After a summer-long standoff with management, Norris Cole, (I assume begrudgingly), accepted a one year qualifying offer to forgo restricted free agency in hopes of striking a more lucrative contract during the 2016 free agency bonanza. With Jrue Holiday on a minutes limit, bringing Cole (and his clean flat top) back with something to prove was not the worst move from an insurance standpoint. Ironically, Cole played in less games than Holiday and his status with the Pelicans going forward can be characterized as doubtful at best.
For all of his warts, Cole can be a useful player on a good team. As his time in Miami and brief hot streak towards the end of last season has shown, Cole is capable of infusing a certain kind of energy on the court. He combines a quick first step with springy athleticism and a surprisingly nifty touch on floaters between the free throw line and rim. Though he would never be mistaken as a "big point guard," Cole has a stout frame and shifty feet, allowing him to pick up opposing ball handlers in the backcourt when applicable.
Alvin Gentry's thirst for pace fit with Cole's playing style, providing some memorable moments where the speedy point guard would shoot past a defense on its heels for an easy lay in. For the most part, he knows when to correctly pass out of the pick and roll, and there were times this season when he shared admirable chemistry with Anthony Davis. Yet, his assist numbers (five per 36 minutes) are a bit uninspiring, and Cole still struggles with utilizing proper shot selection. Too often this season the Pelicans would be on a three on two fast break and the end result would be a pull up jumper.
Those kind of opportunities call for a lay up or free throws to be the conclusion. That is the problem with Cole's play at times, he lures you in with some majestic plays before falling to his old brick chucking ways. According to NBA.com, fifty percent of Cole's shot attempts were of the "pull up" domain, with a ghastly thirty-nine percent of them tickling the twine. Many of these attempts came out of pick and roll action with Davis, as defenses would be a step slow while trying to account for the mere threat of a high percentage roll or lob:
Cole doesn't necessarily take a terrible shot here, but there were better options to be had. Bryce Dejean-Jones was stationed along the wing ready to either hoist an open three or swing the rock to Dante Cunningham in the corner.
This is a minuscule gripe to have with a player in a game that was only 4-2 at the time. But that sort of decision-making illustrates a larger narrative for Cole going forward. Rather than playing like Russell Westbrook, he has to realize that his destiny lies as a Patrick Beverley clone with a knack for irritating opponents with scrappy defense, sneaky secondary ball handling and timely corner threes.
Though that is easy to say from behind a computer screen, it will be difficult to execute in real life due to Cole's inept shooting ability from behind the arc:
A career thirty-three percent three point shooter, the Cleveland State product will have to push that percentage into the thirty-seven percent range (or higher) to realize his full potential as a player.
With his age twenty-eight season approaching, perhaps this is the ceiling for Cole. An eighth or ninth man off of the bench that can come into a game to provide short bursts of energy, irritate ball handlers when they bring up the ball and push the pace when need be. He may never be able to find the proper shooting touch to unlock a phase two to his career once his shiftiness deteriorates.
Unfortunately for the Pelicans, injuries in 2015-16 forced Gentry to ask Cole to bite off much more than he could chew. There were some high moments, but also head-scratching sequences in the shot selection and decision-making department.
Some team is going to throw some money at Cole this summer and try to make the most of his energizer bunny skill set. Do not expect that team to have Pierre the Pelican as its mascot.