Season In Review: Norris Cole

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Published: May 20, 2015

A two time NBA champion, Norris Cole was brought in from the Miami heat in a three-team trade that sent out John Salmons. The idea was that the Pelicans desperately needed backup point guard help. Jrue Holiday had been battling injuries, so too Tyreke Evans. New Orleans needed a guy to fill the “void” left by Austin Rivers.

Stop-gaps like Jimmer Fredette, Gal Mekel and Nate Wolters were not working. Cole’s experience was also a factor with many within the locker room labeling him the veteran voice, guiding them into and throughout their brief playoff run.

The most interesting tidbit is that Cole’s acquisition and performance is yet another example of Dell Demps acquiring a quarter for a dime. Sending out Salmons, who New Orleans picked up at the very end of free agency for a quality proven guard is nothing short of satisfying. Demps has proven over time he can make these moves and it will actually factor in to whether the Pelicans decide to bring back the Cleveland State shooter.

Offense

The toughest part about analyzing Cole is that he had spent all of his career playing alongside the best player in the world. Dan Le Batard (a Miami local) has said it on his radio show that Lebron makes the Cole’s, Dellavedova’s and JR Smith’s of the world significantly better.

However, Cole has progressed in each of his season’s and in some ways has evolved as a player. This was most evident on the Pelicans when he was asked to take on more responsibility.

Norris Cole per 36 numbers

I mean, take a look at the above. These are Cole’s per-36 numbers for each season since he entered the league. When he came to New Orleans everything went up. His field-goal attempts, his percentage, his three-point makes/attempts and his point and assist numbers.

It also is reflected in some of the advanced numbers as well. His usage percentage was 5% higher than when he was in Miami (20.6% in NOLA). And because his turnover rate declined to its lowest since entering the NBA his PER went up a career high (12.6). Because he was taking more and hitting more threes and a generally improved efficient offensive game his rating went up to over 100 for the first time in his career.

Which makes you wonder how good Anthony Davis is at offense? Because despite playing with Miami for his entire career, alongside the best NBA player on the face of the earth, Cole couldn’t break even the most basic advanced metric standards. When he came to New Orleans for the last 28 games of the season he improved in almost every offensive category.

Where he shoots from

I wanted to see, despite all the improvements why it didn’t seem like an entirely well rounded improvement on the offensive side of the ball. Norris would have some outstanding nights where he’d explode for 16 points only to come back a few nights later for a 2-8 field goal evening for 4 points.

This was sort of the crux of the dilemma of playing Cole and what’s clear is that while he was attempting (and hitting) the most 3-point field goals of his career, he was also taking more field-goals per-36 at any point of his time in the league.

Cole had a green light to shoot because often the team would pack the lane on Tyreke, double Anthony Davis and virtually ignore Omer Asik. He had a license to ki… shoot… basketballs…

Norris cole field goal attempts

Above is a table of Cole’s field-goal attempts by distance, by year. And there it is, the 16-24 foot range increased to 30% – the highest of his career. He also only attempted a meager 18% of his shots within 0-3 feet. That is a significant decline from when he played in Miami.

I blame for two things: one, Cole had to play in a congested world where Asik and Tyreke Evans would give defenses a reason to clog the paint. Which in turn would open up those long distant two-point field goal attempts.

The second reason is I think he just wanted to take more long range shots. He’s pretty good at them, as evident by some of his improved offensive numbers. But there were nights where he’d just rely on them too much and didn’t have the counter of a layup. 18 per cent is quite staggering and it’s not an aspect of his game, that should he remain with the team, we can get excited about.

Comparing to other backup point guards

Cole was brought in because there was a feeling around the organisation and fan-base that the guard position needed help. Rivers and an assortment of other guards weren’t doing what was require of Monty’s system – which is heavily reliant on the point guard being able to initiate the offense.

How much truth is there behind Cole’s performance of filling the void at this position. We’ve already talked about the offense, how does Norris stack up against the others?

norris cole against other pgs

*Career statistics (via Basketball Reference)

Norris cole against other pgs on pelicans

*On the Pelicans 2014-15 (via Basketball Reference)

The big takeout is that Cole’s differentiation probably isn’t as big as we think. Cole stood out by shooting well and hitting more of his shots than usual. Because of that his offensive efficiency was better.

But on the whole he really isn’t a significantly better player for the role asked by the Pelicans this season. His assist rating was high for his career, but wasn’t as high as it could have been (if he’d of taken less shots).

What stands out here the most is defense. None of the Pels guards, including Cole, performed defensively. This is a question that must get answered for the future, whether it’s the system or the player because all performed similarly in this respect.

It’s the area of his game that was probably the most disappointing. His energy and veteran experience was wonderful to have, but he could guard at the level required. Now again, it all comes back to a question I can’t really answer. Was it the coaching staff or was it indeed the lack of talent the Pelicans have acquired for the position?

I tend to lean more towards the latter. Holiday and even Toney Douglas at times, showed an ability to play strong perimeter defense. New Orleans’ steal rate declined throughout the season and that is a critique of Cole’s game whether it’s entirely valid or not – the numbers are not as encouraging as we’d like.

The contract situation

Norris Cole is a restricted free-agent this summer with a 3.2 million dollar qualifying offer available for the Pelicans. There will be a 3 million dollar cap hold against him which New Orleans could renounce. As the cap is likely to go up we could see Cole command a similar per-year amount on the open market.

 

Synopsis

As an overall assessment, Cole’s time with the Pelicans was very positive experience. He did a good job of making more of his shots than expected and he didn’t make a great deal of mistakes. His energy and experience were vital for the Pelicans in a successful playoff campaign – something Monty valued greatly.

However it does come back to the point about Dell Demps’ ability to bring in quarter’s when all you are giving up is a dime. Because of this I don’t foresee the Pelicans re-signing Cole as I would expect him to try and secure a long-term deal at a price that isn’t cost-effective for the team. By no means would it discredit the value he brought to the organisation, nor his performance while he was here.

I think the Pelicans will try to seek value elsewhere, potentially from the draft or even bringing in some players from Europe. The risk here is that NOLA could be ignoring a player that has improved each season since coming in to the league. Could the qualifying offer restrict New Orleans from getting the player it needs desperately? Or could the Pels be right back where they started, in desperate need of backup point-guard help?

Cole provides a distinct value as a player who can, on volume, hit the open look, run your offense and not make poor decisions too often. He needs work defensively, but a new coaching staff will need to analyse if he can improve to the level required to stop the deepest position in the league.

4 Comments

  1. bobmurrell

    May 20, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    Another thing he brought to the offense – setting up the lob for AD. So many of Davis’ highlights this year were alleyoops fed from Cole. Dude knows how to please a superstar

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  3. jsgrayson

    May 20, 2015 at 6:03 pm

    bobmurrell Really good point Bob. I do like Cole’s offensive game for the most part. He sort of prods and probes well. But he took way too many long two’s for my liking. His chemistry with AD could grow into something bigger, but remember that he won’t get as much game time as Holiday/Evans at the lead guard position – so would he really be playing with AD the most?

  4. 504ever

    May 20, 2015 at 6:11 pm

    I have a hard time not seeing Cole as a value player if he signed a say 3 year $10M deal.  I fits into our “young core” model and the eye test on Cole says he carried the Pelicans at times in some games,  Imagine what he could do with a Pelicans training camp under his belt.

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