Before the trade deadline expired Thursday, Norris Cole was traded to the Pelicans as a part of a 3-team deal involving Goran Dragic. Considering the flurry of activity, this move was initially overlooked, but don't be surprised if Cole emerges as a contributor for the Pelicans as minutes are up for grabs with Jrue Holiday still sidelined.
Low-key like the Norris Cole pickup for the Pelicans.— Paul Flannery (@Pflanns) February 19, 2015
There have been a lot of positive remarks, but will Cole's performance over New Orleans final 29 games justify his initial affirmation?
Despite having only played for the Heat, Cole had a circuitous route getting there as he was initially drafted by the Chicago Bulls, traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves and then finally traded to South Beach. During his 3+ seasons, Cole emerged as a significant rotation member of their Championship squads. Thus, when LeBron James left town, many expected this confident player from Cleveland State to take the next step.
It didn't happen.
Sure, at the start of the 2014-15 season, he was named as the surprise starter over Mario Chalmers. Then, he posted an opening night line of 23 points (on 9-15 from the floor), 3 three's, 3 rebounds and 2 assists against the Wizards. But after that, it all went downhill.
His performance has wavered so much that he recently almost vanished from the rotation entirely. Shooting 38.6% from the floor and 26.5% from three on the season has a tendency to do that. Reportedly, with a bigger opportunity in front of him, Cole was unable to balance his offense with delegating PG duties. Paralysis by analysis?
- Strong reputation. Despite underwhelming this season, Cole's name was linked to other organizations this year like Charlotte and Detroit.
- Incredible work ethic. "It's been said (by the Heat's broadcast team) that nobody on the roster puts in more time working on their game than Norris Cole."
- Willing learner. "He’s obsessed with the game, he’s obsessed with improving and he’s a tireless worker," Spoelstra says of Cole. "He’s consistent every single day and he sees the types of examples he has here in the locker room, these are the types of guys he wants to become."
- Strong statistical achievement in college. The Cleveland State product was the Horizon League's Player of the Year as well as the Defensive Player of the Year during his senior season. He averaged 21.7, 5.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists while posting a 29.5 player efficiency rating (PER), which was good for 16th among qualified players in the NCAA in 2010-11.
- Was known as a prolific scorer in college, now he's a 6'2'' defensive specialist.
- Poor statistical achievement in the NBA. For instance, he has never finished with a PER over 10.0.
- Norris Cole's outside shot has abandoned him this season. After shooting 35.7% and 34.5% from three point range the last two seasons, he's currently sitting at 26.5% (27-102).
- Cole's likelihood of remaining a Pelican beyond this season are likely non-existent. "His qualifying offer will be $4,433,683 if he starts 18 more games or plays 1,011 more minutes this season – or $3,036,927 if he doesn’t." Welp, he's currently 838 minutes shy of that mark and with the status of Jrue Holiday up in the air, he could hit that mark.
Only two Division I players in the last 15 years put together a 40-point, 20-rebound game. One was Oklahoma's Blake Griffin. The other is Cole, who in February torched Youngstown State with 41 points, 20 boards and nine assists.
What to Expect
First and foremost, the Pelicans are getting a no-nonsense professional -- Monty Williams is going to appreciate that.
Next, Cole is regarded as a tireless worker, one who learned the value in watching video and reading scouting reports from Shane Battier. Expect for him to pick up Monty's system quickly.
As a distributor, he has fared rather well this season with an assist to turnover ratio of nearly 3 to 1! However, I wonder how much of this is due to knowing Coach Spoelstra's offense -- does he stick to making the right play instead of looking to individually create on his own for others?
As mentioned, Cole is regarded as a defensive specialist, but interestingly the numbers are lukewarm this season. He has one of the worst individual DefRtg on the Heat this season, and 82 games shows that opponents have had a good deal of success against him.
His Synergy numbers are a little more positive as he has allowed .87 PPP which correlates to the 50th percentile in the league; however, he didn't fare very well in PnR ball handler, spot up and off screen situations. Fortunately, Synergy was a fan of his in prior seasons: 86th percentile (excellent) in 2013-14 and 77th percentile (very good) in 2012-13.
Now for the bad news. Some really bad news. He has unquestionably been a nightmare on offense. Synergy has him in the 14th percentile. That's significantly worse than Austin Rivers 28th percentile (while he was a Pelican). He is shooting a Rivers-like 69.7% from the free throw line. The biggest detriment, though, has been his outside shot. With a third of all of his attempts coming from the three point line, that 26.5 3FG% is wreaking havoc on his efficiency.
The Pelicans are not going to have to lean on Norris Cole much if Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans remain healthy, regardless of whether Jrue Holiday returns this season. That's good because Cole has been very underwhelming this season. Some may bring up his intangibles, and that's all well and good as there is always a need for it, but it can't mask his 2014-15 performance to date.
The hope is that Cole has only needed a change of scenery. Competing with Chalmers and Shabazz Napier and the expectation of taking the next step was maybe too much of a burden. Perhaps a different locker room, new teammates and coaching staff and getting away from the championship eyes will relax him enough for his game to return.
Count me as not overly optimistic. I personally believe that going with Toney Douglas might have been the better route. With only 29 games remaining, it's really a flip of the coin so I don't particularly mind which ever player would have ended up getting the call.
However, I do think that Dell Demps will not end up scoring with Cole like he did Quincy Pondexter. Cole's numbers have been miserable, and he didn't even have a rift with the head coach like Q-Pon. Worse, the Pelicans are going to have to fork up a good deal of change (a 4.4 million dollar qualifying offer) if they wish to retain Cole's services for next season.