s taking them and they’re going to fall for him. When they do, it’s just going to make the offense that much easier.”

The Mavericks cannot continue to live with Kleber being so bad offensively and yet they have to play him. That means that they have to find a way for him to play better. The best means to facilitate that is to start him and maximize the minutes that he plays with Luka spoon feeding him easy looks. It is rare that one slumps their way into a promotion, but Maxi Kleber may have done just that.