Updated: December 4, 2009, 7:52 PM ET
Ron Chenoy/US PRESSWIRECarmelo Anthony has grown stronger and seems to have figured out how to avoid frustration.

1. What The Scouts Are Saying

By Marc Stein

It's a tradition here in Weekend Dimedom after every team gets 20 or so games in:

Consult the NBA's busiest (and weariest) travelers -- advance scouts -- for a candid read on the first quarter of the regular season.

So with most teams either at or due to reach the 20-game threshold this weekend, we've surveyed five scouts who make their living as courtside spectators at three to four games per week -- by granting them anonymity -- to examine some of the league's key developments so far.

Eastern Conference scout on the new Carmelo Anthony:

"Everyone talks about what kind of shape he's in, and you can see it. He's ripped up. He looks tremendous. And now he's just so aggressive that he's playing with a different level of confidence. He was always a matchup nightmare who could take your smaller guy into the post or shoot from the outside against bigger guys, but I think there were times in the past where you could frustrate him and take him out of the game. I don't know if you can do that any more. Maybe LeBron [James] and [Dwyane] Wade figured it out faster, but it looks like Carmelo has figured it out."

Western Conference scout on whether Shaquille O'Neal fits in Cleveland:

"Right now I would say no. They're winning because they have superior talent … or should I say because they've got a great, great, great player. And I think there's something to be said for the fact that [O'Neal] leaves Phoenix and all of a sudden Phoenix starts winning.

"I see them jumping around [on the Cavs' bench] and acting like they're having fun, so maybe that's a good sign. But I still have reservations because Cleveland built [its] whole foundation the last couple years on being a defensive team. They're just not going to be as good defensively with Shaq on the floor.

"It's a big-time work in progress. They're still experimenting on how they want to use him, and ultimately the Shaq experiment is going to be yea'd or nea'd in the playoffs, so maybe he'll prove me wrong. Ultimately whether they win 55 or 65 games in the regular season is irrelevant."

Eastern Conference scout on the rising Atlanta Hawks:

"They're a beast. I'm telling you that Cleveland wants no part of these guys in the second round. Whoever gets this team in the second round will have their hands full. They've grown up a lot. They know how to win. And they've got eight, nine, 10 guys now. They can flat-out score now with [Jamal] Crawford coming off the bench, they can bang with you with [Zaza] Pachulia, they've added a quality veteran like Joe Smith, and Josh Smith has come a long way compared to where he was. I think they can play with anybody and beat anybody in the East."

Western Conference scout on the surprising Sacramento Kings and working Kevin Martin back into the lineup when he recovers from wrist surgery:

"You expected them to be a lot worse without Kevin Martin, but Martin takes the ball out of Tyreke Evans' hands and Beno Udrih's hands. Now they have Tyreke and Beno attacking the other team's worst defenders, they've loaded up the floor with shooters and they've taken one of their weakest defenders off the floor. Having said all that … I still don't know how the hell they're winning games.

"They've played more free-flowing. It's more by committee now. Sometimes in the past they worked so hard to find [Martin] that three other guys ended up sitting and watching. How are they going to work [Martin] back in? If they put him on the floor with Tyreke and Beno, other teams are going to take advantage of them when they do it. Maybe they try to trade him."

Eastern Conference scout on how teams prepare now for Brandon Jennings:

"The biggest thing is that you have to have great transition defense and also try to keep him out of the paint. The problem is that you can't just go under every screen and dare him to shoot because he has such great range on his 3 ball. He also does a great job of keeping the ball alive, dribbling around like Nash, probing for openings.

"It's hard to be physical with him because of his speed. Defensively you can try to make him run through a lot of screens and try to wear him down in pick-and-rolls, but they have pretty good length around him to help. He's very similar to me to a young, passionate Allen Iverson. He's a lot tougher than people gave him credit for, including me.

"The thing that's really impressed me is that he hasn't been a high-volume shooter. I know he's struggled lately, but he's been pretty efficient in a lot of games. The bigger question to me is what's going to happen when Michael Redd is back as a consistent player, because he's getting a lot of Michael Redd's shots."

Western Conference scout on Andre Miller's future with the Portland Trail Blazers:

"Portland is probably going to trade him sooner rather than later, but I don't think Miller has necessarily been the problem. I really don't want to knock the kid, but I think some of it has to do with [Greg] Oden being on the floor. He's been putting up some numbers, but I think they play more fluidly when [LaMarcus] Aldridge is at the 5.

"It's great that the kid's healthy, but Oden jams up the floor sometimes. If you're the other team you want [Portland] to throw it to him. The more he gets it the less it's in their best players' hands.

