NBA Power Rankings, Week 5: Do You Believe In Magic?

The Orlando Magic came into the 2023-24 season with optimism that they could take a step forward this season behind an exciting young core. For most, the expectation was they’d be a factor in the East Play-In chase, but more than a month into the season that seems to be selling this team short.

The Magic are currently tied with the Bucks and Sixers for second in the East at 12-5 thanks to an active 7-game winning streak. Paolo Banchero has built on a Rookie of the Year campaign to continue improving as an all-around player, scoring far more efficiently this year, playing within the flow of the offense, and taking serious strides on the defensive end of the floor. He stars alongside Franz Wagner in the frontcourt, and those two create a mismatch most nights for opposing wing defenders as they are too strong for smaller defenders and too quick and skilled for most bigger defenders.

What’s most impressive about the Magic’s current run of play is nothing feels particularly unsustainable. This isn’t a hot shooting streak propelling them to wins (they’re still 27th in the NBA in three-point percentage at 34.0 percent as a team), but a young team showing positive development and finding itself as a collective. Banchero and Wagner were expected to have strong seasons and were the reason many felt Orlando could take a step up into the East Play-In picture. However, there were plenty of questions about the roster around those two, namely what they would get out of their guards.

Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs have answered those questions with a terrific start to the season. Anthony has continued to emerge as a terrific sixth man, bringing some needed energy and scoring juice to the Orlando second unit, while Suggs is enjoying his first healthy season in the league and has found his own offensive rhythm to go along with tremendous point of attack defense. Over the Magic’s 7-game winning streak, those two are combining for 30.6 points and 7.8 assists per game on solid shooting (with just 4.3 combined turnovers) and simply having some floor balance on offense has opened things up for Orlando.

The Magic have been one of the league’s best defensive squads all season, but the offense has picked it up over their win streak, with a 116.5 offensive rating in the last seven games. While that might not be lighting the world on fire, it’s a considerable improvement on the 109.9 ORtg they had in their first 10 games, and when coupled with the third-best defensive rating in the NBA, it’s more than enough to get the job done.

Mosley and his staff deserve a lot of credit for the work they’ve done in instilling strong principles on both ends of the floor with a young team, and shaping those principles to this team’s strengths. On the defensive end they wreak havoc with their length, ranking second in the league in steals, but manage to get those without being overly aggressive and giving up easy baskets. Balancing discipline with aggression is an incredibly difficult thing to get a team to do, particularly one as young as the Magic, but they do it better than almost anyone else right now.

On offense, Orlando’s roster is not filled with shooters, but they make up for that by attacking the rim relentlessly and not trying to force it from deep (27th in three-point rate to go along with 27th in three-point percentage). The Magic are second in the league in free throw attempts per game, as Banchero, Wagner, Anthony, and Suggs are all very adept at getting downhill and drawing contact on drives, which helps make up for some shooting inconsistency. At some point they’ll get reinforcements from Wendell Carter Jr. and Markelle Fultz, who both also provide more paint pressure to defenses, and while it’s not the most dynamic offense, they don’t try to be something they’re not.

While the Magic may not win at this same rate all season, nothing about what they’re doing to start the season feels fluky. They have two young stars in Wagner and Banchero, who each have proven to be comfortable taking on the responsibility of creating a big shot in the fourth quarter. While shooting is still a question, the concerns about the guard rotation have been mostly alleviated by the play of Anthony and Suggs, and as a team they’re as good defensively as any team in the league.

Where do the Magic find themselves in this week’s DIME Power Rankings? Let’s find out…

1. Minnesota Timberwolves (12-4, Last week: 1)

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Minnesota continues to smother teams defensively and while they did drop one in Sacramento, they also beat Philly (and, less impressively, Memphis) this week to keep hold on the top spot. Karl-Anthony Towns, despite his slow start, is now up over 50/40/90 shooting and seems firmly back to being himself on offense again.

2. Orlando Magic (12-5, Last week: 7)

The Magic are legitimately good. I’m not sure they’re No. 2 team in the league good, but they’re about to get the Wizards in back-to-back games at home to keep the good vibes rolling.

3. Boston Celtics (13-4, Last week: 3)

The Celtics got thumped by Orlando, but otherwise took care of business against the Bucks and Hawks this week. Their three-point shooting has dropped off some (18th in the NBA at 35.6 percent) after a red-hot start, but that they keep winning games is a good sign that there’s a baseline even when the threes aren’t raining down.

