Roundtable: Best PG in the East?
To some observers, Devin Harris has emerged as the East's top point guard
The playoff picture in the Western Conference already is coming into focus
The 76ers and Raptors are seeking turnarounds after sluggish starts
SI.com NBA writers analyze the latest news and address hot topics from around the league each week. (All stats and records are through Monday's games.)
1. In the previous two seasons, Jason Kidd, Chauncey Billups and Gilbert Arenas are the only three point guards to make the All-Star team in the Eastern Conference. Kidd and Billups are no longer in the conference and Arenas has been sidelined all season with a knee injury. Who is the best active point guard in the East right now?
Ian Thomsen: New Jersey's Devin Harris. Not only is he putting up All-Star numbers far beyond expectations, but also his leadership has turned the Nets into an early 11-8 playoff contender. This is a team that was expected (by me, at least) to finish last in the conference. Right now, I'd list the three All-Star point guards in the East as Harris, Chicago's Derrick Rose and Boston's Rajon Rondo, with Toronto's Jose Calderon marginalized (despite his excellent numbers) because his team is underperforming.
Jack McCallum: Let me get all the grizzled vets mad at me right away: The Bulls' Rose is the best point guard in the East. Right now! Next comes the only guy with a ring, Rondo. Wrestling for third and fourth places are the improving Harris and Calderon. The greatest player among them, of course, is Detroit's Allen Iverson, a future Hall of Famer. But I've never been able to honestly says the phrase point guard Allen Iverson. It just isn't his position even though he plays it.
Chris Mannix: The competition is stiff, but my vote goes to Harris, who has been close to unstoppable since Nets coach Lawrence Frank revamped the offense to take advantage of the point guard's penetrating abilities. He has six 30-plus point scoring games (after having none in the previous four years) and joins with Vince Carter to form the NBA's highest-scoring backcourt. And it's not as though his numbers are coming at the expense of his team: The Nets, picked by everyone with a pulse to finish at the bottom of the conference, are one of the league's biggest surprise stories.
Steve Aschburner: I've been an Andre Miller man from way back, dating to his All-America playmaking days at Utah under Rick Majerus. That's why I'm baffled by his lagging assists average and inaccurate shooting -- adding Elton Brand to the Sixers should free Miller more than ever to pass more and get better scoring opportunities. I'll attribute it for now to a long learning curve and count on seeing, at age 32, some vintage Miller over the season's next three quarters.
2. True or false: At the season's quarter pole the Western Conference playoff race is already down to nine teams, with no hope for Memphis, Golden State, Sacramento, Minnesota, the Clippers and Oklahoma City.
Thomsen: True. Those six teams are already at least six games behind Nos. 7 and 8 Dallas and San Antonio (who are tied at 11-8), and -- even worse -- nine games below .500. I can't imagine any of these teams executing the kind of blockbuster trade needed to turn their season right side up. The Clippers were the one team geared to win now, and they've already reacted to their bad start by trading for Zach Randolph. But they'll have to go 37-24 just to get back to .500, and even that will probably leave them short of the playoffs. The season-long race is going to be far more interesting in the East, where the No. 14 Bobcats are only 2½ games out of the No. 8 spot.
McCallum: Oh, so true! You know, with all the talk about how good the best teams in the West are, what we've suddenly overlooked is how absolutely execrable the bottom teams are. Certainly, based on past performance, logic would say the Warriors can go on a tear. But I don't see it.
Mannix: True. A very good team in the West will be left out of the playoff picture, but it will be only one. All six of the aforementioned teams are in full rebuilding mode and have no hope of competing for a playoff berth. The Warriors may get a bounce after Monta Ellis comes back, but coach Don Nelson has been telling reporters that he doesn't believe Golden State is a playoff team this year.
Aschburner: True. Sad, too. Golden State is by far the biggest disappointment, some of it -- but not all of it -- attributable to losing Baron Davis (permanently) and Ellis (temporarily). The Clippers are a close second in underachieving. And those two are the "bridge'' teams, the only ones that were really capable at the season's start of breaking through. The others can have their own little lottery competition, but pardon us if we don't check back until May.
NBA Truth & Rumors