"[Travis] Outlaw being hurt obviously hurts them because he can space the floor. To me their best group is when they're playing smaller. Aldridge is much more of a handful at the 5 than the 4. "

Eastern Conference scout on the Washington Wizards' slow start and Gilbert Arenas' comeback after missing most of the past two seasons:

"They're going to have to make a trade. I know they've played better since [Antawn] Jamison came back, but they just have too many personalities going in different directions. Their main three guys have been together for a long time and it hasn't really worked. When are they going to [admit] that it doesn't work? Gil and Caron [Butler], Gil and [Brendan] Haywood, [Andray] Blatche. [Nick] Young, DeShawn [Stevenson] … there's a lot going on there for Flip [Saunders] to try to pull that all together.

"I think Arenas is still good enough to be a 20-point-a-game guy. But not a 30-point-a-game guy. He just seems to lack a little bit of burst that he had in the past. You see it in flashes over the course of a game, but he's more reliant on little pull-ups and long jumpers than he used to be. He used to get a dunk or two every game on dribble penetration. Now those are layups. Or missed layups."

Eastern Conference scout on the resurgent Suns and how Steve Nash looks at 35:

"There are probably only two guys in this league who can dominate the ball -- handle the ball on every single set -- and it's good for their teams: Chris Paul and Steve Nash. It's really good for the Suns now because they don't have a high level of depth and they don't have a lot of guys who can get their own shot, so Nash makes their [lives] so much easier. What's he averaging? Eleven or 12 dimes at his age?

"I wonder if the way they lost to New York and Cleveland will affect them down the road, but I think they can keep this up in the regular season. The playoffs are a different story. But when you've got six guys shooting better than 40 percent on 3s, that's unheard of. That's hard to stop.

"As for Nash, I think he's too smart to be slowing down. He's not like Derrick Rose or Dwyane Wade, taking a lot of contact, falling a lot, trying to dunk on guys. He knows how to get rid of the ball before [absorbing] major contact. He shoots floaters to protect himself. He might get a little banged up on defense, but he knows how to take care of himself and he knows how to take care of everybody else."

Western Conference scout on Ron Artest's first month-plus with the Lakers:

"From what I've seen, Artest gives them a swagger. He puts his hands on guys he's guarding and he can make shots from the perimeter. He's in great shape. He plays multiple positions. And, believe it or not, has the respect of the officials. In one game I saw he really handled Kevin Durant, took him right out of the game.

"Now they probably would have the same record if they had [Trevor] Ariza instead of Artest. And Ariza's younger. But I like Artest for the Lakers in the short-term. It's hard to evaluate it after 20 games because you always wonder: Is he going to do something off the court? Is he going to get suspended? Will he be here in three years? But I kind of like where [Artest] said that he's the captain of the defense and Kobe's the captain of the offense. I respect the dude."

Western Conference scout on the best team he's seen:

"It's the Lakers, hands down. They're so physical across the board, all the way down to Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown. They're enormous. They're just big, strong, physical guys that can really get up into you and defend you. They're just big and strong and versatile and they can really do damage with their defense. The days of questioning [L.A.'s] toughness are over."

Dimes past: Nov. 16 | 17 | 18 | 20-21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 27-28 | 29 | 30 | Dec. 1 | 2

2. Man In Demand

The results are already in on the wrist surgery we covered in a blog post early Thursday morning about Raja Bell and the inevitable interest contenders would have in trying to trade for him if he made it OK through the operation. The Warriors, playing host to Houston on Thursday night, announced after their shootaround that the procedure to repair ligament damage in Bell's left wrist was successful. Successful enough to convince someone to trade for Bell between now and the Feb. 18 trading deadline?

That part is TBD.

The Warriors' news release projects Bell to be sidelined a minimum of three months, with an initial six-week period during which the wrist is immobilized.

So why TBD? Reason being: It's a trickier-than-anticipated timetable that falls between the pre-surgery projections of (A) 4-to-6 weeks in the best-case scenario and (B) likely out for the season in the worst case.

Word is Bell has already attracted trade interest from a few contenders even though he just got to Golden State on Nov. 16 in the Stephen Jackson deal. The Spurs' desire to trade for Bell -- don't forget that San Antonio had him in training camp once before, or that he and Tim Duncan are old pals from the U.S. Virgin Islands -- has been confirmed. It's likewise reasonable to conclude that Cleveland, after longstanding talks with the Warriors in the Cavs' pursuit of Jackson, has registered interest in Bell as well.

Makes sense, too. What contender couldn't use a wing defender of Bell's stature who can also drain the weakside 3 and who happens to be playing on an expiring contract valued at a reasonable $5.3 million?

However …

It remains to be seen whether a team is willing to trade for Bell between now and mid-February if he's unlikely to be back playing before March.

The Warriors will undoubtedly insist that they absolutely refuse to buy Bell out before March 1, meaning that interested suitors won't have the option of signing him as a late-season free agent and still have Bell eligible for the playoffs. If Golden State holds firm to that stance, then trading for Bell before he's all the way back -- and with only about a month to get him ready for the postseason -- would be the only way to acquire him.

