Last season, Norris Cole was the starting point guard for the Cleveland State Vikings. If the Heat don't re-sign Mario Chalmers this offseason, Cole could easily be the best point guard on the defending Eastern Conference champions next year, and there's an outside chance Cole could become the starter even if Chalmers does decide to stay. No matter how comprehensive your statistics are or how keen your eye for talent is, it's all but impossible to project how a player is going to make the adjustment from playing in the Horizon League to playing on one of the NBA's elite teams.
So with that caveat in mind, let's take a look at Norris Cole, the Heat's first-round pick.
On paper, Cole doesn't appear to have any elite skills, but he projects as an above-average player in a lot of areas. He's not a lights-out shooter, but he shot a respectable 34.2 percent on 3-pointers while taking more than four a game last season. While the Heat would probably like their point guard to be a better spot-up shooter than that, Cole has enough range to make teams respect him from beyond the arc. He's not a transcendent passer, but his 5.9 assists per game and 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio make him the closest thing to a pure point guard the Heat have on their roster.
Cole is not ultra-quick, but he's certainly fast, and the Heat are hoping he'll help them get out in transition more next season. The most impressive thing about Cole might be how fearless he is when he goes to the paint. At Cleveland State, Cole attempted 7.4 free throws per game as a senior and 5.0 per game as a junior. Granted, this all happened in the Horizon league, but Cole is clearly willing and able to take the ball strong to the rim whenever the opportunity presents itself. Out of the Heat's non-Big Three players, only Mario Chalmers was willing to take the ball into the paint with any sort of consistency last season, but he averaged only 0.9 free throw attempts per game last season and three free throw attempts per game in his final college season at Kansas.
If Cole can get into the paint consistently, create openings for LeBron and Wade to get catches against a rotating defense and hit them with good passes, the Heat offense will become a thing of terrifying beauty. Furthermore, Cole averaged 2.5 steals per game last season, and while steal totals aren't always an accurate measure of a player's defensive acumen (just ask anyone familiar with Monta Ellis), Cole clearly has something of a knack for playing the passing lanes and does take some pride in his defense.
On top of everything else, Cole is an astoundingly good rebounder for his size, having averaged 6.5 rebounds per game last season -- as Tom Haberstroh pointed out shortly after Cole was drafted, he even had a 40-point, 20-rebound game last season. (Against Youngstown State, but still.)
What didn't work
Cole doesn't have elite athleticism, passing skills or a deadly outside shot, which are the skills that generally transfer best to the NBA level. So the question with Cole is this: Is he a jack of all trades in the Horizon League and a master of none in the NBA, or can he play like he did in college and prove to be one of the draft's biggest steals?
Cole will have to manage his risk-taking on both offense and defense next season. It was always refreshing to see a player in a Heat jersey do something other than watch the Big Three and wait for a wide-open shot, but Cole won't have the ball in his hands nearly as much as he did last season, and Erik Spoelstra's defensive system probably won't let him gamble enough to rack up as many steals as he did in college.
Cole could be a great change-of-pace guard, but he still doesn't fit the good outside shooting/good defense/perfect decision-making model of the type of player that is supposed to succeed next to James and Wade. The big challenge for Cole will be to adapt his game to playing alongside James and Wade without forgetting what made him such an effective player for Cleveland State.
Possible lockout viewing material
It's not a perfect match by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm going to go with Denver's Ty Lawson here. Lawson is a bit smaller and a lot faster than Cole, but he's everything the Heat would ask for in a change-of-pace guard. Lawson is a terror in the open floor, can get to the rim and finish, and combines an accurate (if unorthodox) stroke with good shot selection from beyond the arc.
Cole doesn't have Lawson's physical gifts or 3-point stroke (for some reason, Lawson's odd stroke made people overlook just how good of a 3-point shooter he was in college), but he's still a slightly undersized change-of pace guard with a well-rounded game, and Lawson is as good of a role model for him as anybody.
Like I said earlier, it's nearly impossible to predict just how good Cole will be with the Heat -- he could completely change the way the Heat play offense, he could be a serviceable second or third guard off the bench, or he could be completely overwhelmed when facing the best players in the NBA. Either way, he gives the Heat youth, speed, athleticism and a willingness to take the ball to the rim, which is something the Heat's role players didn't have a surplus of last season.