So here's an interesting look at how the first 20 games of an NBA season have translated into full-season success in recent years via John Schuhmann, who works in advanced stats for NBA.com:
Schumann went back and looked at the records of every NBA team through 20 games for the past 10 full (82-game) seasons. He lumped all the teams that were 12-8 together, as well as all the teams 6-14 or worse, while teams with win totals in between were sorted solely by that single win total.
The takeaway: 102 teams in those 10 seasons have had at least 12 victories through 20 games. And 98 of them have reached the postseason.
Broken down by conference, 60 of 63 West teams (95 percent) and 38 of 39 East teams (97 percent) who were at least 12-8 after 20 games made the playoffs.
In the West, 60 percent of teams with 11 wins made the playoffs. After that, the odds dipped below 40 percent. In the East, which hasn't been as strong in recent years, there is more grace for a poor start as teams with 9, 10 and 11 wins at this point still reached the playoffs about two-thirds of the time. At eight wins or fewer, there was a steep drop-off (around 20 percent) in both conferences.
If you believe in history as an accurate predictor of the future and you happen to root for the Timberwolves, these are significant numbers. Entering Tuesday's home game against the Wizards, Minnesota was 12-8. So the history of the past decade suggests the Wolves are near-locks to reach the postseason this year.
The Wolves have only been above .500 once in the past 10 seasons through 20 games, and they, of course, missed the playoffs that year (as they have every year starting with 2004-05).
That said, there are other mitigating circumstances. If we go just beyond the 10 full-season window, we find the 2005-06 Wolves. They, too, started 12-8 before fading quickly and finishing 33-49 — well out of playoff contention.
This year's Wolves were right at 12 wins through 20 games, and you'll recall that the 98 of 102 figure is for teams with 12 or more wins. That includes teams at or near the threshold but also includes teams like the 2015-16 Warriors, who started the year 20-0. It stands to reason that teams with several wins more than 12 help tilt the odds of the "12 or more" group.
It's also notable that the West, which already has been tough, got even stronger in the offseason. The Wolves certainly improved by adding Jimmy Butler and several other players, but so did Houston and Oklahoma City. Golden State and San Antonio are still formidable.
Other teams are on the rise. The Wolves are on close to a 50-win pace, and 41 was good enough to get the final seed last year in the West. It's trending that way this year, but there's no guarantee that's how things will finish up.
That said, being 12-8 was certainly better than being 6-14 (as the Wolves were last year) or 8-12 (as they were two years ago). They've been 4-16 or worse three times in the past 10 years (and you'd think they had a similar record this year for all the grousing you hear from fans).
At least as they fight their own playoff history, the Wolves have some leaguewide playoff history on their side.