The 2020-2021 season treated Dallas Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber poorly. Whether it was the COVID complications or getting posterized by Kawhi Leonard in the playoffs, his campaign had a few rocky moments.
However, watching Kleber withstand those moments of adversity with a smile on his face was somehow ... comforting.
Kleber's infectious smile and his "Call Me" taunt after hitting a 3-point shot suggests an abundance of conviction.
But is the confidence merited?
The stats confirm Kleber as a 40-percent 3-point shooter in the 2021 postseason. However, to our eye, Kleber's hesitancy on 3-point field-goal attempts costs the Mavericks on some possessions. Despite head coach Jason Kidd's current current vision of the offense, attempting 2.9 shots from beyond the arc isn't enough.
There are times where Kleber will pump-fake out of open looks, leading to failed possessions. Luka Doncic setting up open looks for his teammates doesn't work if the players don't attempt the shot.
Nowhere near an offensive juggernaut or even a microwave scorer, Kleber must take advantage of open looks. However, despite individual statistics, his coexistence with Kristaps Porzingis stands as the most significant path to bettering his season.
As DallasBasketball.com extensively covered, Kidd's starting lineup decision caused many ripples in the rest of the rotation. Kleber's omission from the starting lineup does warrant wondering if he deserves such a role.
Kleber and Kristaps Porzingis mesh well in the lineup. According to Basketball-Reference lineup data, the two bigs registered +7.1 points minus the opponent's points per 100 possessions. In 523 minutes together, they produced the third-highest two-man lineup.
For now, Dwight Powell is the starting center. However, if the current trend of negative basketball with Powell ensues, anticipate the inevitable with the Stanford alum returning to a backup role.
Ironically, the pairing of Powell-Porzingis makes for a terrible statistic return. Although we have a mere two-game sample size, every lineup with Powell finishes as a net-negative. When the two bigs share the court, it's not pretty as they net -32.3 points minus opponent points per 100 possessions.
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On the other hand, the Kleber-Porzingis pill is a little easier to digest. Compared to the alarming -32.3 PMOP, the two-man combo of Kleber and Porzingis finished with a -9 in the same statistical category.
Perhaps a negative for a slightly-less-negative is what Dallas needs at the moment: Consider Kleber's insertion into the starting lineup as Kidd stopping the bleeding?
Still, Kleber's individual stats don't mirror that of a starting-level big.
The best-case scenario for Kleber (financially) is undoubtedly a spot in the starting lineup, ultimately helping his case for a lucrative, long-term deal in free agency.
Although starting for a playoff team bodes well for Kleber's financial security, failing to earn a spot in the first five doesn't doom him. Kleber's importance lies in his efficiency on both sides of the court.
Last year, Achilles' soreness hindered his defensive ability. Similar to the bubble playoffs, Kleber matched up with Kawhi Leonard in the 2021 postseason rematch. Thankfully for the always-smiling Kleber, such a matchup doesn't exist on a nightly basis. Still, for Kleber to coexist with Porzingis, he must channel the same flexible defense.
Turning 30 next January, Kleber's body is in for a test, considering the long, grueling NBA schedule. The athletic burst tends to leave one's knees unless you have LeBron James' self-care regiment.
Steadying his performance as a multifaceted defender and efficient 3-point shooting carries more weight than simply starting a game.
Positioning the Mavericks for a higher floor with a slight sacrifice in individual glory betters their chances for a meaningful existence in the Western Conference - an inverse of Kleber earning a starting role if you will.
Getting to the nuts and bolts of it all comes down to one thing: burnout.
Worrying about extended minutes and stressing over Kleber's featuring in lineups don't mean much if he succumbs to the physical strain. Anything regarding Achilles injuries or soreness always draws red flags dealing with center or front-court players in general, especially after the age of 30.
Overexerting Kleber before the playoffs, or for the worst, play-in tournament, possibly leads to a scenario in which he can't participate down the final stretch of the season. So maybe they need more Maxi ... but not too much.