The Pick-and-Cole

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a young chef, fresh out of a small culinary school. Your place of study was not very well known, but you were a standout student and have been getting positive feedback as you look around for an apprenticeship. The only problem is that, though you may be effective with a number of cuisines, you lack a transcendent dish that separates you from the rest of the pack.

You can, however, cook the heck out of red meat.

There’s still plenty to learn about plating and about what sides pair best with the main item, but when it comes to the base skill, nobody your age has cooked as much red meat as you. And you’ve never had trouble getting along with anybody in a kitchen.

So, you get hired by a five-star steakhouse to man the grill, Mondays-through-Thursdays, with the promise of weekend work once you’ve refined your other dishes. As for your friends from the school ranks, the ones that can put together one of the best plates of anyone in the world, they’re still looking for jobs because they lack the foundation that gives them value to a business while they continue to learn.

That young chef is Norris Cole, the rookie point guard who already seems to have played his way into the backup spot behind Mario Chalmers.

Cole is a good shooter, but he’s not great and he’s better off the dribble than he is in catch-and-shoot situations, opportunities which come often with the Miami HEAT. He’s just a solid, all-around guard that’s working on developing one or two exceptional skills on the professional level.

But until then, he can run the absolute heck out of a pick-and-roll, and he seemingly is well on his way to minutes because he’s with a team that runs pick-and-rolls on almost 20 percent of their total possessions.

“We run a lot of pick and roll in our offense so he’ll see quite a few opportunities to make plays,” Erik Spoelstra said.

Cole, the 28th pick in the draft after four years at Cleveland State, was arguably the most prepared pick-and-roll point guard available last summer. Though he spent his first two collegiate seasons playing off-guard, he took the reins of a pro-style offense his junior year and in his final season ran 248 pick-and-rolls that ended with a shot, drawn foul or turnover from Cole. Only four players in college basketball had 200 of those possessions to their name, and Cole led the pack by 23.

That’s a lot of time to polish one of the most important guard skills in the NBA.

“That’s what four years of college will do to you,” Dwyane Wade said. “Someone who’s kind of been under the radar his whole life and had to fight for everything that he’s gotten. He’s humble, he’s mature, but you can also tell he’s played four years of basketball. And as a PG, when you play four years in college, you take on the mentality of your coach. He has that mentality, so he picks up things very fast. And even though he’s a rookie, and going to make rookie mistakes, I think we’re going to be confident with him in the lineup, with him with the ball.”

Cole has made a few mistakes so far, only scoring three points with a few turnovers on the six pick-and-roll possessions that he’s used, but he also looks remarkably comfortable turning the corner off a screen or splitting the defenders and making the quick read for a pass or shot. At Cleveland State, he turned the ball over on used possessions less than 10 percent of the time and scored .919 points for every pick-and-roll he didn’t pass out of.

The HEAT led the NBA last year in ball-handler pick-and-rolls, scoring .919 points per possession.

So far, though he’s making adjustments to things like more height in the middle of the floor and players more willing to step in his way and draw a charge, even after a pass, Cole is right in his comfort zone.

“The reads are the same,” Cole said. “You’ve got your first line of defense, your second line then your backline. The point guards know the first line defense shouldn’t be a problem, it’s reading the second and third line that’s when you come to the real good point guards, the ones who can make those reads quickly.”

In this video you see Cole getting around the pick, putting on a burst of speed and meeting that second line of defense he spoke of. The first time, he shoots a floater at a bad angle and misses, the second time he draws contact and gets to the free-throw line. What to do when he earns a small amount of real estate in front of a giant house of a defender is something he’ll learn through experience.

But where he really shines is in those next three situations, where he makes three textbook passes off a screen. First he shows and ability to split the defenders – the Wade special – and find the open shooter when help defense comes to meet him. Second, he draws the big-man defender with a shot fake and finds Juwan Howard cutting free to the rim. And lastly, he makes the most simple play of all, drawing the big defender out and finding Udonis Haslem for the open pick-and-pop – a play he’s been working on with Chris Bosh and Haslem.

“CB has his sweet spots, where he likes it and I try to give it to him there,” Cole said. “Same thing with UD, he has his spots on the floor where he knocks down his jumper. I try to give it to him there.”

As comfortable as that possession may have looked, however, there’s still a chemistry that has to develop between a big man and his point guard.

“He’s surprising a lot of guys with his patience and the way he’s attacking,” Bosh said.

“With the way we’re running our offense, it’s basically just out there playing. So, there’s not going to be times where he’s going to say, ‘Chris, come set a screen,’ because we don’t want defenses to adjust to it. He’s going to have to give me a look, or Joel a look, or Juwan a look, and we’re going to have to set a good screen and he’s going to have to come off attacking.”

Even before Cole’s eight-assist performance against the Orlando Magic, his composed aggressiveness had Wade, who effectively had to learn a new position when he came into the league, saying that Cole is ahead of where he was as a rookie point guard. And Cole, who Spo says is always trying to understand the purpose of every play, is still learning the rest of the point guard cuisine.

“Playing PG, you have to know where all of the four guys are going to be on the floor, if they’re not in the right spots you’ve got to be able to get them in the right spots before you run the offense,” Wade said. “So it’s just about slowing down a little bit, being patient, being a floor general. Early on I really wasn’t a floor general and I had to learn how to get guys in the right spot. It’s not an easy job. PG is the toughest position in the league. Credit to him for coming in already polished.

“He’s ahead of where I was when it comes to PG. I could score a little better than he could, but he’s a little bit ahead of me when it comes to just knowing the offense. Being on the second team, seeing what the first team does, coming in and picking it up right away, he’s pretty good at that. He’s a floor general already, he’s mature and he can tell when someone messes up.”

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