DALLAS - Maxi Kleber has every right to be proud of himself. For two straight years, the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Playoffs needed somebody to guard the gifted Kawhi Leonard ... and for two straight years, Maxi got the nod.
That's the good news.
The bad news? Kleber was asked to do too much with those assignments. The truth is, he can be an even more effective player if, to use the coaching cliche, he is "put in position to succeed.''
Kleber, 29, is a multi-dimensional helper. He's a big man who can rim-protect, can help spacing with his perimeter shooting, he's a worker bee, and yes, he can guard in the open court.
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Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, who were limited to the first half in the first two preseason games, will play "starter minutes."
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“I was happy that he was able to have the opportunity to show what he’s been doing,” said coach Chauncey Billups of Smith Jr.,
To a degree.
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Kleber, a German native, last year averaged seven points and five rebounds while shooting 41 percent from deep. That's a "helper.'' If the roster can be improved enough to ask a little less of him (especially on the defensive end), maybe some of those numbers can remain in that ballpark ... but maybe at the same time his defensive numbers can rise a bit.
Kleber may have also seen some regression in his game due to a battle with COVID and an Achilles injury. But asking him to do a bit less - let him guard players who match his size and quickness, let him roam a bit to block shots, let him continue to offer his dimension as a spot-up shooter partner with Luka Doncic - and he may actually help the Dallas Mavericks a little more.
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