During the regular season, Norris Cole's ESPN Player Efficiency Rating was an underwhelming 7.85 (the league average is 15.0), putting him in the company of players such as the Los Angeles Lakers' point guard tandem of Chris Duhon and Darius Morris.
However, under the bright lights of the NBA postseason, the former Cleveland State standout has shined like a diamond.
In fact, as crazy as it sounds, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra should seriously consider putting Cole in the starting lineup going forward.
In nine playoff games this year, the 6'2" Cole is averaging 8.8 points per game while shooting 60.4 percent from the field and a ridiculous 68.8 percent from beyond the arc.
When the 24-year-old backup point guard is on the floor, Miami averages more points per 48 minutes than it does while he's on the bench (101.1 PPG vs. 96.4 PPG). As a whole, the team shoots better from three-point range (37.1 percent vs. 30.8 percent) thanks to Cole's ability to stretch the floor.
Mike Lee @mikeleehoops
Erik Spoelstra on Norris Cole,"he didn't get better shooting 3,000 shots one day. It's a few hundred a day. EVERY SINGLE day"4/22/2013, 2:01:27 AM
"Right now, I'm feeling pretty comfortable out there on the court," said Cole in an interview with Shandel Richardson of the Sun-Sentinel in early May. "I'm pleased with my progress so far."
As good as he's been on the offensive end, Cole's true value may come in his ability to stay in front of opposing point guards. Each of the three remaining teams not named the Miami Heat has a solid floor general, but Cole is more than capable of defending nearly anyone that he would be matched up against.
"Norris' ability, with his speed and his strength, is on defense," said LeBron James while speaking to George Richards of The Miami Herald after the first round. "I think he's one of the best on-ball defenders that we have in the Eastern Conference, if not the whole league."
Meanwhile, starting point guard Mario Chalmers has been anything but super since the end of the regular season. He is averaging 7.0 points and 4.1 assists per game in the playoffs, but is shooting worse than 42 percent from the field and 24 percent from downtown.
In Game 3 of the Heat-Bulls semifinal, Bosh and Chalmers had an animated discussion that prompted Chicago center Joakim Noah to applaud the proceedings.
To be fair, Cole isn't the playmaker that Chalmers is. In the postseason, Chalmers is averaging nearly twice as many assists per 36 minutes as Cole is.
But with Wade at less than 100 percent and the Heat desperate for a complementary option, Chalmers has only managed one double-figure scoring game in the 2013 playoffs. Conversely, Cole scored 18 points in back-to-back games in the Bulls series (Games 2 and 3).
Cole has already played more minutes in this postseason (199) than he did during the Heat's title run last year (170). As his commitment to working on his game has increased in recent months, his time on the court has risen as well.
"He's getting so much more education and experience than he had last year," Spoelstra told Richards in early May, well before Cole's star turn in the Heat's series versus Chicago. "He's earned a bigger role."
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