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Talking Norris Cole with Dan Craig

by Couper Moorhead

Miami HEAT Player Development Coach Dan Craig played a major role in Mario Chalmers shooting a career-best 38.8 percent from three last season, the culmination of years of hard work. Now, Craig is also working with sophomore Norris Cole, spending the last year on the point guard's shooting, finishing and playmaking. So far, Cole has hit four of his first five triples this preseason, but it's not the success rate that is so encouraging, it's the way the shot looks. Craig took the time to talk about the work they've put in.

It looks like his shot has improved significantly. Last year he seemed like a guy still finding that guy, and he would revert to trying to push and shove the ball up rather than using his legs. Now the loft seems so much more consistent.

Dan Craig: Yeah. He’s put a lot of time in with his shot. Off the dribble and spotting up. Really we’ve worked on his balance more than anything. Getting his feet down, both legs working. And like you mentioned, a nice high release to finish it.

Because having your balance just gives you more power?

Really just having both feet down and sinking when the ball hits his hands. And now he’s got both legs working on the way up, so he’s not getting more power out of one leg or the other and pushing it left or right. Everything is working together, and then he’s finishing it with a really nice high release, which for him is key because he’s going to have a lot of longer guards closing on him. He’s working on a little quicker release and a higher finish.

Is that fixing a bad habit or do young guys typically just not learn some of that?

Sometimes guys have a tendency to rush their shot. The great thing about Norris and Rio is, both of them now with our spacing, they’re either a catch-and-go if guys are rushing them off their shot or they are setting their feet down and knocking jumpers down. It’s one or the other.

The big thing and the adjustment for him is he’s not rushing his shot. If he has an open shot, he’s taking it, but if he feels like it’s going to be a contested shot, he’s putting it on the ground and making something happen off the dribble.

Was that just with jumpers or did he have a tendency to rush shot around the rim as well?

His tendency was to take off from that free-throw line. We call it the ‘Launching Pad’. By him taking off there, though, he gets stuck in the air. So we really worked on stapling his feet to the ground. Everything is feet on the ground, let them make the mistake for you.

So keeping your dribble alive as well?

Keeping your dribble alive, you have your dribble throughs, you have your quick finishes around the rim. Now, when he pulls the defense into the paint, now he’s got his sprays and his dump-offs to everybody else.

Were you showing him Steve Nash footage?

Yeah, we’ve watched a little bit of everybody. We even watched Dwyane. He’s a smaller version of Dwyane, but he moves very similar to Dwyane. We showed Norris Dwyane’s change of pace, his two speeds. Fast-to-slow, slow-to-fast. And then we watched a lot of Tony Parker, Steve Nash, a lot of point guards, Chris Paul, a lot of guys that he can learn a lot of different things from.

But Tony Parker was great because he does a great job of keeping his feet on the ground. A lot of pivots around the basket to make plays. Steve Nash is just so creative with his extra dribbles, his dribble-throughs. A lot of his finishes are not very athletic finishes. Everything is how he uses his body keeping the dribble alive, then making the defense make a mistake – and somebody is open.

Then just Chris Paul, just his pace and his overall playmaking. He’s watched a little bit of everything. He’s really made some jumps.

Some of it is learning to rely less on the athleticism he was able to rely on in College?

We know he has that. He’s going to need that with his speed and his athleticism, defensively. He knows he has that. Now it’s just evolving it into him becoming a solid point guard in this league.

Spoelstra has said that at the beginning of summer you sat down with Norris and said these are the three things you need to work on. Shooting, Finishing and the rim, playmaking – is that right?

Playmaking first, getting into the paint and making plays.

Right. But the shooting percentages were low last year, so is there a target you want him to hit, 34 percent from three or something along those lines?

I always like to look at that 40 percent from three.

That’s a high water mark.

Absolutely. But Mike and Ray always joke around that you’re considered a sticker if you shoot 34 or 35. It used to be 40. So I’m shooting higher.

A lot of that is shot selection, too. The way our system’s built with our spacing, he doesn’t have to rush his shot. He doesn’t have to take a contested shot. Where last year he was taking those shots. Now it’s him just kind of growing and maturing and realizing, ‘Hey, I have a wide open shot, let’s knock it down,’ or, ‘I have somebody running at me, let’s put it on the ground and make a play.’

That’s another big part of that shooting percentage going up. Because he’s doing a great job of shooting the ball better and working on just the fundamental things, but now it’s shot selection too. I think our spacing will help that a lot.

In college he had the ball in his hands so much, did he know how to set his feet and spot up in the corner?

That was something that, yeah, he had to learn a lot how to play off the ball and how to shoot a spot-up jumper off the catch. That’s something we worked on a ton, all last year, all summer. We knew he could handle the ball and shoot his pull up, but playing off the ball and moving, getting your feet down and knocking down spot-up jumpers, especially the three-point line in the NBA, that’s adjustment for a mid-range, pull-up jumpshooter like Norris – off-the-ball is a big one.

Last year being so tough for any rookie, did you ever, not take it easy on him, not push or expect things that you would have in a normal season, since you didn’t have that training camp, the games were coming so fast and it was just an onslaught of information for him?

We just kept saying, ‘It is what it is.’ It’s a lockout year, poor kid had no practice time, he really didn’t. His practice was film sessions. In terms of building chemistry and maturing in 5-on-5 stuff, most of that was the games. We just tried to fast-track him as much as possible. He did a great job. He’s one of the most eager kids to learn. He watches as much film as anybody that I’ve been around. And he puts his work in too, with myself and the staff, and then he puts his work in on his own.

He comes in and gets his shots up at night by himself. He’s committed to really becoming a solid point guard in this league.