Heat first round pick Norris Cole has become a fan favorite in his short time with the team, and for good reason – the kid has flashed some serious game. While his performance in the Red-and-Black scrimmage impressed some, few saw him contributing this quickly. For example, the Miami Heat team store just started selling his jersey Wednesday; possibly underestimating the demand for it would be so high, so fast. It’s easy to overreact to such a small sample size, but you can’t blame Heat fans for being excited about what Cole brings to the table. Not much is expected from Miami Heat drafts for awhile, seeing that they had to trade most of their higher picks in the near future in sign-and-trades – to make that whole "Big 3" thing happen. However, in finding Norris Cole, the rich may have just got richer.
By now most Heat fans are familiar with Cole’s résumé. He was a four-year starter at Cleveland State, averaging 21.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 5.3 assists as a senior. He helped Cleveland State reach the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2009, finishing with 22 points in an upset win against the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest – ironically played on the Heat’s home floor. Cole's claim to fame however, has to be the ridiculous stat line he put up against Youngstown State, finishing with 41 points, 20 rebounds, and 9 assists. That’s a YouTube stat line; it doesn’t just jump off the paper, it jumps off the paper – and break dances all over your face to LMFAO music. Entering the NBA Draft, ESPN’s Chad Ford graded Cole out as the Drafts 23rd best prospect, and the 5th best point guard – behind Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Brandon Knight, and Jimmer Fredette. Ford went on to write, "If Cole went to Duke; he may have been slotted to go 10-15 slots higher." Cole was selected by the Chicago Bulls with the 28th overall pick, then traded to the Timberwolves, who in turn sent him to the Miami Heat – marking the first time the Miami Heat have traded up into the first round since 1996 (the Estonian Michael Jordan, Martin Muursepp, for those keeping score at home). In that same Draft, the Heat traded away their #19 overall selection to the New York Knicks – for the rights to Pat Riley’s services (fist pump).
Coach Spoelstra commented after the game Tuesday that Cole has already "earned the respect" of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and his other teammates – well that didn’t take long! Cole carries himself in a way where you can see why others would trust in him, seemingly unfazed when dropped right onto what has to be the NBA’s biggest stage. Nole’s coach at Cleveland State, Gary Waters, was quoted after the Draft saying that Cole "does basically everything you could think about for a team to be successful" – hard to argue with that statement, three games into the season. When asked about Cole’s demeanor, Pat Riley said, "He simply runs back on defense, like he’s done it before." Heat fans will remember pleading for more Michael Beasley, in his rookie year, but all you heard was he "wasn’t ready", or he needed to "learn the Miami Heat way". Cole has shown so far he is ahead of the rookie curve, mature enough to be given more and more responsibility, and so far has capitalized on every opportunity he’s received. As Riley has said, there is no "preening" with this kid, Cole comes to work. Norris was quoted before the Draft saying he thought his game was similar to "a better shooting Rajon Rondo", well he out-played Rondo in the fourth quarter Tuesday, that’s for sure.
What the future holds
While Cole has had a promising start, one would think Mario Chalmers will continue to start – for the foreseeable future, at least. Cole provides a spark off the bench, and an added scoring option when one or two of the Big Three come off the floor. If Cole continues to shoot a high percentage, he could see more playing time when teams go to the zone defense – and he should see a lot of open looks in that scenario. As this 2012 team evolves, and Cole proves himself further, Spoelstra could opt to put Cole in the starting lineup – and it wouldn’t be the first time Chalmers has been demoted to the second team with the Heat (see Mike Bibby, Carlos Arroyo or Rafer Alston). There are bound to be ups and downs with a rookie point guard, as was seen in Charlotte Wednesday, where he cooled down considerably from his breakout game the night before. What is encouraging is Norris Cole doesn’t seem overwhelmed, or scared, whatsoever. The lights aren’t too bright for him, and he should only get better, as he adjusts to the talent level he’s facing on a nightly basis. Just when you thought the Miami Heat couldn’t get more exciting, they go ahead and add "The Cole Train."