Call an NBA team surprisingly good, and you'll subject yourself to the wrath of diehard message-board posters and team-site experts who knew all along that the squad they refer to as "we" was going to be better than everyone expected. Never mind that these tinfoil-hat-wearing types think their team, or "we," is always a playoff lock.

That's a risk we have to take as we try to pin down which NBA teams have most exceeded expectations from (and this is key) an objective perspective.

Preseason over/under win totals offer a good proxy for those expectations, but we won't just run down the list of squads on pace to beat their numbers by the largest margin. That said, it's notable that four of the five clubs featured here have already blown past those win totals.

We'll take more of a macro approach to assess the difference between where each of these teams theoretically should have been in the standings and where they actually are. Rebuilders and contenders for a top-three playoff spot are on equal footing here.

All that matters is the degree to which these teams have upended expectations in a positive way.

We already handled disappointments, so let's focus on the most pleasant surprises of the 2022-23 NBA season.


5. Orlando Magic

A step forward was never out of the question for the Orlando Magic, who added Paolo Banchero to a strong collection of young talent and figured to get former top prospect Jonathan Isaac back at some point during the season after a multi-year injury hiatus. And if you only look at the Magic's season as a whole, a step forward is all they seem to have taken.

At 26-37 and almost certainly too far from a play-in spot to make a run, the Magic are still a bad team—but one that could add as many as 10 wins to last year's total of 22. That's respectable progress, and the upside is undeniable with Banchero running away with Rookie of the Year and Franz Wagner and Wendell Carter Jr. profiling as quality long-term starters.

That's all with a 5-20 start dragging down the full-season figures. Focus on Orlando's more recent stretch, though, and you might find a case to rank this group even higher.

Since Dec. 7, the Magic are 21-17. Road wins against the Golden State Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers, Philadelphia 76ers and Minnesota Timberwolves stand out in that highly successful chunk of the season, as do home victories over the Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets, two teams that could very well meet in the Finals.

You don't typically see so many high-profile wins from a club giving at least 1,000 minutes to six players 24 or younger.

Orlando still needs better guard play. Markelle Fultz looks more like a solid starter than at any point in his career, but Jalen Suggs still can't put the ball in the basket and Cole Anthony profiles as a sixth man.

That they've had so much success with young forwards Banchero (20) and Wagner (21) shouldering a lot of the playmaking load suggests the Magic could become one of the best offensive teams in basketball with better shooting in the backcourt.

That's a topic for another time. Right now, the Magic have one of the most promising rebuilds out there. Don't be shocked if these guys rise above the play-in fray as early as next season, with the added bonus of two more lottery picks coming on board in this year's draft.