You might be thinking to yourself, “What the heck are you doing Old Man? The Warriors are imploding, Jimmy Butler was traded to the Sixers, Lebron has been awesome leading the Lakers and teams like Boston, Houston and Utah are having disappointing seasons. With all this going on in the NBA today why the heck are you writing about Maxi Kelber? Who’s Maxi Kelber and why in the world is he worth my time.” All valid questions. Let me explain myself. It all started when I began watching Mavs games this season. Like most basketball fans I wanted to see whether Luka Doncic was the real deal or not. News Flash: Luka is the real deal. But with every Mavs game I watched there would be this other player that kept standing out. He was long, active and seemed to be in the right spots always. In the early going I dismissed this player and was fixated on Doncic. Stringing together some well played games early in the season isn’t going to grab my attention just yet. However game after game I was continually impressed by this random player I knew little about.
It wasn’t until the 11th game I was getting the feeling this was becoming a trend. So I decided to check his on/off court efficiency numbers. Even though these numbers are imperfect they would give me some sort of context regarding his on-court play. And sure enough he lead the team with a +5.5 on-court while the team was a -9.9 with him off the court. That’s a +15.4 swing whens he’s on and off the court. The bench in general has better on/off court numbers compared to the starters but Kelber was still +4.1 over the next Mavs player on/off court efficiency (JJ Barea was next with an +11.3 swing). As of me writing this article before the Mavs next game Wednesday versus the Rockets Kelber is currently a +12.2 while on-court and a -5.1 off-court. That’s a freaking +17.3 swing when Kelber plays and doesn’t play. This won’t last forever. A lot of that success has to do with JJ Barea and Dwight Powell having good seasons off the bench too. Probably even after the Rockets game those numbers will decrease significantly. But we’re 18 games into the season and this doesn’t feel like a fluke even though his on/off court numbers will eventually regress to the mean.
Maxi Kelber is averaging 6.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.4 blocks per game on 45.1% from the floor, 32.1% from three on 18.6 minutes per game. Kebler is 6’11 with his last known wingspan measurement being 6’11 in 2012. This is his second season in the NBA from Germany, is 26 years old, plays PF/C and went undrafted. Kelber isn’t going to be an all-star player, that’s not what I’m getting at. Heck Kelbers floor is out of the league next year. Instead what I’m trying to imply is his usefulness as an utility player. He is becoming a glue guy that every title contender needs to bond together star players talents. I also like acknowledging good role players like Maxi Kelber and Gary Clark because their contributions tend to be minimized by the mainstream. Considering Kelber has been amazing at doing the little things this season I wanted to put into words my appreciation for the player he is becoming.
I’ll start with the weaker of his game: offense. For starters his handle is almost non-existent. His live-ball skills revolve around looking to pass it off immediately. He might take a dibble or two to give himself a little room to operate and if given space on the perimeter Kelber will attack the rim in a straight line at times. When he does pick up his dribble Kelber can get into trouble if the defender pressures him causing a turnover in the process. His passing skills aren’t anything special either and he’s more of a ball mover. Every now and then Kelber will make a good read for an assist but usually after he passes the ball off the offense tends to reset itself. Kelber has minimal post skills for a big-man utilizing over the shoulder or fade-away moves mostly. If the shot-clock is running down or Kelber has a smaller player on his hip then he’ll take it to the post.