Yet Golden State faces some urgency of its own because it has so many injuries. The Dubs are still struggling to come up with eight healthy bodies every night, with Kelenna Azubuike (knee) and Brandan Wright (shoulder) lost for the season, Bell out long-term and Speedy Claxton (knee) and Devean George (knee) yet to play yet this season. The Warriors might be OK if Andris Biedrins (groin/back) and Ronny Turiaf (knee) make it back reasonably soon, but every rebound is a struggle with the injury list they have, which is why Anthony Randolph is trying to play through an ankle sprain.

Read the entire Stein blog entry on TrueHoop

3. Western Conference

Mark Blount remains in fantasy exile, earning nearly $8 million this season to stay away from the Minnesota Timberwolves after they reacquired him in mid-August in a deal that sent Quentin Richardson to Miami.

If he wants to play this season, Blount could try to initiate buyout talks with the Wolves by giving back some of that $7,962,500 salary, but sources with knowledge of Minnesota's thinking said this week that Wolves general manager David Kahn would prefer to keep hold of Blount's contract just in case some sort of trade scenario that requires Blount's inclusion materializes between now and the league's Feb. 18 trading deadline.

If that stance doesn't change and no trade develops to lift Blount from the Wolves' payroll before the February deadline, that's when a buyout will be considered. Kahn granted permission to Blount's agent, Mark Bartelstein, to explore trade possibilities back in September before training camp started.

49: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have all been in the lineup for only 49 of San Antonio's past 98 regular-season games.

3: Aaron Brooks has scored 20 points or more for three consecutive games for the first time in his career, helping Houston to a 3-0 start on its current four-game road trip. The Rockets are 5-1 this season in Brooks' six 20-point games.

3: Before its win in Denver last Sunday, Minnesota became just the third team of any of the major North American sports leagues to lose at least 15 consecutive games after winning its season opener. The other two were the Orlando Magic (19 consecutive losses after a 1-0 start in 2003) and the NFL's Carolina Panthers (15 straight defeats after a 1-0 start in 2001).

4: When Andrew Bynum led the Lakers with 21 points and nine rebounds in Tuesday's home win over New Orleans, it was just the fourth time in Bynum's 228 regular-season games as a pro that he led L.A. outright in both categories.

3: With 13 points, 20 rebounds and 4 blocks in Tuesday's home loss to Miami, Greg Oden became just the third player in Blazers history to reach the 10/20/4 plateaus in the same game, joining Bill Walton (who did it seven times from 1974-77) and Joel Przybilla (2005).

If it was my team, I wouldn't want to play 17 of the season's first 21 games at home like this season's Lakers. I wouldn't see that as a huge advantage, knowing that so many road games await in the next four-plus months.

I'd say the following set of lopsided numbers represents a far bigger plus for the defending champs.

This is a list of the league's five most prolific points-in-the-paint scorers entering Friday's play. You'll note three of them are Lakers.

4. One-on-One … To Five

Five questions with Spurs swingman Richard Jefferson:

Q: How discouraged were you by the slow start and the early injuries after all the hoopla about this team in the offseason?

A: Discouraged? Most of us have been in this league way too long to get discouraged this early in the season. That would just be foolish on our part. We understand that [injuries are] a part of it. The teams that can get some wins when guys aren't 100 percent healthy and then get healthy by the end of the season are the teams that typically have success.

Q: Has adjusting to this team come slower than you thought?

A: You understand that there's a learning curve. And the learning curve gets increased a little bit when guys like Tim [Duncan], Manu [Ginobili] and Tony [Parker] are out. But we're a pretty confident group of guys here. We understand that it's a process, that it's not going to be easy, but we're all very positive right now.

Q: The Spurs have often been slow starters. Was it unrealistic to expect anything else with so many new guys?

A: In order for you to become the team that you want to be -- the team that's ready for the playoffs -- it's going to take a while. It's going to take 60 games, 70 games, for you to really become that group of guys where you have the trust and confidence that you really need to make a deep playoff run.

Q: How much pressure was there coming into the season, knowing that so many people said your arrival was the key to the Spurs getting back into the West's elite?

A: I believe that I'm a part of a group of guys who came here to do that, with Dice [Antonio McDyess] and [DeJuan] Blair and [Keith] Bogans. I feel like I'm a part of that equation, hopefully a big part of it, but I think that's why they brought in so many people … so these [main] guys can get some rest and not feel pressure when they're injured to get back on the court just to get some wins.

Q: Do you think this team still has championship potential if you can keep your main guys healthy?

A: I hope so. But I hope for healthiness for everyone. For Kevin Garnett. For Andrew Bynum. For all the guys that dealt with injuries the last few years. I think it'd be great to have a bunch of healthy teams at the end. Everyone was excited about the NBA coming into the season. It'd be a lot of fun to see at the end of the season who's the last man standing if everyone's healthy.


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