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The NBA’s COVID-19 safety protocols means roster depth matters for the 2020-21 Dallas Mavericks

This season presents a unique challenge.

LA Clippers v Dallas Mavericks - Game Six Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The 2020-21 season is going to be a grind. This cannot be stated often enough as the off-season barrels right into the regular season. The Dallas Mavericks played their last playoff game on August 30 and will start training camp tomorrow, on December 1. For those who aren’t great a math, that’s 91 days off.

The whirlwind of an off-season resulted in a bit of compartmentalization in what is ahead for the Mavericks this year. Between the draft and free agency, it’s fair to say the Dallas Mavericks are a better team on paper than the team that limped into the bubble and took the Los Angeles Clippers to six games. Dallas is better at the top of the rotation, with Josh Richardson and perhaps James Johnson bringing both size and much needed toughness. The draft brings Josh Green, perhaps Tyler Bey at times, and hopefully some Tyrell Terry minutes. The Mavericks have options, but the question remains as to if they’re deep enough.

The NBA hopes to cram 72 games into under 150 days, a pace at which most current NBA rosters aren’t tuned for. In recent years, the league has worked to stretch out 82 games from mid-October to mid-April, giving players and teams more rest between games and limiting back-to-backs. With a pending financial shortfall due to limited or no crowds at games for the foreseeable future, the league must play this amount of games to hit contractual markers in terms of game volume to receive their payments from broadcast partners.

Which is all to note that more games in fewer days could pose a challenge for teams as the season wears on. Heading into the season, Dallas will have two players on the main roster with known injury issues resulting in the need for rest days: Kristaps Porzingis and Dwight Powell. This fails to mention that MVP candidate Luka Doncic will also likely see rest days if not games outright missed due to injury as a result of how he plays he game of basketball. Luka would likely rather eat glass than sit out games when he feels he’s healthy, but in his rookie season he missed 10 games due to various injuries like a sore knee and hip. Last season, he missed 21 games with two separate ankle sprains. Like it or not, we might have to pencil in Luka missing at the very least a handful of games every season thanks to bumps and bruises he endures with his physical play.

None of this takes into account the NBA’s recently released health and safety protocols dealing with COVID-19. Any positive test results in a player missing a minimum 12 days. Assuming a game is played every other day during the season, that’s six games on average which accounts to just over eight percent of the season.

If the NFL and MLB were any indicator, it’s not a matter of if players test positive, but when.

The NBA has responded to this by changing the way two-way contracts work and now players on those contracts can spend up to 50 games with their NBA team during the upcoming season. The league understands roster depth should be valuable this season. The Dallas Mavericks need to understand that as well.

Dallas heads into training camp with 16 players under contract, one more than they are allowed to carry heading into the season. The recent decision to award longtime veteran J.J. Barea to a one-year, $2.6 million guaranteed contract resulted in a fair amount of consternation from our staff on social media. The aforementioned need for roster depth is a key reason why. The Dallas Mavericks have three players prone to missing games (Porzingis, Powell, Doncic) and one player in Boban Marjanovic who is a situational player at best. Using another roster spot on Barea is a luxury the team doesn’t have and that’s before considering the ramifications of a potential COVID-19 issue (Someone tell Boban to order take out or delivery please).

The NBA season presents so many challenges, a great number of which are unpredictable. But given what’s known about the upcoming one, it’s possible to prepare for some, one of which is roster depth. Yes, normally the 14th or 15th man on the roster doesn’t matter, but this upcoming season will be anything but normal. A group that wants to join the contending teams conversation can afford to do no less than use every spot wisely.