Who is Maxi Kleber? Well, for one thing, he’s started for the Mavericks for almost three weeks now, and keeps having his minutes tick up. 30 minutes against San Antonio, 34 against Minnesota. The Mavs are a bad team, and they’re obviously willing to be pretty flexible right now. But I don’t think anyone expected the 25 year old German, last seen playing for Bayern Munich, to be a starter and a 30 minutes a game guy in his first year here. Then again, Dallas will always have a special place in its heart for tall German from Wurzburg who grab a few rebounds and shoot from outside.
Kleber, like a lot of the surprising starters during Rick Carlisle’s tenure as coach, has not blown up the box score. Even in December, where he’s averaging over 25 minutes a game, he’s scoring just 7.7 points per and grabbing 5.3 boards. He’s shown some ability as a shot-blocker, getting at least one most nights, and five against the Celtics. But if anything, his offensive numbers seem likely to diminish over the next couple weeks. It’s not overly likely that he’s going to keep shooting 54.5%. But, you can also clearly see what Carlisle likes about him. He does a little of everything, he’s smart, and he makes good decisions.
In December, with Kleber on the court, the Mavericks have an offensive rating of 128 – meaning they score 128 points per 100 possessions with him out there – and a defensive rating of 104. In other words, over the course of those 100 possessions, the Mavs with Kleber outscore their opponents by 24 points. If that seems unlikely, given their 3-3 record in December, of course it is. But that, of course, is also why he keeps playing. His three-point percentage also keeps ticking up. God knows where it will end up if he keeps shooting over the course of a season, but since Thanksgiving he’s been very reliable from deep. Which can’t be said of many 6’11” guys. The 5+ rebounds he has averaged over the last 9 or so games would also, sadly, be third or fourth on the team if he keeps it up.
Nobody knows how much room Kleber has to improve. On one hand, he’s been a pro for some time, and is a good deal older than Dirk was when he first came over. If he’d been playing in the NBA all this time, there’d be hardly any doubt that this was about how good he is, without much room to grow. On the other hand, this is his first year in the NBA, and he’s only about four months older than Harrison Barnes. It would hardly be a surprise if he got a fair amount better – in many ways like Barnes himself.
In a lost season, all you can really hope for is that you find some useful pieces for the future. Kleber has a cheap, team option for next year, and the year after will be a restricted free agent. So if the Mavs have found something here, they have some time to do something about it. For all we know this is the apex of Kleber’s NBA career, beginner’s luck, the moment before defenses start adjusting. Or, it could be the start of something big.