Imagine, for a moment, that youre 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.
Theres 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 youve 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 youve 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, theyre 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 hes not great and hes better off the dribble than he is in catch-and-shoot situations, opportunities which come often with the Miami HEAT. Hes just a solid, all-around guard thats 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 hes 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 hell 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.
Thats a lot of time to polish one of the most important guard skills in the NBA.
Thats what four years of college will do to you, Dwyane Wade said. Someone whos kind of been under the radar his whole life and had to fight for everything that hes gotten. Hes humble, hes mature, but you can also tell hes 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 hes a rookie, and going to make rookie mistakes, I think were 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 hes 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 didnt pass out of.
The HEAT led the NBA last year in ball-handler pick-and-rolls, scoring .919 points per possession.
So far, though hes 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. Youve got your first line of defense, your second line then your backline. The point guards know the first line defense shouldnt be a problem, its reading the second and third line thats 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 hell 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 hes 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, theres still a chemistry that has to develop between a big man and his point guard.
Hes surprising a lot of guys with his patience and the way hes attacking, Bosh said.
With the way were running our offense, its basically just out there playing. So, theres not going to be times where hes going to say, Chris, come set a screen, because we dont want defenses to adjust to it. Hes going to have to give me a look, or Joel a look, or Juwan a look, and were going to have to set a good screen and hes going to have to come off attacking.
Even before Coles 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 theyre not in the right spots youve got to be able to get them in the right spots before you run the offense, Wade said. So its just about slowing down a little bit, being patient, being a floor general. Early on I really wasnt a floor general and I had to learn how to get guys in the right spot. Its not an easy job. PG is the toughest position in the league. Credit to him for coming in already polished.
Hes ahead of where I was when it comes to PG. I could score a little better than he could, but hes 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, hes pretty good at that. Hes a floor general already, hes mature and he can tell when someone messes up.