Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
The Mavericks invested in Kleber this summer, now he must step up.
Another year of Mavericks basketball is approaching, and while many things have changed, we can continue to count on Dallas trotting out a tall baller from Wurzburg, Germany. Dirk Nowitzki is gone, but Maxi Kleber enters his third year in the NBA coming off a season in which he averaged 6.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and a little more than one block per game while shooting a respectable 35 percent from three on three attempts per night.
Kleber’s emergence as a high-energy big man allowed him to parlay himself into a four-year; $36 million deal this summer. The 27-year-old Kleber was widely regarded as one of the more underrated free agents to hit the market. While his numbers don’t jump off the box score, Kleber is a walking highlight reel who fearlessly meets the opposition at the rim, which provides the Mavericks a jolt that few players on the roster can give.
Looking forward, Kleber’s skillset is becoming increasingly desirable as the NBA continues to evolve. In fact, last season only Kleber and Karl-Anthony Towns notched a 4.2 block percentage and a 1.2 steal percentage while shooting 35 percent from three on at least 3.1 attempts per game.
In his first two seasons, Kleber was nothing more than an undrafted flyer playing for pennies whose big plays were a bonus. But the expectations for the team are higher as well as the stakes for versatile big man. The Mavericks made a shrewd move locking Kleber up for the next four years on a reasonable eight million dollar per year contract, but he’ll have to show growth for the Mavericks to climb out of the Western Conference cellar.
Kleber’s biggest knock is consistency and his ability to elevate his game when asked to do more than be a reserve big man. Kleber’s limitations as a spot-up big and mediocre rebounder showed when he was over exposed throughout the season. Kleber’s 11.7 rebound percentage was lower than his own teammate Luka Doncic and only a percentage point higher than 30-year old Danilo Gallinari.
For Kleber to provide any type of return on investment, his game needs to mature. Soon to be 28, any type of leap would be an outlier, but continuing to develop into a reliable role player is the next step in Kleber’s undrafted NBA career.
Best case scenario
Kleber’s ability to stretch the floor while terrorizing the opposition at the rim gives the Mavericks a tremendous matchup advantage, but that advantage is heavily dependent on Kleber’s stroke from deep. While the German did can 35 percent of his triples, Kleber really found a groove in the second half of the season. Once the calendar hit 2019, Kleber connected on his money balls at a 41 percent clip compared to just 28 percent from October through December.
It’s unfair to expect Kleber to be a 40 percent three-point shooter, so don’t even entertain the thought. But if Kleber can reach a 37 to 38 percent mark while anchoring a menacing defensive effort as one the only multi-dimensional defenders on the team, his annual eight million dollar salary will be one of the league’s best bargains.
Worst case scenario
With a limited offensive game outside of perimeter shooting and deploying his athleticism in the open floor, Kleber can become a black hole on offense if his shot doesn’t fall. With Kristaps Porzingis in the fold, the Mavericks have two premier shot creators, which is something they desperately lacked last season.
This means Kleber shouldn’t be relied upon to do anything more than knock down set shots, crash boards and fly around the court on defense. Turning 28 in January, Kleber likely is what he is, and that’s ok. But inconsistency from Kleber would be a major concern for the Mavericks.
Dallas proactively made the choice to bring back a few restricted free agents from a team that won a total of 57 games the last two seasons, now Kleber needs to elevate into a reliable reserve big man as the Mavericks look to make noise this season.