The Minnesota Timberwolves have their sights set on a playoff spot, and, ideally, avoiding the play-in tournament altogether. But ESPN’s BPI rankings give the Wolves a legitimate shot at actually winning the NBA title.
ESPN’s BPI places Timberwolves No. 12 in title chance rankings
The Timberwolves franchise has only made the playoffs one time in the last 17 seasons and has only advanced beyond the first round once in 32 seasons.
Given that knowledge, it’s absurd to discuss the Timberwolves title odds in 2022. Right?
According to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI), however, the Wolves should at least be in the conversation (subscription required). And it’s not so much their overall rank that’s shocking, it’s some of the teams that they’re ahead of on the list.
What is ESPN’s Basketball Power Index?
ESPN’s BPI attempts to encapsulate, well … everything. Here’s the definition that is given on their website:
"ESPN’s NBA Basketball Power Index (BPI) is a measure of team strength developed by the ESPN Analytics team. BPI is meant to be the best predictor of a team’s performance for the rest of the season. BPI represents how many points above or below average a team is. BPI accounts for game-by-game efficiency, strength of schedule, pace, days of rest, game location and preseason expectations."
In other words, it essentially ignores a team’s win-loss record and instead focuses on the peripheral numbers, including the quality of opponents that a team has already faced and the quality of future opponents on the schedule.
Notably, the Wolves’ Expected (or Pythagorean) Win-Loss record is 23-21 according to Basketball-Reference, which is a full two games better than their actual mark. Pythagorean win totals are influenced by point differential, suggesting that the Wolves may have had some bad luck in close games and/or has had some impressive blowout wins along the way this season.
The Timberwolves rank ahead of the Nets, Bulls, and Lakers
As noted above, BPI attempts to predict future performance based on numerous factors. That means that it’s assuming some regression for teams that may be outperforming their peripherals to this point in the season.
The Wolves’ ranking of No. 12 in BPI at the above link is somewhat surprising, sure, but the more shocking piece here is some of the teams that the Wolves are ahead of on the list (subscription required).
BPI gives the Wolves a three percent chance of winning the NBA Finals. That’s ahead of the Brooklyn Nets (2.6 percent), Chicago Bulls (2.3 percent), and Los Angeles Lakers (1.0 percent).
The Bulls and Nets are the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, carrying 27-14 and 27-15 records, respectively. The reason why their percentages are a bit lower is that there are more clearly solid teams in the East, while the Western Conference is more top-heavy due to juggernauts such as the Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors, and Utah Jazz.
Again, there are multiple factors at play here. BPI is not saying that the Wolves are better than the Nets or the Bulls, simply that they’ve been underperforming their peripherals and their path to the Finals would be a bit less muddles than the top teams in the East.
The Lakers, for their part, have the same 21-22 record as the Timberwolves. Of course, they also have LeBron James and Anthony Davis, so it’s a bit of a surprise to see them a full two percentage points below the Wolves in title odds.
As of now, the Wolves have the tiebreaker edge of the Lakers, winning two of the three games the teams have played to this point in the season. The all-important fourth matchup won’t come until March 16.
If nothing else, it’s refreshing to see the Wolves as obviously relevant in the playoff — and, according to BPI, championship — conversation after being largely absent for much of the past two decades.
It’s obviously highly unlikely that this is a championship team this season, but that doesn’t mean we can’t dream. And now, ESPN’s BPI is sayin’ that there’s a chance…