Let's talk about Maxi Kleber

Plus: Some thoughts after the trade deadline

Welcome back to A Farewell to Takes, our quick trip around the NBA and WNBA. Luka Dončić visited 342 headquarters to record the latest episode of The Old Man and the Three. He even tried out our golf sim. (I want a re-do.)

The Old Man and the Three Things is back this week with Tim Legler, and we’re talking about Kawhi, the Cavs, and Brandon Miller.

On this week’s A Farewell to Takes:

  • Nekias Duncan of The Dunker Spot shares Volume 15 of his series, Screen Time

  • Steve Jones Jr. of The Dunker Spot on post trade deadline thoughts

  • Tommy on the BTTALW (Best Thing Tommy Ate Last Week)

Thanks, as always, for reading! —JJ

Screen Time, Vol. 15: Maxi Kleber

Offenses have never been more lethal than they are in this era. With primary ball-handlers becoming larger, the collective shooting range expanding and teams leaning further into the importance of spacing, it’s becoming even more difficult to keep the ball out of the basket.

With the game expanding, screening has become even more important. A well-placed off-ball pick can free a movement shooter for a triple or a catch-and-drive. On-ball screens can make shifty ball-handlers even harder to deal with in pick-and-roll and open the door for dump-offs, lobs and fruitful catch-and-shoot opportunities.

Screeners come in all sizes these days, ranging from the burly centers to mismatch-causing smalls. I can’t overstate how important guard-screening has become, especially late in games.

This season, I want to keep tabs on who is — and isn’t — getting the job done as screeners. Every week, I’ll be highlighting a handful of the most powerful or shameful screen-setters in the league.

Let’s get into volume 15. All stats are from February 5th onward, unless otherwise noted.

Screener of the Week: Mavs big Maxi Kleber

Don't look now, but the Mavericks have won four in a row and find themselves a game behind the Pelicans for the 6th seed. Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving have naturally led the charge during the run, and there's a new wave of excitement flowing through the fanbase with the acquisitions of Daniel Gafford (19 & 9 in his debut on Saturday) and PJ Washington (14 & 5). Quietly chugging along — and healthy again! — is Maxi Kleber, who's had to start the last five games while rookie revelation Dereck Lively II has been out.

Kleber's done what's been asked of him: screen his tail off, knock down open shots, finish at or above the rim when required, and hit the open man if one of the stars trust him with a short-roll opportunity. I've enjoyed his screening as of late, and the short-roll passing has really popped on top of that.

Among 35 players to set at least 50 on-ball screens last week, Kleber ranked in the top five in screen contact rate (69.8, 3rd) and die-on-screen contact rate (6.4, 2nd) per Second Spectrum. Overall, the Mavericks generated over 1.27 points per possession (PPP) on trips featuring an on-ball screen set by Kleber; that ranked 4th among that player pool.

Lively II is reportedly close to returning to the lineup, so I'm sure we'll see some sort of dip in minutes from Kleber soon. In the meantime, it's worth tipping the cap to him for his efforts.

Stray Thoughts:

  • Your most productive on-ball screener this week, minimum of 50 picks set? Knicks big Precious Achiuwa (57 picks, 1.34 PPP). You won't mistake him for Steven Adams (get well soon!), but Achiuwa has done a better job of generating contact while remaining a violent roll/slip option. I had a lot of fun with his Pacers film in particular last week.

  • In the Inverted Division, quick shout outs to Russell Westbrook (16 picks, 1.79 PPP; a lot of mismatch-feeding with some short-roll fun mixed in), Kyrie Irving (16 picks, 1.43 PPP; warmed my heart watching him and Luka play off each other against the Knicks), Steph Curry (26 picks, 1.2 PPP; ranked 5th in die-on-screen contact rate among 124 players to set 15 screens this week), Buddy Hield (34 picks, most set by a guard this week), and Corey Kispert (24 picks, 0.96 PPP; ghost + Pistol Gawd ... we see your effort, big dawg.)


How some pieces are fitting after the trade deadline

The NBA trade deadline has come and gone. What the annual tradition may have lacked in its signature star sizzle, it delivered in substance. Going into the deadline, I wondered how much the shift to acquiring talent via trade in the offseason would change the actual trade deadline. Talented players were available; teams had needs but how many partners could they find in the same boat? Was there a move to be made that would really elevate a team right now? With some debuts having already taken place, you can see how much teams valued fit, opportunity and context when it came to upgrading their teams.

