This is never something that is easy to say. For the parties actually involved, it's probably very uncomfortable.
You know, when you have been around something since it was young, you've nurtured it, raised it and seen it blossom into adulthood, it's painful when the bloom is a bust. Norris Cole is not at that point, but he certainly seems headed there.
In the 1957 film 'Old Yeller,' a young boy named Travis has to make an extremely emotional and difficult decision when his dog gets rabies and he is forced to shoot him. The dog was well liked by the family and protected them from the dangers they faced in rural post-civil war Texas. Old Yeller acquired rabies defending the family from an attack from a wolf.
Eventually, the threat of Old Yeller biting someone and infecting them was too much. They couldn't risk having him around anymore, and had to make the difficult decision.
The Heat have invested in Cole's development. They traded for the draft rights of the 2011 first round pick and he immediately earned playing time his rookie season. Cole seems to be more well liked than the average rotation player by the fan base. After a hot start, however, he's regressed into a very limited NBA player. He did get a full off-season under his belt and starred for the Heat's summer league team this year, so maybe things were looking up.
There was talk that he improved, especially his shooting, but that hasn't come to fruition this season.
Even if the truth hurts for the Heat's coaching staff, Norris Cole is a really bad NBA player right now. His offensive ineptitude, made worse by his high usage when he is on the floor, is just awful.
There are some things to like about Cole. He's an active defensive player who seems to put forth maximum effort. He also seems like a cool dude. He's had some NBA finals moments that are worth remembering. The problem is those things don't justify him being on the court as much as he does (Disclaimer: The Miami Heat are really good at basketball, and they will be that way regardless of whether Cole plays 20 minutes a night, because they have enough production on the team to survive one dreadful individual).
But it still seems fair to point out that the Heat have a very inefficient player in the rotation, even if that fact is masked by wins.
Here is the story of his career thus far:
For context, a player efficiency rating (PER) of 15 has been defined as league average. Cole had a PER of under eight last year. He has a PER of under four this season. According to Hoop Data, among point guards who play at least 15 minutes a game, Cole is dead last in the statistic among 58 players who qualify. There have been very few, if any, rotation players who have been worse this season (WHAT IS HAPPENING C.J MILES). We can predict that things cannot stay this bad for long, but if they regress to what they we're last year to a grand PER of about eight, we're not doing much better.
There is one thing that should regress, and soon, as long as Cole is playing like this though. And that is the impact he has on the team when he is on the floor. Last year, he had a substantive negative impact when he was on the court, but this season, the Heat's offensive magic has kept it at bay.
Last season (2011-12) indicates that won't sustain.
|On − Off||MIA||39%||-.042||-5.0||+1.6||-7.7||+.008||+1.2||+0.1||+4.8||-.050||-5.0||+1.6||-12.4|
Somehow, the team has weathered his inefficiency in 2012-13.
|On − Off||MIA||37%||+.033||-1.2||+4.0||+0.3||-.019||-2.6||+2.8||-2.0||+.051||-1.2||+4.0||+2.2|
If Cole continues to be this ineffective, it's very unlikely that the units he is on the floor with produce results more positive than those without him.
When it comes down to it, how much does it matter?
You might be thinking, "Jay, why break down how bad our backup point guard is? C'mon, it's Cole-Train! The Hair, man!."
The hair is pretty damn cool. And he is the backup point guard. But you deserve to know this.
He is clearly a weak link in the rotation. Many think the Heat are built to have rebounding issues, which hasn't appeared in the data, or could use a defensive savant inside to deter shots (I think Joel Anthony still exists). But maybe we should consider that perhaps the biggest issue with Miami is the fact that they play one of the least productive players in the league 20 minutes a night.
By acquiring an average backup point guard, the Heat would instantly improve. They could also play Ray Allen or Dwyane Wade a few more minutes on the ball, and give Mike Miller some more run on the wing to limit Cole's time on the floor.
Regardless, this isn't a complaint. The Heat are great and will be. But if your looking for weaknesses and an issue to address, I'm not sure the Heat have any problem more significant than this one, and it's mostly ignored. It's also hilarious that some media and fans still occasionally question whether Cole should be the starter over Mario Chalmers.
At least I have the memory of Cole harassing Jeremy Lin in my mind, and thinking of that makes me smile. It also makes me smile that he fell when he completed the dunk after the steal.
The Heat are invested in Cole and that is fair. It's also fair to say that just like last season, Cole will vanish to the bench in the playoffs if he isn't playing well. The Heat are better suited not overplaying veteran players during the regular season, so giving him run now is fine.
There is also something to be said about the small sample of play we're dealing with. He should improve, at least a little.
But with young players, I try to pinpoint projection as well as production before I make too much of the numbers. And Cole is still a player with a nonexistent perimeter shot and one who cannot finish at the rim. He's also a player who doesn't display much of a passing acumen. Cole is a quick player and a solid athlete, but he is generously listed at 6-foot-2 and I doubt he will ever be an efficient player because of the challenge he will always have finishing against big people in the NBA. He doesn't appear to have a good deal of upside. He profiles as a volume scoring, undersized shooting guard.
If this continues, bringing in another point guard to compete with him for playing time should be strongly considered by next summer if the Heat are going to keep playing a traditional point guard with its second unit.
For now, the Heat will continue to nurture him and develop him, which is what they should do. But difficult decisions may arise, and Erik Spoelstra may have to do what Travis did. He may have to do what is one of the toughest things for a coach to do: Demote or get rid of a player you have invested considerable developmental time into.
Travis had to make an emotional decision that was best for his family.
On a smaller scale, Erik will have to as well.