The Dallas Mavericks still have far too many big men. The Mavericks jettisoned Christian Wood and Javale McGee. That leaves Dwight Powell, Richaun Holmes, Maxi Kleber and rookie Dereck Lively to man the middle.
Lively will be a massive upgrade from McGee defensively despite being a rookie. He appears to be one of those guys with an intuitive feel for defensive positioning, which coupled with his physical traits should make a defensive impact immediately. Unfortunately, he also fouls a lot and can’t shoot so it is unwise to count on more than 15-18 minutes a night from him. Unless Holmes has an unlikely resurgence, those minutes should go to Kleber and Powell.
How will Kleber’s body handle playing virtually all of his minutes as a center for the first time in years?
Kleber has handled dual duty as the Mavericks best rim protector and big-wing defender for years. The big-wing defender burden should finally and rightfully be removed from his job description. Grant Williams and Olivier-Maxence Prosper among others will give the Mavericks options to defend big wings competitively without using Kleber for the first time in years.
This should simplify Kleber’s game and require him to simply be a floor spacing rim protector who also offers the ability to switch everything. Switching onto ball handlers may appear to be contradictory to the previous idea, but there is an enormous difference between being expected to defend a big-wing for large portions of the game and being expected to switch onto them for portions of a possession.
Will this simplicity allow him to return to his sharpshooting, shot blocking best? Will his body be able to stand up to more banging with big men?
Best Case Scenario
The simplified role allows Kleber to become an elite three-and-D center. He gets back to being the guy who once stifled Zion Williamson and challenged literally everything no matter the risk to his health or pride. (ALL shot blockers get dunked on eventually)
Worst Case Scenario
Kleber deals with injuries all season from the added physical stress of banging with big bodies in the paint or he simply can’t make enough shots. Kleber is getting older and there will come a day when he simply can’t do the things the Mavericks have counted on him to do for so long.
Kleber’s season goal is simply to be fully healthy and hitting shots going into the playoffs. His numbers will never reflect his value to the team because of how much he helps other players on both ends. Because he is not going to put up huge numbers, there is nothing left for him to prove in the regular season.
Kleber is less important to the Mavericks than he once was with the addition of Lively as a potential rim protector and Williams and Prosper as big wing defenders. However, when everything is right with him, he is one of the most unique players in the league. He can defend the rim, switch onto wings or guards, shoot the three and role to the rim selectively. The list of players who can do all of those things as well as he can is incredibly small and is comprised of very wealthy men.
Kleber will be paid $11 million per season for each of the next three seasons including this one. That number bothers some people, but it is a bargain relative to the value he provides if he is simply able to stay healthy and defy father time.