The New York Knicks made what felt like the “loudest” deal in acquiring Bojan Bogdanović and Alec Burks. Adding more shooting, scoring, and size into the room felt like it gave the Knicks even more depth and lineup versatility heading into the postseason. According to the league’s tracking data, both Bogdanovic and Burks are at 40% or above on catch and shoot 3’s, very valuable considering how teams tend to defend both Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle.

The move became even more important with the news that OG Anunoby would miss at least 3 weeks with an elbow injury. That’s in addition to Julius Randle who is also on the shelf, the focus goes to how the talent upgrade will help them in the short term. With more teams sending help, traps or doubles vs. Brunson, they can space the floor and make teams pay. The duo can also boost the Knicks second unit lineups offensively. Burks had 22 points in 22 minutes in his return to the Garden, his scoring and self creating filling a void for the Knicks. Bogdanović’s debut felt like the Knicks using his spacing to keep pressure on the Pacers defense as they showed help vs. Brunson. Stashing him in the corner to punish defenses once they sent help or doubled. I’d expect the usage to continue to grow, but his ability to also drive closeouts should be key.

The Dallas Mavericks probably felt the most instant impact when it came to their debuts with PJ Washington and Daniel Gafford showing how they can aid the Mavs down the stretch. Gafford’s ability to roll, rebound and finish felt like a strong fit in Dallas and did not disappoint (19 points, 9 rebounds in 17 minutes). His first sequence featured a seal and a lob from Luka, working to contain a drive in pick and roll, closing out to a shooter and rim running in transition. Fits right in.

With PJ Washington my eyes went to the context in Dallas and the little things. Next to Luka and his ability to force rotations and help no matter what the scheme is, a certain skill set is valued. What can you do with the advantage that’s created? Can you knock down enough shots to keep the defense honest, can you drive closeouts to keep the advantage going? He showcased flashes in the first half (on top of being used as a screener) but there was a sequence in the third quarter that stood out to me because it showcased both new Mavericks. Gafford screens for Luka, the defense helps on his roll, a kick to Washington gets a 3. The next time down the court, Gafford screens for Tim Hardaway Jr, the defense once again helps on the roll. This time when Washington gets the kick he drove the closeout and finished in the paint. Gafford’s ability to roll for Dallas and Washington being able to make defenses pay just adds to what Dallas has tried to build.

The Sixers added Buddy Hield for their stretch run, his shooting and spacing felt key for the Sixers especially with Joel Embiid out with injury. If Embiid is able to return that is a lot of spacing the Sixers can add if teams send help and doubles. With Embiid out, the value may be in his movement helping to open the playbook up as the Sixers search for offense (and defenses lock in on Tyrese Maxey). His scoring ability forces defenses to remain honest, a few on ball reps were able to engage the defense and open rolls. Being able to use both he and Maxey in Floppy action is a nice way to keep the defense engaged while opening space for Maxey. The big plus was Hield’s ability to screen for Maxey on ball, something we saw Hield have success with in Indiana. The Sixers were able to keep both wings clear and the split second decision between working to switch, Hield slipping and Maxey driving opened the lane for Maxey. Feels very key to get Maxey downhill without having size at the top or two on the ball.

These debuts are a reminder of how talent can fit with different pieces to have a different impact. It’s easy to point to a player’s flaws or lack of production, it’s a little tougher to understand why that might be the case. At times, there can be a difference between what a player can do and what a team needs that player to do. Sometimes all you need is a change in context to shine the proper light on those little things and the impact they can bring. —Steve

This week, Luka Dončić joined JJ on The Old Man and the Three to talk about his 73-point game, playing with Jalen Brunson, the most insane moment of his career, and much more. And we even got him to participate in our new weekly social series. OM3 correspondent Jalen Williams also joined the show for a check-in before a draft of the best post-game spots. (The check-in is available on audio and video, but the draft is video-only.)

YouTube | Wondery+ | Apple Podcasts | Spotify | wherever you listen to your podcasts

Best Thing Tommy Ate Last Week: Lobster Ravioli at Carbone

Tyrese was in town Friday night, and we went to the OG Carbone in Greenwich Village with Mikal. Everybody talks about the spicy rigatoni, and deservedly so. The Caesar is still elite, as are the baked clams and branzino. But the lobster ravioli was my favorite dish of the night and a must get if you're there in NY, Vegas, or Miami. —Tommy

Carbone | Instagram | 181 Thompson St, New York, NY 10012

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