When I started watching film on Kleber my first thought was that I expected him to push Dwight Powell. Then as I watched more film on him… I thought he might actually be here to REPLACE Dwight Powell. Then I realized that Dwight Powell was supposed to be auditioning to be Dirk’s heir which means that Maximiliam Kleber would now be auditioning to be Dirk’s heir… A kid from Dirk’s hometown in Wurzburg potentially being the Dirk replacement?!? You can’t script that.
Kleber entered the 2014 NBA draft at the age of 22 and went undrafted. Since then he has continued to work on his game in the hopes of following in Dirk’s footsteps and getting to the NBA. This past season it finally came together for him.
He made the BBL (Basketball Bundesliga, the top league in Germany) All-Star team for the first time since he did in 2014. He was named to the All-EuroCup Second Team and the All-BBL Second Team. He was also named the BBL’s “Most Effective Player” which is based on the formula of Points + Rebounds + Assists + Blocks – Missed FG – Missed FT – Turnovers / Games Played. This is only the second year the award has been handed out with last year’s winner (Daniel Theis) signing a 2 year deal with the Celtics earlier in Free Agency.
As far as his production, European stats never really tell the whole story but I’ll share them. He averaged 9.7 pts, 6.6 rbs, 1 stl, 1 blk and 1.4 ast in 23 minutes per game. He shot 49.6% from the field and 44% from 3 with 3 attempts per game. (Per 36 averages of 15 pts and 10.4 rbs by the way.)
Now to get beyond the numbers. How does he play?
Athleticism: He has the athleticism of a younger Dirk. He’s not putting guys on posters every night but he’s pretty quick off the floor and looks to dunk when he is at the rim. He doesn’t get very high above the rim so he often gets blocked or fouled when going for these dunks. There are a lot of clips of the ball getting knocked loose while he was dunking and gently rolling in. He runs the floor well and should fit in nicely as an NBA 4.
Defense: On defense he has active hands. He’s quick to poke away balls from guys casually dribbling by him. The combination of his quick hands and what I’ll call “mini burst” leaping allows him to get blocks when guys least expect it. Think about how Dirk gets strip steals but change the strip to blocks at the bottom of the backboard. He has great timing and knows his athletic limitations. 90% of his blocks are smacked off of the bottom part of the backboard as a guy is going up for a dunk or layup. If a guy gets the ball past the rim it’s going to be a poster or foul. He’s not a big body by any means but he’s got some musculature about him and won’t be completely pushed around by bigger guys. He has a passion for blocking shots and often gets blocks on the weak side on help defense.
Shooting: His shooting percentages are legit. His release is a little slower than I’d like it to be (think, Brussino) but he knows when he has time to get it off and when he doesn’t. He’s not afraid to shoot off the dribble or go inside. He does have a little bit of a post game. In watching his highlights I caught a Dirk fade and a Dirk step-through.
Other skills: I was actually surprised by his ball-handling. He can put the ball on the floor a bit which is going to be important because of his somewhat slow release. He’ll be able to use a fake to get into the middle of the floor. I watched him take the ball around his back to get by a man on a fast break as well so he’s comfortable putting the ball down.
Intangibles: This is a big part of why he’s here honestly. It’s also a big part of why he was the most effective player in Germany this year. He has a high basketball IQ and great awareness. Watching him play, even when he’s not scoring he’s engaged and making the right plays on both sides of the ball. He’ll make the extra pass, he’ll cut when there’s a lane on the back side, he’ll set off-ball screens, he crashes the glass when the shot goes up, he moves into an open spot when the play goes away from him. These are the things I notice and like about Nico Brussino as well.
Honestly, going back to my initial impression he’s a guy that’s here to challenge Dwight Powell for that backup 4 spot at the very least and is here to replace Dwight Powell when we trade him at the very most. He wears the number 42 (he used to wear 14) so Dirk is clearly on his mind and the opportunity to play with him is likely to push his game to new heights. I hate to do this to Powell but I think if Kleber comes in and shows some consistency (which has been the problem with Powell) then Dwight will not be long for this team. I’ll add the note that Powell will be 26 next week and Kleber is 25. Dirk will likely play two more years so whoever wins this race will be in their prime when their time comes. It should be fun.
As always, hit me up on twitter @MBibs or @BibsCorner with any questions, comments, or criticisms and thank you for reading!