• Welcome back, Hoop Ballers, to our International Spotlight weekly feature where we will be looking at one of the biggest beneficiaries of this year’s crazy trade deadline and one of my favorite international prospects around the league, German big Maxi Kleber of the Dallas Mavs.

    Kleber is an undrafted 26-year old forward who played professionally in his native Germany from 2009 until 2017 (with a short stop in Spain for the 2014-15 season) without drawing much NBA interest, largely due to his inability to stay healthy. The Mavs, at the direction of Dirk Nowitzki, have been scouting Kleber since he was 16 and he quietly earned himself a roster spot last year after impressing the Mavs during their training camp.

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    Early Health Issues

    The 6’11” forward was on the radar for NBA scouts at the early stages of his career but missed out on playing at the U18 European Championship in 2010 and the U20 European Championship in 2011 due to knee and finger injuries. He showed up at the Nike Global Challenge games in Portland, Oregon the next summer and made a name for himself after holding his ground with 9 points and 6 rebounds against a USA Midwest team that featured stars like Jabari Parker and Gary Harris, earning a spot on the All-Tournament-Team. Most foreign players at this stage are a big question mark for scouts and while they might have great highlights from their home leagues, the competition against American kids is a major test as to whether they can be equally competitive at the highest level.

    He put his name into the 2012 NBA Draft as an early entry and after missing the entire 2012-13 campaign with another injury he went undrafted in 2014 as more injuries derailed his career before returning to Bayern Munich and the German BBL. In 2017 he was named to the Second-All-Team-Tournament for the EuroCup competition, while averaging 8.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.2 blocks in his domestic league en route to being named to the All-BBL Second Team and earning the BBL’s Most Effective Player trophy.

    In his rookie season with the Mavs, Kleber was treated carefully by the Mavs medical staff and quickly earned Rick Carlisle’s trust, averaging 16.8 minutes in 72 games with the advanced stats putting him at the upper level of defensive big men around the entire league.

    Development Into A Complete Defensive Presence

    Kleber has an athletic and fluid body with solid agility who exceeded expectations last year by becoming more than an adequate rim protector and giving the Mavs some much needed flexibility defensively. He is a sneaky athlete with a 35” vertical jump and remains an impressive runner even though he was slowed down by injuries early in his career. The diversity he offers comes from him not being overly reliant on one trait, but rather combining several physical and intellectual tools.

    His footwork is exceptional for a big, and he is long but knows how to use his length in a way that helps him avoid fouls while putting pressure on his opponents. Maxi quickly became one of the most reliable players the Mavs have had defensively in a span of a few months, as his speed and agility help him stay in front of guards and wings during switches – unlike most big men in the league. In a close game against the Hawks last October, Trae Young found himself in a perfect matchup situation against Kleber. He reasonably thought that he was going to be able to blow past him but Maxi didn’t shy away from the challenge and timely blocked his shot after the quick guard ran to the rim.

    Maxi’s combination of athleticism, IQ, length, and body control are certainly apparent in the paint where he can anchor the defense. Most of his blocks have been really impressive as he either stops his man using verticality or comes out of the weak side and provides help defense. He has been averaging 1.2 blocked shots this season, up from 0.7 last year, showing the ability to adjust to a faster game and to bigger and more athletic bodies compared to Europe.

    Whether in transition or while chasing the play down or backpedaling, he has the maturity and patience to let his opponent settle at an area where he is able to alter his shot. Here’s a possession where he quickly recovers from a couple of back screens from the Pelicans and manages to hold his ground against Anthony Davis with another impressive stop.

    Kleber has enough experience to understand rotation switches and avoids unnecessary fouls, as evidenced by his low fouling rate at only 3.4 fouls per 36 minutes in both his NBA seasons so far. He hasn’t fouled out in 120 games with the Mavs, something really rare for bigs of his size, while developing a knack for coming from the weak side and protecting the rim. Here is another tremendous defensive possession where Kleber is able to keep an eye (and a hand) on Marc Gasol on a lethal pick-and-roll with Mike Conley. He is able to maintain a balanced distance between both of them in order to avoid a potential alley-oop and protect the rim.

    The Pairing With Kristaps

    Understandably, Kleber struggled last year against more mobile and physical opponents but he has worked on getting stronger on the block in order to be able to defend at a high level consistently and rebound effectively on both sides of the floor. We can only dream of his pairing with newly acquired Kristaps Porzingis but it sure looks very promising on paper. There are not many teams at the NBA level that can have the combination of mobility, length and shooting in their frontcourt and the two of the team could very well start for the Mavs next year.

