It’s all in the feet.
That’s the mantra Heat assistant coach Dan Craig repeated ad nauseam this summer to guard Norris Cole, and that’s the lesson Cole has used this preseason to transform his outside shot into one of the most improved in the NBA.
Entering Friday’s final game of the preseason, Cole is shooting 77.8 percent from three-point range. It’s a small sample size — Cole is 7 of 9 from three-point range in seven preseason games — and no one is about to crown Cole as one of the best young shooters in the league. But it’s an encouraging sign for a team that was thin at point guard entering training camp.
Cole started the first six games of the preseason while entrenched starter Mario Chalmers recovered from a pulled quadriceps muscle.
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While Cole’s turnover-to-assist ratio (1.6) offered evidence of a second-year reserve still getting used to the speed of the NBA, Cole’s numbers from three-point range show a player who worked hard in the offseason to improve his game.
Cole shot 27.6 percent from three-point range during his rookie season.
“I needed a better base,” Cole said after the Heat’s loss to the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. “Your shot starts with your feet, and you have to [be] balanced.”
Cole took just one week off this summer before dedicating himself to the Heat’s practice gym. He performed well in the Heat’s summer league and then spent countless hours with Craig working on every aspect of his game.
“When you spend that type of time and you’re that pure about it, you see improvement, and that’s what we’ve seen so far,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Cole’s turnover numbers — he has 24 compared to 15 assists — are the worst on the team this preseason, but others have been sloppy with the ball as well. Surprisingly, guard Ray Allen had 13 assists to 13 turnovers entering Wednesday’s game. He had one turnover without recording an assist against the Wizards.
“He has been an efficient player his whole career,” Spoelstra said. “That can happen when you go to a new place and things aren’t quite as familiar as you’re used to — even for a seasoned veteran.”
On Wednesday, Spoelstra didn’t seem overly concerned with Allen’s turnovers — probably because Chalmers made his preseason debut against the Wizards. Chalmers had a calming effect on the Heat’s offense during his first quarter on the floor.
Miami raced to a 12-1 lead, and Chalmers finished the period with three assists. While the Heat has played well throughout the preseason, it never looked better than during that first period with Chalmers back in the fold.
Unfairly, Chalmers still receives grief for his perceived lack of skills as a point guard. Even the thought of Chalmers providing cohesion to the Heat’s offense sounds a bit paradoxical to longtime Heat fans. But the fourth-year player has improved drastically during the past two seasons, and Spoelstra is happy — relieved even — to have him back in the starting lineup.
“We knew right away that he was a gamer and in those big moments that he would be there for you, but learning the position of point guard and the responsibilities of playing that position and running a team and all the expectations of the head coach for him, it’s been awesome to see his development,” Spoelstra said. “He wasn’t a full-time point guard in college.”
The return of Chalmers to the lineup brings the Heat’s rotation into focus, with Friday’s game against the Hornets at AmericanAirlines Arena being the final tuneup of the preseason before Tuesday’s opener against the Boston Celtics. The team’s high number of giveaways — an average of 22 in the past three games — is still a concern, but organizing the Heat’s bench is the most pressing matter.
“I think we have some idea of where we want to go with the rotation, but it never quite works out that way,” Spoelstra said.