Draft night is over, Jarrett Culver, Jaylen Nowell, and Naz Reid are the newest members of the Minnesota Timberwolves, and we are full steam ahead toward the free agency delirium.
Despite being cap-strapped, there have been plenty of rumors swirling. At the summit of that gossip mountain is the minuscule chance that Gersson Rosas and his front office comrades can somehow maneuver their way into the D’Angelo Russell stakes.
However, with a bunch of bloated contracts and limited funds to spare, it is probably better to temper your expectations on an All-Star addition. Instead, your time would be better spent focusing on players the Wolves can actually get, specifically using the Mid-Level Exception (MLE).
The MLE is essentially a present handed to teams by the league, which varies depending on the league salary cap number and whether a specific team is over or under the luxury tax apron. This season it is predicted to be around $9.2 million and can be either split and used on multiple guys, or completely dedicated to a single player.
Position: Power Forward/Center
Previous Contract: 2-Year, $2.1 Million
Traditional Stats: 21.9 MPG, 6.8 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 45.3% FG, 35.3% 3PT
Advanced Stats: 57.9% TS, 108 ORTNG, 105.3 DRTNG, +2.7 NETRTNG, .111 WS/48, +1.3 VORP
Analysis and Fit
He isn’t the most glamorous name on the market, but Maxi Kleber is certainly one of the most underrated. And with the Timberwolves filled with wings and short on power forwards, he would slot into a backup role like a hand in a glove.
It all starts on the defensive end of the floor, where Minnesota needs all the help it can get. Despite the lack of recognition around the league, Kleber is one of the finest rim protectors you will find on an NBA bench. He has exceptional timing, gangly arms and is a deceptively good athlete. He has even shown to be quick on his feet for someone standing at 6-foot-11 and weighing in at 240 lbs. That skill set is why he finished the season with the 11th best block percentage in the league.
In the video below, you can see a good sampling of his shot-stopping talent. He chases down a sprinting Tyus Jones, stuffs a leaping Jonas Valanciunas, and thwarts an isolation bucket from the crafty Trae Young.
Statistically, the big German has been a standout. Among power forwards last season he ranked 10th in defensive real plus/minus and fourth in defensive player impact plus/minus. With his IQ and knack for being in the right place at the right time, he has provided more than just a presence at the rim.
Speaking about his team’s improving defense at a pre-game presser, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle stuck the bulk of the on Kleber.
“Kleber’s given us a lot more flexibility defensively.” he said. “He’s one of our better defenders. So when you add a guy like that guard people individually and switch liberally and able to keep guys in front of him ... that helps.”
The Timberwolves have been ghoulish on defense for the better part of a decade and last season was no different, especially in the paint. Karl-Anthony Towns’ defensive woes have been well documented, Gorgui Dieng is a decent pick-and-roll defender but lacks strength and timing as a rim protector, and Taj Gibson is getting older and likely won’t feature on the roster next season.
With Robert Covington, Josh Okogie and now Jarrett Culver expected to be hounding opposition wings, it would definitely be beneficial to bring in a defensive stalwart like Kleber in to yin yang off their expertise.
Offensively Kleber’s value is a little bit murkier, but he certainly isn’t a minus on that end. He provides decent-not-great floor spacing, which would be a bonus for a Wolves squad that has struggled to find big men who can stretch the floor outside of Towns.
He isn’t going to overwhelm teams with a high volume of triples, but he rarely hesitates when he feels like he has room to jack one up. He rotates out of the dunker’s spot on the baseline to the corner with regularity, clearing the room for drivers and rollers, a role that Gibson just couldn’t manage to consistently fill.
When he is placed in the pick-and-roll, there are mixed results. He scored just 0.94 points per possession as the roll man, which ranks lowly in the 27th percentile. However, when he popped out to the 3-point line he showed that he is still a valuable PnR player. He shot 37 percent on above the break 3-pointers and 35.2 percent on all catch-and-shoot bombs.
More importantly regarding his long-range shooting, he took a massive leap in 2018-19. In his debut campaign the season before he shot just 31.3 percent on 1.8 attempts per game, before upping those numbers to 35.3 percent on 3.1 attempts. If he could bump that up again in year three he will become one of the better 3-and-D bigs around.
Coming off a severely underrated season, it’s very unlikely that Maxi Kleber will be commanding anything more than the $9.2 million that is allocated under the Mid-Level Exception umbrella. With the Minnesota front office needing to be frugal while still adequately filling huge holes in the frontcourt, Kleber would be a fine addition on both sides of the ball.
The downside is he is a restricted free agent, meaning the Mavericks can match any offer, but let’s hope he garners some consideration this summer.