The Timberwolves felt, albeit briefly, the impact of being without one of their best players earlier this season when Jimmy Butler missed back-to-back games due to illness. Without Butler, they are 0-2; with him, they are 9-3.
More consistently this season, though, the Wolves have felt the benefit of having a squad that is at full strength or close to it as compared to their opponents. Butler's two games are the only ones missed by a starter so far, while reserve big man Gorgui Dieng's three missed games (and counting) are the only reserve minutes they have been without.
By contrast, they have already defeated a Miami squad missing Hassan Whiteside and a Charlotte team without Nicolas Batum, and in their past two games, they have knocked off Utah minus Rudy Gobert and San Antonio minus both Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker.
They missed out on chances to defeat the similarly depleted Spurs earlier in the season and the Warriors without Kevin Durant, but those absences at least gave them a better chance to win in theory.
Some of this is the luck of the draw. But some of it is also a benefit of the Wolves' roster construction. In the battle of attrition that is the NBA, the Wolves have a real strength in numbers.
Consider: Only 17 players in the NBA played all 82 games last season, and three of them were Wolves: Dieng, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. Two others, Jamal Crawford and Jeff Teague, joined the Wolves in the offseason.
So five of the 17 players who didn't miss any games last season are now on the Wolves, and all five have a history of being at least relatively durable (Dieng's finger injury ended a streak of 175 consecutive games played).
Beyond those iron five, Butler appeared in 76 games last season and has played in at least 65 each of the past five seasons — including all 82 once. Taj Gibson, who also joined the Wolves in the offseason, played in 78 games last year and has twice played in all 82. Shabazz Muhammad, who returned as a free agent, appeared in 78 games last season and all 82 the year before.
As Patrick Reusse noted recently, former Vikings coach Bud Grant believed that durability is as important as ability when it comes to athletes.
The track records of these Wolves players don't guarantee anything about the future, but they do suggest that Tom Thibodeau inherited a durable group and built around them with other durable players.
These Wolves clearly have plenty of ability as well. That's a pretty good combination when it comes to trying to get back into the playoffs for the first time since 2004.