Maxi Kleber has lost a step since his rookie year. He’s been dealing with way too many injuries through his career and despite deciding not to play in Eurobasket for Germany last summer to be as ready as possible for the NBA season, he still ended up injured.
Though he signed an extention with Dallas last year, he may be a valuable asset as part of a trade package. But Kleber continues to bring a lot to the table for the Mavericks, and for a team that lacks consistency, defensive leadership and a vet presence, he is a great option to have on the bench as a backup big.
The devastating hamstring injury on December 13, 2022, that kept him off the court for 20 games thoroughly hurt the Mavericks’ season. After surgery in December, Kleber was back on the court on February 28th, much earlier than anticipated - a testament to his resilience and hard work rehabbing.
But as Jack Bonin pointed out in his review of Kleber here on Mavs Moneyball, Kleber was never quite the same afterward.
“He scored in double figures just twice after returning from injury and his defense seemed to take a noticeable step back. His net rating on the year was -2.9 and it looked like years of being asked to do too much really caught up with the 31-year-old.”
He averaged 5.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 0.8 blocks on .456/.348./.711 shooting splits. “A noticeable decline, even for a player who isn’t really about box score production.”
And that is the right way to look at it. Maxi Kleber’s value to the Mavericks isn’t found in the box score. He brings a lot to the table that this team needs, and in a less taxing role as a second big, who can help on defense, he’d be excellent.
As Jack Bonin puts it:
“Ideally, Dallas will acquire better players who make Kleber less essential to the foundation of their team. This would allow him to play a more ancillary role, which would go a long way toward reducing the mileage on his legs and giving him a better chance to stay healthy.”
Kleber is still a valuable defensive anchor, who can switch and is able to guard 1-5 on his best days. Watching him guard guys on the perimeter, who think they have a mismatch, is a joy. And a valuable trait around the league, as well.
He is not the rim protector the Mavericks sorely need, however. But as a second option with a legitimate rim protector added to the team, he suddenly becomes not just a good, but a great player off the bench.
If Kleber can find a way to keep his confidence up, he is a valuable stretch 4. But he needs to shoot much more than he does on average and have the confidence to keep shooting despite having a bad shooting day or general shooting slump. If he stops shooting, he’s not a threat on offense anymore and with his limited shot creation, he won’t provide the spacing the team needs.
He has a proven record of being able to step up and perform in the playoffs, however. That’s not something all role players can do, but Maxi Kleber has shown that he can perform when the pressure is on. Both on defense and offense. Last years’ game two in the first round of the playoffs against Utah, when Luka was injured, Kleber’s 25 points and 8 three pointers is proof that he can still step up when needed.
Notice Luka Dončić’s reaction at the end.
It’s not just on the court that Kleber is valuable to this team, and could be in the future, despite taking on a lesser role on the court.
He has been in Dallas since 2017, and has been teammates with Luka Dončić since the superstar was drafted in 2018.
As one of the only players on the Mavericks to know Luka Dončić since he came into the league, and having the European connection, Kleber is not just another guy on the team.
Kleber and Luka Dončić are friends, and Luka clearly trusts Kleber - he may also be one of the few people left on the Mavericks that can keep Luka accountable. Like in this clip of him reminding Luka to keep playing instead of complaining to the referees. Luka stopped talking to the ref right afterward.
A lot of good stuff from Maxi Kleber last night. Directing and talking on D— Mette L. Robertson (@M_Robertson100) March 3, 2023
And watch Maxi on the bench here while Luka’s running back complaining about a non-call
I get something to the effect of “never mind that. Play ball”
Nice to see him step up as a vet leader. pic.twitter.com/4yasXIPCww
Vets are also important to a team’s success. They help provide perspective, experience and guidance during pressured situations and day to day. Kleber at 31 is at a place in his career where he’s done and experienced a lot. He’s played with Dirk Nowitzki, been in multiple playoff series, won some, lost others, stepped up - all something that adds to his vet presence and value for younger guys.
And lastly, Maxi Kleber may be the only guy left on the Mavericks that Luka is actually close to and at this point. The last year, Jalen Brunson, Boban Marjanovich and Dorian Finney-Smith all left the team or got traded. On top of that, Luka’s former head coach for the Slovenian national team, Igor Kokoskov, who were a part of the coaching staff last season, left Dallas over the summer as well.
Along with Kleber, these are arguably the guys Luka Dončić has been the closest to on the Mavericks. Keeping Maxi Kleber is valuable to more than the team, it’s valuable to its franchise player too.