If you are deep-diving into the Mavericks’ inability to get out of the first round of the playoffs this season, you could find yourself fixated on what happened to Maxi Kleber.
Short of the relentless presence of COVID-19 and various physical problems for Kristaps Porzingis, Kleber suffered as much as anybody with aches and pains that severely impacted the Mavericks’ season.
Kleber’s versatility is what the Mavericks needed in the playoffs against Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers.
He simply could not provide that because of stubborn soreness in his right Achilles. It was the last in a long line of injuries that wrecked much of Kleber’s season.
The 6-10 forward with the rosy outlook on life doesn’t like to dwell on what went wrong this season – but there was a lot.
Here’s a rundown:
Missed one game to a left ankle sprain in February.
Missed one game to lower left leg contusion in April.
Missed three games to lower right leg soreness in April.
Missed one game to low-back tightness in April.
Missed six games to right Achilles soreness in May.
And, of course, missed 11 games to COVID-19 protocols in January. And by all accounts, Kleber’s bout with the virus was nastier than most.
Coach Rick Carlisle called it “one of those years” where Kleber could never quite get right with his health.
“It’s not just for me, it was for everybody,” Kleber said. “It was a very compact season with a lot of games, so whenever something happened, you didn’t really have much time for practice or to get back in shape.
“Whenever the COVID part hit, you didn’t have many days to practice with the team because there were just so many games. So coming back in shape after injuries was definitely not as easy this year. But it’s part of the game. Obviously this year was not as much fun because it added up and got really annoying, especially the last weeks with my Achilles. We’ll try to recover, let it heal and see where I’m at.”
The hope, of course, is that the Achilles will mend itself. But time will tell.
The best news for Kleber this season was that his shooting continued to improve. He dropped in 41 percent of his 3-point shots. And he shot more than four per game. He was a 92 percent free-throw shooter, although he made only 37 trips to the line for the season.
The point is that Kleber’s game still is growing when he’s healthy. And even with the bum Achilles, he was asked to guard Leonard a lot during the first four games of the playoffs before Rick Carlisle adjusted with a bigger lineup. The Mavericks don’t worry about him defensively.
But while getting healthy is Kleber’s No. 1 mission this offseason, it’s not the only thing on his plate.
He shot the 3-pointer better than he ever has. But with that, he also noticed defenses adjusting to him more often.
“I want to work on different stuff because as soon as you make a shot, teams switch and if you don’t have a second answer then basically you’re irrelevant on offense, so that has to change,” he said. “I shot the ball better this year, so teams started switching.
“So you have to have an answer for that. There’s a lot of things I learned and am taking into the summer and I want to work on.”
It will be a big season in 2021-22 for Kleber. It’s the third of a four-year contract that he signed before the 2018-19 season. The final season is not fully guaranteed. So he’ll be playing for his future paychecks.
Which is fine because Kleber believes the Mavericks are closer to breaking through in the playoffs than others may think.
The talent level is good on the team, management has promised an aggressive summer pursuing upgrades.
And realistic, continued growth of players like Kleber.
“It’s not much that’s missing,” Kleber said. “But obviously, just names don’t make it work. It has to work as a team and that’s like the biggest thing. But I think our team chemistry was really good, which helped us throughout the season.
“It (the season) would be a whole lot better if nobody had COVID, We really had stretches where we figured out how to play together as a team and then there were stretches where somebody was injured or something happened. You could definitely tell we weren’t as good in those situations. But overall, I think we still had a good season and we learned a lot. We did a lot of the right things. It’s still a game where only one team can win. At the end of the day, I think we can still be proud of the season.”
Kleber remains uncommitted to the German national team, which will attempt to get into the Olympics via qualifying tournaments later this summer. So far, he has not made a decision, although he would love to represent his country.
“I’ve been talking to the guys with Germany but we’ll have to see,” Kleber said. “I basically played (the last part of the season) with injections and all that stuff, so my body, I want to take care of it first. If it’s not healthy and I still can’t run, I don’t see a point in playing.”