With unfortunate situations often comes opportunity.
Maxi Kleber knows he’s in that position, even though he wishes things hadn’t happened this way.
With Dwight Powell missing all of the preseason with a left hamstring strain, the Mavericks’ rotation on the front line alongside Kristaps Porzingis has been shortened. Kleber and Boban Marjanovic are the only true big men.
Others, like Dorian Finney-Smith, can be used in smallish lineups. But coach Rick Carlisle knows how risky that can be.
So while Powell recovers, Kleber is one of the main options to pair with Porzingis.
“He’s a starting-caliber player, there’s no question about that,” Carlisle said of Kleber after Sunday’s robust practice. “And I’ve left it open with our roster that we’re going to look at a lot of different things. I believe we’ve started a different team every game so far. That could well continue especially with some guys being out. But he’s one of our top players.”
It’s true that Carlisle has mixed different lineups so far and it most likely will stay in flux until after the regular season begins.
It’s also a fact of life that the Mavericks will likely have to lean more heavily on the third-year Kleber. At 6-10 and athletic enough to play either power forward or center, he’s going to have to carry a fuller load.
But he knows that the Mavericks would be better off if Powell were available.
“Dwight being out is super-tough for us,” Kleber said. “We know what he does for the team. He’s one of the best team players in the league, I feel like, because he does everything for everybody else. That hurts.
“But for me, that means I got to step up, play the role, find my role in that starting lineup, too, because it’s new guys and it’s new positions, new shots. You have to find out how to play with them and for them and to help them. And they can help you, too. It’s a learning process, but yeah, obviously, it could mean more minutes and more opportunities.”
Having Porzingis is a blessing for the Mavericks. He’s another legitimate star-level player.
But it does require some alterations to the way the Mavericks play. And all of the holdover players, up to and including Luka Doncic, must adjust accordingly.
“It’s a new group, a lot of new guys,” Kleber said. “We all have to figure out how to play together and we have a couple new plays because we have different players with KP and Luka. We can play a different style.
“But it’s very interesting the stuff we do. We still have to figure out a lot, especially on defense with communication. And (correcting) a lot of mistakes we make. But offensively, we will catch our rhythm and we’ll be fine there.”
Like everybody else, Kleber is excited about the possibilities with Doncic and Porzingis.
“It makes it tougher for the defense,” he said. “They are both options. KP can get his shot over anybody and Luka does what Luka does. We’ve all seen it. It makes it easier for everybody else. We have a lot of options with those two guys.”
“We need Dwight. There’s no question about it. He’s so good at rolling to the rim. He’s very efficient at what he does. He’s been in the league awhile and knows perfectly what he has to do. And he doesn’t do crazy stuff.”
Speaking of crazy stuff, it’s a little bit weird that Kleber and the rest of his teammates are going through training camp without Dirk Nowitzki. “The Big German” retired after 21 seasons with the Mavericks and it’s certainly a little different.
But Kleber doesn’t want anything to do with Nowitzki’s tag.
“The Big German? That’s always going to be Dirk,” Kleber said. “I’m the second German. Everybody knows Dirk as the Big German. That’s how it should be.
“It’s been different. Dirk was always that guy who was there for jokes in the locker room and he’s been with the Mavs for so long, nobody really knows the Mavs without Dirk, so everybody misses him. But at the same time, we got a young core and now we have the chance to start a new era.”
The Mavericks are all for it. But what that new era ends up being is still an unknown.
Players like Kleber are going to have to step up and take on new, bigger roles.
And without Powell, for the moment, that goes double.
“His versatility is key,” Carlisle said of Kleber. “His ability to play four and five. His shooting, driving, defense, rim protection is very unique for a guy of his body type and position.”
In short, no matter when Powell returns, Kleber is going to have to be a major factor if the Mavericks hope to get off to a quick start in the regular season.
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