Season in review
Maxi Kleber, for better or worse, is incredibly important to what the Mavericks are trying to do. His ability to hit threes, protect the rim as a weakside defender, and capably switch onto the perimeter make him the perfect player for Jason Kidd’s system. When he’s right, life is easier for Dallas on both ends of the floor; we saw that throughout the 2022 NBA playoffs. Unfortunately, Kleber has had issues staying healthy and maintaining a consistent level of production. Never was this more apparent than during the 2022-2023 season.
Kleber got off to a sluggish start to the year, shooting just 30% from three for the months of October and November. More concerning than the lack of three-point makes was the extremely low three-point attempt totals; Kleber shot four or more threes just four times through the first two months of the season. When Kleber gets into a shooting slump, he loses confidence and stops taking open shots We saw it at the end of the 2021-2022 season, and his lack of three-point production hurt the Mavericks early on last year.
When the calendar flipped to December, Kleber picked it up and found his shooting stroke. He shot 48% from three through December 12th, and it looked like he was on his way to morphing back into the player the Mavericks needed. Alas, Kleber tore his hamstring in a practice on December 13th, sidelining him for 20 games. An already struggling Maverick defense lost their most versatile defender and strongest rim protector and at the time, it was fair to question if Kleber was done for the season.
But Kleber did return to the lineup on February 28th, a testament to his hard work and resilience in rehab following the injury. Unfortunately, Kleber was never able to really get it going. 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. His averages of 5.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 0.8 blocks on .456/.348./.711 shooting splits represented a noticeable decline, even for a player who isn’t really about box score production.
With respect to his season-high performance of 15 points on 4-5 three-point shooting in an early win against Brooklyn, it has to be the buzzer beater game. Of course, I’m talking about the thrilling 111-110 victory against the Lakers that saw Kleber nail the game-winning three just as the buzzer sounded. At the time, Maverick fans thought that might be the start of late-season push toward the playoffs. We all know how that turned out. But, in the moment, Kleber’s game winner was a high point in a miserable year.
After a strong playoff run in 2022, the Mavericks rewarded Kleber with a three-year, $33 million contract extension. Kleber will earn exactly $11 million during each year of this contact. He will be 35 years old when his deal expires in 2026.
While not an albatross contract by any stretch of he imagination, it’s hard not to be a little worried about Kleber’s injury history and place on the aging curve when thinking about the next three years. The good news is that an $11 million contract is very tradeable, and Kleber has a ton of value if he’s healthy. The Mavericks will have options when it comes to Maxi Kleber’s place on the roster. 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 milage on his legs and giving him a better chance to stay healthy.
Getting hurt is something athletes can’t control. It’s not Kleber’s fault that he spent most of the season on the shelf. But, when he was on the floor, he simply wasn’t good enough. The three point shooting wasn’t really there, and the defense came and went. Again, the Mavericks ask far too much of him. He should not be the linchpin holding together a hopeless defense. Dallas grounded him into dust over the last few seasons and fans can only hope that we aren’t witnessing a steep decline as a result.