Orlando Magic stuck in between: Eastern Conference Power Rankings

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Jalen Suggs, Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers
Jalen Suggs has not quite burst out with stardom in his rookie year. But he still figures to be key to the Orlando Magic’s future. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports /

Preseason Eastern Conference Power Rankings

The Bottom with Hope

Indiana Pacers. 13. team. 100. . .

Usually, the bottom three teams in the conference are thinking about ping pong balls. Usually, they are doing it even before the season starts. And in the back of their mind, they may already be pondering the 2023 NBA Draft as part of their plans.

Yet, the teams at the bottom of the Eastern Conference seem to have direction. And all three of these teams we have left to discuss can all believe they are capable of making the playoffs even if they ultimately understand they are likely to settle at the bottom of the standings.

The Pacers seem like the likeliest candidate to sink to the bottom. Indiana seemed like the team finally submitted to a rebuild.

But this is still a Rick Carlisle-coached team. The Pacers should still defend well and be competitive. Organizationally, Indiana does not believe in tanking and they have personnel and staff that are not going to let this team slip to that reality without a fight.

They have some solid young veterans in Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield and Myles Turner. All three can catch fire and carry the team to a better record than anyone expects.

Newcomer Bennedict Mathurin was a fantastic pick-up in the draft to add another scorer.

What Indiana lacks right now is depth. If anyone gets hurt, the whole thing might topple. And the Pacers might well decide to further dive into a rebuild with other trades down the line.

But the Pacers have a good place to start. And that franchise is rarely down for long. If this is a down year for them, it is not likely to last long.

14. team. 38. . . . Orlando Magic

An Orlando Magic blog is putting its team in the penultimate spot in a conference power rankings. Before the homers come with their pitch forks, let’s be clear that I am still really optimistic about this team. I think the Magic could easily outperform their expectations and make a playoff push if everything comes together.

I could easily see the Magic falling just short of the Play-In Tournament and finishing ahead of teams like the New York Knicks or Washington Wizards. I could easily see this team finishing alongside teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers and Charlotte Hornets. As I mentioned, the Magic’s pie-in-the-sky goal is to reach the level those two teams hit last year.

It should be clear from reading how quickly things can tip one way or the other that the difference between a disappointing 25-win season and a surprising 40-win season is not very much. It is a little kick of confidence, a hot streak at the right time or one player taking an unexpected step forward. Just as a bad injury or a player regression can send a team tumbling down the standings.

We do not know what the season will hold or which teams will rise or fall.

It feels like the Magic will be a team on the rise. They should improve from their 22-win season last year.

But the reason Orlando is sitting at the bottom of these power rankings is twofold.

First, the Magic are still an incredibly young team. There is a lack of certainty of what they can do.

That does not damper the optimism that comes from the growth of young players like Franz Wagner or Paolo Banchero. But nobody knows what anyone will get from these players.

The uncertainty of youth is why nobody is willing to bet on this team making that leap, even if they acknowledge it could. If Banchero arrives and is a superstar from day one, that changes everything. But nobody can say for sure he will be that kind of immediate impact rookie.

Second, the rest of the Eastern Conference just seems to be a lot smarter. There are few teams seemingly on the decline — the New York Knicks especially stick out like a sore thumb, but the Chicago Bulls are in a weird spot too.

Overall the competition in the Eastern Conference is just a whole lot better. And that is going to make it tougher to climb the ladder.

But the difference between teams in the middle of the conference is not going to be great. And it will not be difficult for the teams at the bottom like the Magic to climb up that rung.

15. team. 64. . . . Detroit Pistons

Someone has to be last. That is kind of the lesson of this bottom rung of the Eastern Conference. Everyone has a reason to be optimistic and excited about their future and barring a complete collapse or development regression, these teams are not going to be too upset with how things shake out.

The Detroit Pistons are not going to be a bad team. They have a lot of reasons to be excited — most of it centering around Cade Cunningham but a special shout out to Saddiq Bey. There is something to build in Detroit.

But the Pistons are even younger than the Magic somehow. At least all their key players are.

Detroit has a great collection of prospects — the Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren picks were great additions from this year’s Draft. Signing Nerlens Noel was a good veteran addition to shore up the defense (although it clutters the center position with Isaiah Jackson there in addition to Jalen Duren).

The Pistons have the making of something.

But, honestly, the Detroit Pistons seem like a bigger mish-mash of players and talent than the Orlando Magic are. The Pistons have Cunningham which is a great start, but there is not a lot of depth or veteran leadership. It is just a lot of young players that are still going to seek direction.

The Pistons got the No. 1 pick a year before the Magic, but it still seems like they are trying to figure out which direction they are trying to go.

Orlando is too, but Orlando seems to have more pieces solidly in place. It would not surprise me if the Magic are in the playoffs ahead of the Pistons. Not that the Pistons cannot make up that ground quickly.

Next. Orlando Magic power forwards can help Paolo Banchero. dark

But it should show how exciting it is for the league that the “worst” two teams in the Eastern Conference have a lot to be excited about in the short- and long-term.