Cole Blooded

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Published: February 21, 2015

Norris Cole’s is a known/unknown commodity. When you hear the name, you immediately think: two titles his first two years, three visits to the NBA Finals in his first three years. Competitor. Defensive specialist. Then there are this year’s stats: 6.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 3.5 apg, 38.6 FG%, and 26.5% 3P%. There is also this. Who is Norris Cole?

Offense

Cole is having the worst shooting season of his four year career. He shot over 34% from beyond the arc in each other his last two seasons (and over 41% from the field.) While many will attribute that to LeBron James’ departure, part of it is also the fact that the Heat lost all of its spacing last year, making it easy for teams to pack the paint and force the offense out.

This does not work to Cole’s skillset. 32% of Cole’s field goal attempts this year are classified as catch and shoots. The majority of those catch and shoot field goals are from beyond the arc, which Cole is shooting 23.8% from. His effective FG% is a horrific 34.2% when taking this kind of shot. This is not Cole’s game. On shots taken from less than 10 feet, which makes up the majority of his field goal attempts at 38.9% (but not enough I’d say), Cole shoots a much better 49.6% from the field.

The discrepancy shows in his shots off the dribble stats too. When he doesn’t dibble, Cole shoots an effective field goal percentage of 39.8%, but that jumps to 46.3% when dribbling once, and 46% when dribbling 3-6 times. Cole is a rhythm player that needs to put the ball on the floor.

Cole has struggled with the pick and roll this year though. He shoots 41.9% coming off pick and rolls in 2014-15. While that doesn’t scream Goran Dragic or LeBron, it is what Cole is most comfortable running, and it will be interesting to see if a different setting will help Cole become an effective pick and roll player.

Defense

Where Cole has made his reputation is on defense. Cole is an angry defensive player that goes after you every play. Diff% is a stat that measures what a player shoots normally versus what a player shoots when he is being guarded by a specific player. A negative Diff% means that a player forces the person he is defending to shoot worse than usual, a mark of a good defender. Cole’s defensive Diff% is -2.2, highlighting how Cole makes player’s night tougher on the offensive end. For a point of reference, Jrue Holiday’s Diff% this season stands at -1.6.

The defensive stats favor Cole over Holiday when looking at pick and roll defense as well. While Holiday faced almost twice as many pick and rolls a game on defense than Cole did, it is still worth noting that Cole’s stats were slighting better in Points per possession given up (.85 to .80), field goal percentage defense (41.9 to 40.2) and effective field goal percentage (45.2 to 44.4). Cole also forced more turnovers than Holiday did when defending pick and rolls, (21.1% to 14.5%), a point of emphasis for the Pelicans.

Which isn’t to say that Cole is a better player than Holiday (or even a better defensive player.) Lots of things come into factor here, from different systems, different competition, and the fact that Cole has spent some time off the bench (and playing less minutes.) But Cole is a big point guard who can guard either backcourt position effectively, much like Holiday can. And he can be an effective defensive presence for the Pelicans, as they look to be without Holiday for at least three more weeks.

The Lineups

Something to know about Cole is that Miami Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra mostly utilized him with two big men who can shoot. The Heat’s most used lineup of the season to-date features Cole with Shawne Williams (also acquired in the trade) and Chris Bosh. While this may partially be due to the Heat’s lack of three point shooting from their wings, this does touch on the importance of having three point shooting around Cole. Don’t be surprised to see Cole come off the bench and play alongside Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis, who both can provide some space for Cole to penetrate (and which is the kind of frontline that Cole is used to playing with.) The Heat pretty much chained Cole to Ray Allen during Cole’s first two years, and I expect the Pelicans to try to surround Cole with as much shooting as possible (Eric Gordon and Quincy Pondexter along with Anderson), so he can be an active agent in the offense with the pick and roll.

 

In the end, the Pelicans acquired a point guard, something that they have not had much stability with since Holiday went down January 12th against the Boston Celtics. Cole is a player who made a name for himself in the playoffs in his first two years in the league. He is very much the kind of player that Dell Demps covets, being in his mid-20s with NBA experience, as well as a Monty Williams player with how he plays physical defense. He scored 18 points in back-to-back games off the bench to help the Heat beat the Chicago Bulls in the second round in 2013. He was switched onto Lance Stephenson last year in the Eastern Conference Finals, helping frustrate Stephenson into a horrible series (to the point where Stephenson slapped Cole in the face.) Cole is a winner who plays at one speed all the time. Spoelstra said trading Cole was “one of the tougher calls.” LeBron James once said of Cole “You just put him out there on anybody and he’s always going to be successful and know you can never discredit how he goes about the game and how hard he plays. You put him out there for 20 seconds and it will be the hardest 20 seconds he ever played, like he’ll never play again… Everything they do won’t show up in the box score but teammates and people that know the game know he made an impact.” There is no telling what effect Cole will have on the team this year, or if the Pels will bring him back next year, but he is the kind of guy that you want to have on your side in a game that matters. Let’s see if he can help the Pelicans win the games needed to get into the playoffs.

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