We are on NBA 2K Eve. The NBA 2K24 game comes out Friday and so we will all call in sick and lock ourselves in our rooms to get as far as we can before giving in and paying for the extra perks to make our players or teams better.
The seemingly only basketball video game on the market has become ingrained in the culture of the sport and the league — beyond just the presence of the 2K League which many teams including the Orlando Magic are directly involved in by sponsoring teams. Players obsess over their rating and their avatars just as much as fans do.
It is, at the very least, a good litmus test to see where everyone stands in the league — or maybe better, the perception of where everyone stands in the league.
Perception feels like it is everything for a team like the Orlando Magic in some ways.
The Orlando Magic have made some interesting gains looking ahead to the release of NBA 2K24 on Friday. But there is still the overarching skepticism of a young, unproven team.
There has been a lot of discussion about how small markets do not get the benefit of the doubt in national TV appearances — and increasingly earlier discussions about the star players in said “small” markets.
The Magic are fighting a perception battle as they try to climb the ranks. They are trying to prove themselves as a potential postseason team. And that appears to be where NBA 2K is coming from.
Everyone is perpetually upset about their team’s NBA 2K ratings. It is no surprise the Magic’s players are not the highest-rated in the game. Or even the players beyond their two stars in Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner are not feeling the love from the game.
It should also be no surprise the Magic are a better team in NBA 2K24 than they were in NBA 2K23. That is not going to make anyone’s frustrations with a video game any better — look, I am still starting MyTeam with the Magic, overall ratings aside.
It may not look like it, but these are serious upgrades from NBA 2K23.
Banchero started last year out as a 78 and quickly rose to an 83 in the first update during the season. Wagner started the year as an 80 and stayed on the same level for about a month.
Banchero topped off last year at 84 in December and stayed there rest of the season. Wagner topped off at 84 and dropped down to 83 to end the season.
Wendell Carter is the lone starting player on this list who decreased from his starting rating last year. He was the team’s top 2K player as an 83 last year. Markelle Fultz started last year as a 77 and so he saw a nice bump to 80 to start this year’s game.
Carter topped his year at 82 and Fultz topped his year at 82.
Even Cole Anthony got a nice bump starting this year at 79 after starting at 78. Anthony topped his year at 80 in the final update in April.
Rookies Anthony Black and Jett Howard will start the year as a 73 and 72 respectively.
The Magic had a lot of balance among its top five players with everyone hitting at least what would have been an “Emerald” (green) tier in MyTeam at some point and Banchero ending in the “Sapphire” (blue) tier. Wagner even hit it.
Magic fans might be upset that Banchero and Wagner are not ranked similarly. If anything Magic fans are most upset that Fultz is not getting more recognition and that Wagner is not on the same star track that Banchero seems to be.
For reference, Scottie Barnes, the 2022 Rookie of the Year, started the year at 84 too. As did Evan Mobley. Banchero seems on a clearer star path than those two players. But 2K is at least treating all the rookies the same. Maybe that will still upset Magic fans who think Banchero had a better rookie year than those two.
Orlando is slated to have an overall rating of 80. The team will have some balance and some potentially decent players at the back end of the bench. This is a better team and 2K clearly sees that. So in that sense, mission accomplished for Orlando.
What Orlando lacks in star power, it makes up for in some balance and depth.
Then again, who plays a video game for the team with depth and not with star power?
Still, Banchero’s improvement is starting to put him in the group of at least borderline All-Stars. That is a start for him and a sign of his progress in the national zeitgeist.
This goes with the whole notion of the Magic being a better team this year than last year. Everyone suspects Orlando will be better. They might even be a Play-In team this year. There is a sense the team is better.
But this is still a team with tons of skepticism. Banchero and Wagner have not broken through to that star tier (84 is generally a borderline All-Star). And the bench is stronger than most, but not the strongest bench group in the league.
And the team’s 2K ratings certainly suggest that there is some uncertainty about how far this team can go.
Looking at other teams in the Orlando Magic’s tier, the Chicago Bulls are expected to have three players in the Sapphire tier in Nikola Vucevic (84), Zach LaVine (86) and DeMar DeRozan (86). They are all obviously established players and former All-Stars. Those players get the benefit of the doubt.
The Bulls are slated to have an overall rating of 81. They have only Lonzo Ball in the Emerald tier and everyone else is a gold. The Magic are a more balanced and deeper team but lack the top-end star power.
Another team worth noting is the Indiana Pacers. They are seemingly expected to take a step the Magic are not taking this year with their 2K ratings. Then again, they have proven a bit more with veteran players and an All-Star in Tyrese Haliburton.
Haliburton is coming off an All-Star year and rises to an 88 rating to start the year (he finished last year at 85. And they have several solid role players in the Emerald tier with Myles Turner at 83 and Bruce Brown, Bennedict Mathurin and Buddy Hield at 80. And Brown got a good bump coming off a high-profile season winning a title with the Denver Nuggets.
Essentially it seems the thing with the Magic is that 2K is not quite ready to invest fully in Banchero and Wagner’s impending stardom. Or they need to prove themselves as potential stars before the video game gives them the credit.
And that is the general feeling about this team as a whole. Orlando has to prove itself in numerous ways to get this kind of national recognition.
The Magic will be trying to make a name for itself on the court this season in trying to climb up the standings.
Nobody should be surprised the Magic are not set to be the most popular team on NBA 2K this year. They will be doing their work on the court to make their appearance in NBA 2K25 that much better. This is just part of climbing the ladder in the league.
Orlando is taking that important step this year. That is what this season is about.
The 2K ratings probably are not a source of motivation. Not any more than the other things that have analysts cautiously optimistic about the Magic but unwilling to pull the trigger on betting on them.