    When Kleber played as the center next to Dirk last year, Carlisle run a lethal high-low action with a double screen on the top and both of his bigs setting the screen. The options on this play are endless as the big men can either shoot, attack or look for the rolling man, the corner or the elbow three as the opponents struggle to rotate and are hesitant to leave any of the big men open. On this play, Dirk is able to timely find the cutting Kleber as John Henson is just late on the rotation, allowing the pass and the easy dunk.

    Stretching the Floor and More

    The potential has always been there and Kleber has already evolved into a modern stretch forward who has good size and solid agility, which, combined with his quick feet, helps him compensate for the lack of superb speed. The Würzburg native has good ball-handling skills for his size, giving him the ability to dribble the ball and open up the perimeter shot for his teammates. He is well aware of his limitations and his role within a system and that’s one of the main reasons he has been one of Carlisle’s favorites in Dallas so far.

    Kleber knows where he’s supposed to be at all times and wastes no time executing the game plan even if that requires him to sacrifice parts of his repertoire. At the start of the game against the Pelicans Carlisle runs an ISO set for Harrison Barnes and Kleber immediately recognizes the mismatch and throws the ball to the now ex-Mav who scores easily.

    After shooting a respectable 31 percent from deep in his rookie season, Maxi has taken slow steps forward, shooting 34 percent this year and developing the confidence to launch the 3-point shot from anywhere on the floor. A strong developmental coaching staff in Dallas spent the summer working on Maxi’s release and the results have been extremely positive so far as he has already launched 138 triples this year, 10 more than his entire rookie season (128). Unleashing that part of his game will help him get to the next level and potentially become richer this summer when he hits free agency. The Mavs clearly understand that and see him as a very important tool of their bench.

    “Developing his shooting range to now well behind the three-point line is a big game-changer,” Carlisle said of Kleber’s new outside shot. “It opens up more driving possibilities. The ability to shoot the three now is virtually a required skill if you play the 1-4. And he can play the five, which he hasn’t played much, but he is certainly able.”

    His shot is often slow and hard to block since he is almost seven feet tall but he needs to be aware of how he plays against the best basketball talent in the world when settling for the jump shot instead of looking for the extra pass or taking a less contested shot. Look at Kevin Durant embarrassing him with the block and taking off for the easy dunk on the other side of the floor.

    His positional flexibility is another part of his game that Carlisle likes, as he can have Kleber play both forward positions without clogging the paint. This approach enables the Mavs’ multiple ballhandlers (and especially Luka Doncic) to set up pick-and-roll action on top of the key which occasionally opens up the corner three. And what Kleber can take advantage of is that most times he will be matched against less athletic bigs who won’t be able to close out quickly on him.

    Look at this brilliant offensive possession where Luka is attacking a double screen on top of the key that makes Taj Gibson stay close to the lane which then leads to him being late in his effort to defend the corner three after Doncic’s pass.

    Maxi does not shy away from contact and posts up opposing players with solid moves. He doesn’t get knocked around, he knows how to play strong, he moves his feet and plays the angles extremely well. Aside from just crashing the offensive glass, which Maxi does pretty well, he also showed that he is willing to attack the rim when given the opportunity. He can finish strong and has the hands to catch and put down alley-oops as well, something that the Mavericks do increasingly often in their pick-and-roll offense. He developed great chemistry with J.J. Barea since last year and I expect the Mavs put him on more pick-and-roll opportunities with Luka Doncic for the remainder of this season.

    A Great Opportunity

    Kleber was a pleasant surprise for the Mavs last year as he proved to be far more athletic and talented than anybody envisioned and he has now successfully transformed from a “nice find” to a prototypical stretch four and occasional center. He was a victim of a loaded frontcourt at the beginning of the season but the DeAndre Jordan experience in Dallas was cut short last week and the Mavs will take their time to evaluate him and Dwight Powell as they wait for next season and Kristaps Porzingis to be incorporated to their main core.

    Maxi will not fill up the stat sheet and his usage remains low at just 13.4 percent but this is a testament of his role within a well-structured system. The Mavs have taken the necessary time to develop him and the fruits of their labor are visible after a successful sophomore year. It’s still unclear whether Kleber will be part of the group going forward as the Mavs really like him, but another team might be willing to throw more money to him in the offseason.

    Owners in deep leagues have probably already taken notice but Maxi is now starting for the Mavs and he should be put on the radar in standard leagues since he is a consistent source of money counter stats and he now gets to play close to 30 minutes a night.

    Hope you enjoyed reading this article and please free to reach out to me on Twitter @philysstar for any fantasy or dynasty trade talk. Stay up to date on all the breaking news and rumors posted on our website and on our Twitter account @HoopBallFantasy.

    Stats are courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate as of February 8th.

Fantasy News

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