For years, the San Antonio Spurs have left the confines of the United States and scoured the globe for basketball talent. They’ve been quite successful using this approach, whether it’s through the draft or free agent signing. In recent years, other teams have started to emulate this method in hopes of discovering their own hidden gems.
This season, the Dallas Mavericks may have done just that when they signed Maxi Kleber back in July. The 26-year-old forward had been playing professionally in Europe since 2009. He declared for the NBA Draft in 2012, but ultimately withdrew. A bit older than the traditional NBA rookie, it’s been quite a learning experience for him so far.
“It’s a lot of fun, new experiences. Coming from Europe, it’s different basketball over here, you got to adapt to other things,” Kleber told Basketball Insiders. “So far, it’s fun, we’ve had a rough season as a team but individually I think I can learn a lot here. I have a lot of good vets that I can learn from so for me it’s very special.”
In a season that will assuredly see the Mavericks finish with their second straight lottery appearance, there hasn’t been much to smile about. If there has been a bright spot, however, it’s their rookies. Dennis Smith Jr. has been making a case for the All-Rookie First Team, and then there’s Kleber. The Mavericks started the season 1-9 with Kleber alternating between limited playing time and DNP’s.
On Nov. 17, Rick Carlisle placed Kleber in the starting lineup and he’s been somewhat of a revelation since then. In 35 games as a starter, he’s put up 6.2 points on 45.8 percent shooting from the field. He scored a career-high 21 points in a two-point loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Dec. 16. He shot 9-10 from the field in that game, including 3-4 from the three-point line. He also had three rebounds and three blocked shots.
“I wouldn’t say it’s been an easy adjustment, what I always put in my mind is playing hard. I think that’s the key, if you work hard and play hard, you get your chance,” Kleber told Basketball Insiders. “For me, especially the three-point line, it’s a struggle, something I got to work on. But as long as I play hard and get stops on defense and help the team, set good screens, that’s how I can get into the game and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
For the most part, Kleber has done just that: help the Mavericks in any way he can. He’s been a solid defensive player and a decent rebounder. Carlisle has trusted him at times to close out games. In one of his better all-around games in a win over the East-leading Toronto Raptors on Dec. 26, he had 15 points on 66.7 percent shooting, 2-4 from downtown, eight rebounds, two assists, two steals, and five blocks.
Part of the reason he’s been able to have a bit of a seamless transition to the NBA is Dirk Nowitzki. Not only are Kleber and Nowitzki from the same country (Germany), but the same town as well in Wurzburg. Although they’ve both suited up at times for the German national team, they’ve never actually played together until now.
“I got here in August during the summertime to work on my body, get in shape, and workout with him,” Kleber told Basketball Insiders. “During the time we talked a lot about game days, what he expects of me as a rookie and everything. It helped me a lot. Even now when we step on the court, he’s been in the league for 20 years now, he has so much experience he can help me with many things and that’s what he’s doing.”
Prior to this season, Kleber’s future with the Mavericks was quite uncertain. Although his salary is guaranteed for this season, his contract for next season is non-guaranteed. It’s probably safe to say that he’ll be around though. With another lottery pick coming this summer to add to their growing young core, Kleber is someone who should be a part of Dallas’ future. It’s a place he definitely wants to be.
“My goal is always to play. The second thing is help the team with whatever it is. It can be different things each day. One day it might be rebounds, one day it might be good screens, one day it might be offense and scoring,” Kleber told Basketball Insiders. “What I definitely want to do is be consistent on helping the team. That’s my approach for next year and this season.”
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