Norris Cole only has been in the NBA for three seasons, but already his diligence toward preparation has become a trademark.
He studies opponents on his iPad like he’s preparing for midterm exams; he drills himself on his weakness as a guard; and he practices his three-point shot late at night when no one is around except his personal shooting coach.
In other words, he has a reputation as one of the most serious-minded young players in the league.
Naturally, he dressed up as Chuck Norris on Halloween and went on Fox Sports 1.
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“It only made sense to be Chuck Norris,” Cole joked last Friday in New York. “How else could I show off my hair and all my swag?”
Cole’s retro high-top fade hairstyle always hinted toward a personality buried somewhere down deep, but his professional demeanor could accurately be described as the opposite of swagger.
Now, as Cole’s game is starting to blossom on the court, so too is his personality off it.
“I’m just trying to enjoy it a little bit,” Cole said.
His comfort level in games has been obvious, too.
Cole is shooting 44.4 percent from three-point range (4 of 9) through the first four games of the season, but his decision-making as a point guard is what has impressed Heat coach Erik Spoelstra the most. Cole has dished out more than twice as many assists (13) as turnovers (six) while averaging 21.8 minutes per game.
“That’s 10,000 reps,” Spoelstra said of Cole’s constant work at finding teammates. “I can’t tell you how many times he watches film on it. Every time we do a 5-0 drill, 3-0 drill, he has been drilled [author] Malcolm Gladwell-10,000-hours style — banana cut to get open, bang, look up the floor and find your Hall of Famers and make them better.”
In the book Outliers, Gladwell writes that its takes about 10,000 hours of practice to master a field.
“Norris has become a student of the game,” Dwyane Wade said. “He’s always watching film of other guys and of himself, trying to see how he can become a better player. He has made improvements every year, and it’s just a testament to him as a hard worker.”
His maturation as a point guard has allowed Spoelstra to play Cole in three-guard sets along with Wade, Mario Chalmers and Ray Allen. It has been another wrinkle to the Heat’s always evolving offense.
“As a point guard, your job is to make the game easier for everybody else,” Cole said. “My job as a point guard is to keep those guys involved and get those guys shots while at the same time keeping the defense honest and being aggressive myself.”
Cole said the game became easier when he learned how to change his pace on the court. He adapted that aspect of his game by studying more established point guards in the league.
“That’s the first thing with me,” Cole said. “I have to get used to not going as fast, and I think once you master that … I think a quick guards master going slow to fast. It’s hard to guard them.
“Guards like Tony Parker, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, those guys are very fast but they’re not always going fast. They pick and choose and then, boom, all of sudden they put their foot on the gas.”
Cole’s fast dashes to the rim and his skill as a defender earned him minutes his first and second seasons with the Heat. Now, making the extra pass and developing as creator of offense could take him to the next level as a guard.
“He understands the opportunity that he has,” Wade said. “Whenever he’s on the court he’s playing with a guy who is a future Hall of Famer at some position, and he relishes that and wants to do well.
“He’s a natural scorer and a guy who all his life has been able to go get his own and make it that way he has had to make an adjustment. I think this year he is doing a helluva job so far.”