4. Milwaukee Bucks (12-5, Last week: 4)

The Bucks insist on playing close games no matter the opponent. They lost by three to the Celtics and then beat the Wizards and Blazers by a combined nine points (needing a massive comeback against Portland). Still, they’re winning games they need to, even with Khris Middleton out with Achilles soreness, and continue to show glimpses at an incredibly high ceiling.

5. Philadelphia 76ers (12-5, Last week: 8)

The Sixers destroyed the Lakers on Monday night, and they look like an offensive juggernaut right now. Tyrese Maxey and Joel Embiid are as good as it gets as a scoring tandem in the NBA, and they are incredibly deep right now on their bench. A fun small-sample (but not all that small) stat is that the Sixers have a 155 offensive rating in the 240 minutes Nicolas Batum has played, per Basketball-Reference.

6. Oklahoma City Thunder (11-5, Last week: 2)

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The Thunder narrowly lost to the Sixers this week, but this is a team that continues to prove it belongs in the same tier as the rest of the league’s contenders. We are 20 percent of the way through the season and they’re top-6 in both offensive and defensive rating. That’ll do.

7. Phoenix Suns (11-6, Last week: 12)

The Suns are 8-1 when Devin Booker plays this year, including an active 7-game winning streak. They have the NBA’s best offense over that stretch as there are no answers for Booker and Kevin Durant when they’ve got it going the way they do right now — not only as scorers, but playmakers for the rest of the team.

8. Denver Nuggets (12-6, Last week: 6)

The Nuggets somehow beat the Clippers on the road without Nikola Jokic, Aaron Gordon, and Jamal Murray on Monday. I feel like that says more about L.A. than Denver, but for a team that’s been awful with the bench unit, that win might spark a little something for the second squad. Also helping the cause is Murray’s expected return to the lineup this week, which should put them back on track.

9. Sacramento Kings (9-6, Last week: 9)

The Kings beat the Wolves in an impressive showing this week, and the ceiling on this Sacramento team is still very high. The problem is the floor is also pretty low on some nights and if they can just raise their base level they would be an even bigger threat in the West.

10. Miami Heat (10-7, Last week: 5)

Miami destroyed the Cavs and then forgot how to play offense against the Knicks and Nets in a two-game set in New York (the latter coming without Jimmy or Bam playing). When those two are on the court, though, this team can play with just about anyone, and we’ll see if they can get back on track with a big homestand against Milwaukee and Indiana.

11. Los Angeles Lakers (10-8, Last week: 11)

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The Lakers continue to tread water but can’t seem to string together a really good stretch of play. Their three-point shooting is really bad (33.8 percent, 28th in the NBA) and as we all know, the one thing you really want around LeBron James is shooting. Getting some of their role guys healthy would help, but they also just need more out of guys like Austin Reaves and Taurean Prince from beyond the arc.

12. Houston Rockets (8-6, Last week: 19)

Houston is 8-1 at home this season, winning by an average of 13 points, and 0-5 on the road, losing by an average of 9 points. This week they were at home, so they went 2-0. Next week they’ll be on the road for three tough games and we’ll see if they can finally shake free of their wild home-road splits.

13. Cleveland Cavaliers (9-8, Last week: 10)

Cleveland has been better with Darius Garland back, but the offense still isn’t firing on all cylinders and the defense isn’t as good as it was a year ago to make up for it. Something’s just not quite clicking for the Cavs, but they’re doing well enough to hang around in the crowded middle of the East playoff chase.

14. New York Knicks (9-7, Last week: 14)

Jalen Brunson is playing spectacular ball this season, as he’s taken his game to another level offensively which has been much needed with Julius Randle’s early season slump. They’re about to hit a soft spot in the schedule, with Charlotte, Detroit, two games against Toronto, and Utah, and if they can get four wins out of that stretch, they can break out of the clump of teams in the middle of the East.

15. Dallas Mavericks (10-6, Last week: 16)

Dallas split their games in L.A. this week with a tight win over the Lakers and then got blown out by the Clippers. The offense was stuck in the mud for both of those games, and we’ll see if a three-game homestand can get them back on track offensively.

16. Indiana Pacers (9-7, Last week: 13)

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The Pacers offense is good enough to beat any team in the league, and their defense is bad enough to lose to any team in the league. We saw that latter point this week with losses to Toronto and Portland. If nothing else, they produce highly entertaining games, but I’m sure Rick Carlisle would like it if they were better about taking care of business against the bottom half of the league.

