The Dallas Mavericks drastic defensive improvements have been well documented. They rank fifth in defensive rating for the season, and it's been exceptionally stout over the last two months with guys like Dorian Finney Smith, Reggie Bullock, and perhaps most importantly, head coach Jason Kidd getting guys to buy into that side of the ball.
Maybe the most slept-on contributor to the Mavs stifling defense is Maxi Kleber. He has size and versatility that is unique.
Maxi's defense has been underrated for years, but poor team defense from the Mavericks seemed like the reason why. But this year, the Mavs are near the top, and Maxi, still without credit, is one of the biggest reasons.
How Maxi Kleber has become the most underrated defender in the NBA
Kleber's best defensive quality is his ability to protect the rim. He's undersized at about 6'10, but he still manages to give opposing players fits in the paint. Last year, Maxi was primarily used as a wing defender, which is a role he struggled to have the same defensive impact he is capable of. This year Maxi is being used much more as a big in a system that better fits his defensive skillset.
This year, the Mavs defense is predicated on three major things: helping, recovering, and, most importantly, not giving up open baskets in the paint.
The Mavs play a lot of man on the perimeter but use a lot of zone concepts in the paint. When Maxi is in the middle of that pseudo zone protecting the paint, he and the Mavericks defense are wildly successful. He's able to use his best skill on defense as a rim protector, and although he sits at only 1.1 blocks per game, he is still super-elite down low.
Maxi has an excellent block percentage of 3.9, the average for a power forward is 2.5 percent. He also has a defensive rating of 105.7, which is the best of his career.
When Kleber is in the game as the lone big, and he is forced to switch to a guard, his defensive versatility shows. He's able to stick on guards and contest their jump shots with his reach and athleticism. Then when guards decide to use their speed, Maxi can alter or block their shots around the rim with his excellent timing and size.
Maxi Kleber has one of the most sought out skillsets for an NBA big nowadays. Guys like Bam Adebayo, Evan Mobley, and Jaren Jackson Jr. have become the new mold of what an excellent defensive big is in today's NBA. The versatility they possess is similar to what Maxi brings to the Dallas Mavericks.
What Kleber lacks in size, he makes up for in heart as you constantly see him go up and contest dunks that many players wouldn't. Maxi is criminally underrated defensively and has been for a long time. I hope he gets the recognition he earnestly deserves, and with the Dallas Mavericks trending upwards, hopefully, respect for Maxi Kleber's defense comes with it.