People were happy when Pat Riley pulled off the draft-day deal to bring Norris Cole to South Beach in 2011. The puppet master had finally given up on experimenting with old point guards and found a cheap alternative to Mario Chalmers.
According to his draft day video, he was a fearless, all-purpose guard who could rebound, assist and play defense. But somewhere along the way, that fearlessness became a hindrance because he came in as a rookie trying to do too much — which often had him perched on the bench watching Chalmers.
Cole came into this season looking to play a big part in the Big Three machine, but again he was trying to do too much. His one-on-four fast breaks became classic. So did the occasions when he would look off LeBron James to take a fadeaway like Dwyane Wade. Fans dubbed it “Norris being Norris,” while others called for “less Norris.” I even wondered out loud if Riley would be better off stealing a cardinal.
Not that type of cardinal. The Louisville Cardinals kind — in the form of senior point guard Peyton Silva. If Riley could move into this June’s draft, the Miami Heat could probably pull in the gritty guard that plays the passing lanes. But that probably never crossed their minds as they stuck with their guy, and he proved to be pretty gritty himself.
“Norris’ ability, with his speed and his strength, is on defense,” said James (via the Miami Herald). “I think he’s one of the best on-ball defenders that we have in the Eastern Conference if not the whole league. He will get some credit on that soon.”
Cole went from playing sparingly to splitting time with Chalmers and often closing out games, all because of his ability to make people uncomfortable — just ask Nate Robinson. Cole suffocated Robinson — on defense — when everyone expected James to guard him. He even freed up the Heat with a couple of threes.
Although it might not be enough to silence his critics completely, it should be enough curb the noise.
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Richard Nurse is a Miami Heat columnist for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @blackirishpr.