Welcome to the NBA, Maxi Kleber

— December 28th 2017

The German big man has grown into a useful player for the Dallas Mavericks.

By Lance Roberson

When the Dallas Mavericks signed Maxi Kleber (pronounced Max-ee Klee-buh) this past July it barely made for any real reaction. It was just another meh signing for a franchise that was once known for chasing the seemingly uncatchable free agents. Seriously, when you look back at the Mavericks’ mid-season signings last season you can’t help but contort your face to a confused state. Think of the “who does he play for” game TNT has Charles Barkley play, but with more obscure players; making the idea of Kleber’s signing being a kind gesture from perhaps a distant relative Dirk Nowitzki not as farfetched.

To appreciate Kleber’s NBA relevancy it’s essential to know the journey that led him here. His professional career began in the 2011-2012 season with S. Oliver Baskets, which is based in his hometown of Wurzburg, Germany. The team is part of the German Basketball Bundesliga (BBL) translated to Federal Basketball League in English; it’s also the highest-level league of professional basketball in Germany. Although his first season wasn’t an individual wonder by any means, he did show somewhat of a shooting pulse by hitting 35 percent of his threes. He played two seasons with the club.

Following a brief stint with Rio Natura Monbus Obradio (Galacia, Spain) for the 2014-2015 season, Kleber has been a member of the Bayern Munich club. He played in last year’s Euro Cup and German Cup. His performance in the Euro Cup is what stands out the most in his career. He shot 22-50 from three (44 percent), 29-35 free throws (82 percent), and posted a 63 true shooting percentage.

Fast forward to the present and Kleber is not just the second most important player from Germany on the Mavericks. His introduction into the starting lineup was first met with a bit of head scratching, followed by looks of disgust causing expletives to hit the harsh air of Mavericks fan’s homes. Initially, it felt like it was mainly to spite Nerlens Noel, and perhaps some of that still holds true. But you can’t ignore Kleber’s play. Even with the Mavericks having yet another losing season, Kleber’s surprising athleticism (at least for me) complements Nowitzki’s aging game. Kleber’s athleticism shines the most on defense, once again helping with Dirk’s most glaring deficiency. It was a solid pickup for a team starving for adequate frontcourt players. Not bad for someone who withdrew from the 2012 draft.

Kleber’s outside shooting is a tad bit inconsistent. In the first 14 games, he shot 18 percent from three. However, six out of the 14 games he didn’t attempt a three-point shot. For the most part, during his overseas career, Kleber’s three-point shooting wasn’t overly impressive. You can argue that it was rookie jitters that caused the cold shooting start. The visions of Rick Carlisle’s icy stare from the bench could have influenced him to hesitate on the extension of his shooting clip.

To flip his perimeter shooting on a more positive note, his last 14 games have been quite the turnaround. Kleber is shooting 36 percent from three, posting two games of three three-pointers made. The days of scarce three-point shooting seem to be an afterthought at this point in the season, with Kleber only having one game in the 14-game span of not attempting a shot from the perimeter.

Kleber’s perimeter shooting is intriguing for sure, but by no means is he a one-trick pony. There are numerous occasions of him making plays in the paint. Per Basketball-Reference, Maxi is shooting a team-best 81 percent from 3-10 feet out. For the sake of playing devil’s advocate, the percentage of attempts from that distance aren’t in the top five of the team. Still, he’s shown he has the ability to finish in the post.

Despite his offensive skills, he is shooting under 70 percent from the free throw line. Once again, the lack of attempts come into play. To put it in perspective: Nerlens Noel has only two less free throw attempts in nine less games than Kleber. The idea of his free throw percentage improving with more attempts seems logical, especially when you note his true shooting is sitting at a respectable 60 percent.

As much fun as it to discuss his skills on offense, Maxi’s defense is the most important aspect of his game–which also happens to be the imperative weakness of the Dallas Mavericks. Kleber’s presence in the paint makes for a much-needed equalizer, seeing that Nowitzki is in no shape to protect the rim. The notion that Kleber’s athleticism helps on switches is one thing, but to witness him sending a shot back gives the Mavericks a much-needed edge.

With Kleber turning 26 next year, the odds of him morphing into an All-Star type of player isn’t likely. At best, he is a fringe starter for a losing team. At worst, he is a role player off the bench for a winning team. Either way you put it, he is an NBA player that is here to stay. Welcome to the NBA, Maxi Kleber.

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