Considering that the Miami Heat are a veteran, star-studded team, everyone already has a pretty good idea who the impact players will be in 2013-14. But there is one guy, the youngest player in Miami's rotation, who will surprise some people during the upcoming season.
I'm referring to guard Norris Cole.
Look, I was as critical of Cole during his first year-and-a-half in the league as anybody. He was a pitiful shooter, a careless ball-handler and a substandard playmaker. At one point this past season, a strong case could have been made (and was) that Cole was one of the worst rotation players in the league.
However, no Heat player showed more growth by the end of the season than Cole.
Starting in March, his once abysmal shot—he shot just 27.6 percent from three-point range in his rookie year—turned deadly for Miami. The Cleveland State product shot 50.0 percent and 47.6 percent in the final two months of the season, respectively. And Cole showed in the playoffs that his regular-season improvement wasn't a fluke, as he knocked down a team-best 53.1 percent of his outside jumpers.
Even a team that has LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh needs role players to step up at times in the postseason, and Norris did that, specifically against the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. He knocked down his first eight three-pointers of the series, which is historically great.
But what makes Cole primed for a solid year in his third pro season is that he made strides in multiple areas last year.
Cole turned the ball over 1.6 times per game during his rookie year and posted a similar average through December of the 2012-13 season. After that, though, he had only one bad month in regards to turnovers (3.2 per game in April). He averaged 0.6 TOs per game in January, 0.8 in February, one in March, and 1.1 during the playoffs.
While Cole never saw a big jump in his assist totals at any point last season, he did improve as a passer as the year went along. At least according to the "eye test." Cole started to let the game come to him rather than forcing the action, which allowed him to become a better playmaker.
In addition to his developing offensive skills, Cole also brings a great defensive game to the table. He falls into the "energy guy" mold on defense. He's quick and has a high motor; he makes opponents work for everything.
Cole is annoying, in a good way.
All of this doesn't mean Cole is going to have a monster season in 2013-14 or that he's going to even supplant Mario Chalmers as Miami's starting point guard. His offensive game is still far from being fully developed.
But Cole was once a guy who, once he stepped onto the floor, put the Heat in worse shape than they were when he was on the bench. Now, he's proven to be an asset. Given that he's currently just 24 years old, he'll be even better during the 2013-14 season.
Thanks to Cole's growth, the Heat won't have any weak links in their rotation, and that makes them really dangerous.