17. New Orleans Pelicans (9-9, Last week: 15)

The Pelicans were cruising until they ran afoul of the Jazz, losing twice to a Utah team without Lauri Markkanen. That’s a setback for the Pels after winning five of their last six, and now they have to shake that off and face the Sixers on Wednesday.

18. Atlanta Hawks (8-8, Last week: 17)

The Hawks are .500. Again. They’ve got some big games coming up this week against the Cavs, Bucks, and Nuggets (with the Spurs in the middle) and maybe, just maybe, they can put together an impressive stretch and break free from the .500 treadmill.

19. Brooklyn Nets (8-8, Last week: 20)

Brooklyn picked up a couple of wins this week to pull back up to the .500 mark, and now get a big time In-Season Tournament game on Tuesday, where a big win over Toronto would give them a chance at winning the group. This is the exact kind of team that the IST should matter to, and they should be gunning for point differential against the Raptors.

20. Toronto Raptors (8-9, Last week: 22)

Speaking of those Raptors, Toronto got a nice win over the Pacers this week, beat up the Bulls, and came up just short against Cleveland on Monday. I’m interested to see how they fare this week because the offense showed progress against Indiana and Chicago, but then again, every team looks good on offense against those two teams. Brooklyn, Phoenix, and New York should provide a better understanding of whether the Raptors are making real progress on that end or not.

21. Golden State Warriors (8-9, Last week: 21)

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I’m very excited for this coming week because the Warriors and Clippers play each other twice in a battle of two teams that are supposed to be contenders but can’t get out of their own way. Draymond Green’s return is a welcome sight for Golden State, and we’ll see if they can finally get themselves on track this year and give Steph Curry the support he needs around him on the floor.

22. Los Angeles Clippers (7-9, Last week: 18)

The Clippers were looking like a team that was figuring it out after moving Russell Westbrook to the bench, winning four of five since making the lineup change. And then they lost to the Nuggets without their three best players, getting demolished by ghosts of Clippers teams past: Reggie Jackson and DeAndre Jordan. Just a wholly unserious basketball team right now.

23. Utah Jazz (6-11, Last week: 24)

The Jazz managed to beat New Orleans in a back-to-back on the road without Lauri Markkanen as he deals with a hamstring issue. Given how Markkanen has been carrying this team, them getting a couple wins over a solid opponent without him could be big for their overall confidence. Keyonte George is steadily emerging at the point guard spot and for a team desperately in need of solid guard play, that’s a welcome sight.

24. Portland Trail Blazers (5-12, Last week: 27)

The Blazers won 2 of 3 this week and the loss was a 20+ point comeback by the Bucks. Jerami Grant and Malcolm Brogdon are both playing very well of late, Deandre Ayton’s had a couple good games and might be shaking out of his funk a bit, and Scoot Henderson is back from his injury (with goggles) so he can get back to trying to tackle the NBA learning curve. In a rebuild, it’s nice to have weeks like this just to raise spirits.

25. Charlotte Hornets (5-10, Last week: 25)

The Hornets tread water this week, beating the Wizards and losing to Orlando. They’re not good, but at this point there seems to be a gap between them and the absolute bottom tier of the NBA, which puts their floor right now in this 25 range.

26. Chicago Bulls (5-13, Last week: 23)

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It brings me no pleasure to report that this Bulls team has flat out quit. You don’t usually see an NBA team do that until at least January, but there’s just no life to this team right now.

27. Memphis Grizzlies (3-13, Last week: 26)

It is bleak in Memphis right now. Injuries continue to pile up and, like the Bulls, they just look like a team that’s given up already. The most points the Grizzlies scored in three games this week was 97, which might’ve worked in 2003 but not in 2023.

28. Washington Wizards (3-14, Last week: 29)

The Wizards dominated the Pistons on Monday night in an all-time tank matchup, as Washington proved it just has too many competent veterans. Kyle Kuzma and Danilo Gallinari were just too good, but have no fear, we still got some Jordan Poole silliness even in a blowout win.

29. San Antonio Spurs (3-14, Last week: 28)

It really says something that you can lose 12 straight games and not be in the last spot, but that is how competitive the race to the bottom is in the NBA this year. The Spurs are very bad, but, as always, everything this season is about Victor Wembanyama’s development in San Antonio and he’s been quite fun to watch.

30. Detroit Pistons (2-15, Last week: 30)

A real statement performance from the Pistons on Monday night, losing at home to the Wizards by 19 to extend their losing streak to 10 games. That have left no doubt who belongs in the 30th spot, and I really don’t know when they’ll win another game.

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