His screen setting game is pretty good. He rarely pick and rolls to the rim since a good portion of his playing time is with Dwight Powell and Powell is the more athletic rim-runner. Kelber will instead set good off-ball screens whether that be seals, pin-downs or flare screens (Kelber is #42):
On offense Kelber is mostly used for his floor spacing ability:
Even though he is only shooting 32% from three Kelber has a smooth looking jump shot with a high release point:
Kelber does need to quicken up his mechanics somewhat as that could be an issue behind his inconsistency from deep. Kelber might not dive off of screens much. That role is reserved for Powell on the Mavs. But the Mavs make good use of his shooting ability and stretch the court horizontally with his pick-and-pop game:
The Mavs telecast announcers, Mark Followill, Derek Harper and Jeff Wade, routinely talk about how much work Kelber put into the off-season working on his jump shot. Kelber understands if he wants to stick in the league he’ll have to be consistent from three. He seems to be making incremental improvements from deep and in turn opposing defenses have given Kelber more respect from long distance giving the Mavs better floor balance. Lastly on offense Kelber has a pretty solid IQ off-ball attacking rebounds in the air, angling up or down with the ball, relocating out of the paint when a pick-and-roll occurs and making well timed cuts for safety valve passes:
Kelber has a lot to improve on offense that’s very clear. Even his strength of shooting needs to be developed. As of now the threat of his stretch ability as a big-man and high IQ gives Kelber enough offensive value to be passable on-court. But overall his defense was the primary reason why I decided to write this post. I started watching Mavs games for Luka but came away impressed by Kelbers defensive prowess. Kelber currently sports a +1.52 defensive real plus/minus which ranks 19th among power forwards. It’s hard to tell just by looking at Kelbers physical profile but deceptively Kelber is a plus athlete surprising players on switches and recovery contests. Look at how Kelber deals with cross matches on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jae Crowder and Terry Rozier:
Kelber does a good job sitting in his stance, sliding his feet, keeping his core balanced and contesting from behind. Kelber fits in with modern day “bigs” defending pick-and-rolls with versatility. Whether it be switching, showing or dropping, Kelber has the athleticism, size and fundamentals to maintain all pick-and-roll coverages. Kelber also does a nice job straddling between ball-handler and roll-man on pick-and-roll “drop” coverages:
He uses his sneaky good and well timed hops to blow up lob passes or runners defending downhill actions. Kelber also uses his deceptive athleticism in the post defending quicker “bigs” like Al Horford:
Kelber doesn’t lose his discipline on Horford’s fakes, stays low and forces Horford into a tough fade-away that’s well contested. As an on-ball, point of attack defender Kelber is more than adequate in that regard but still can be susceptible to counter dribble moves by crafty ball handlers. Another skill that Kelber seems to possess is verticality. Whether it be in transition or on a cross-match Kelber does a solid job going straight up-and-down and not giving the refs a reason to blow the whistle:
Kelber might be at his best on help side defense. Just like on offense Kelber has a high defensive IQ that he uses to snuff out rim-runs:
To protect the paint:
And to rotate weak side:
Overall Kelber has the team defense skills that is a must for any big-man in today’s NBA. Kelber does a good job tagging cutters, stunt-and-recovering, bumping the roll-man while doing it physically enough and yet not commit a foul. On the other hand Kelber isn’t perfect on defense and sometimes will ball watch, over help and misdiagnose pick-and-roll coverages with a teammate. But if we’re to deconstruct Kelbers game then by far his most advanced aspect is defense.
Even after writing this whole article you still may think this wasn’t worth my time. And that may be true as I’ve stated earlier Kelber could be out of the league next year if things don’t work out for him this season. However currently as we speak that’s not the case. The Mavs player development system is working in full force with players like Dorian Finney-Smith, Dwight Powell and Maxi Kelber. So the Mavs early season success is definitely a full team effort. I’m not trying to make the case Kelber is the sole reason why the Mavs are playing so well. The Mavs have a strong bench, a young star in the making and one of the best coaches in the league. What the overarching point of this post was deals with Kelber and his value.
Kelber will be a restricted free agent this summer and to rebuilding teams he might not carry as much value compared with contending teams. Presently Kelber is making only the veterans minimum and probably won’t make that much more on the open market due to lack of production. So to some random contender out their looking for a bargain value contract like PJ Tucker, don’t look no further. Kelber could be a cheap, affordable contract for any cash strung contender and out play the worth of his contract. If I were Houston, LA Lakers, Golden State, Philadelphia, Boston, Toronto or Milwaukee then I’d try to undersell the value of Kelber to the Mavs, steal him now, and obtain his restricted free agency this upcoming summer. There’s little risk involved with Kelber and if he doesn’t pan out the cost to acquire him was minimal. Kelbers role player ability could be what unlocks a new exciting lineup for one of these contenders and maybe another step towards title relevancy.