The New Orleans Pelicans obtained Norris Cole at the NBA trading deadline to give them a solid defender as the backup point guard — insurance with starter Jrue Holiday’s injury situation uncertain at best.
However, Cole, who won two championships during his four seasons with the Miami Heat, has brought more. With All-Star Anthony Davis, 3-point shooter Ryan Anderson and Holiday out injured, Cole has helped provide a jolt of hope to the Pelicans’ chances of gaining the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff berth with 25 games left.
“I think it’s one thing to lose Jrue, but it certainly has helped us to have someone like Norris who can give you that kind of defense and at times, offense,” coach Monty Williams said. “Norris has been a bright spot for us because he brings some intangibles to the table. He’s played in really big games, so nothing fazes him, and we’re glad to have him.”
Cole made an impact in his first game with the Pelicans, that coming Sunday against his old team. He had 12 points and four assists, playing a surprising 29:38. The Pelicans (30-27) play the Heat (25-31), seventh in the Eastern Conference, again Friday at Smoothie King Center, the final game of a three-game homestand.
After three games, Cole has been a consistent contributor as the team has gone unbeaten since he arrived. Like the team’s previous two acquisitions, forward Dante Cunningham and guard/forward Quincy Pondexter, Cole has brought an edge, Williams said.
Those two brought physicality, intensity and the versatility to be effective at more than one position, particularly on defensive. Cole has brought poise, knowledge and expectations.
“Winning feels good, and I’m a winner, and we’re expected to win,” Cole said. “We don’t work hard and do all the things we do to lose. I think having that attitude, expecting to win and doing the things it takes to win is good.”
Cole averaged 6.3 points and 3.5 assists in 47 games with Miami. Since coming to the Pelicans, he has averaged 12.7 points on 55.5-percent shooting (15-of-27), including 44.4 percent (4-of-9) on 3-point tries. Playing 26 minutes per game, he has averaged 4.0 assists and committed just three turnovers — all in a new system.
It’s not the same as the Heat’s system, but basketball is basketball, he said.
“The terminology is different, but a pick-and-roll is a pick-and-roll, offensively and defensively,” he said. “You get doubled by two players, somebody else is open. The (defender) goes under (the screen), you take the shot if it’s there. Somebody takes the roller, skip it to the other side.”
Cole, who shot 39 percent with Miami this season, including 26 percent on 3s, was available because the Heat obtained Goran Dragic from the Suns. With Miami, he’d played most of his career off the ball. He said he’s been effective with the Pelicans because he is in more of a traditional point-guard role.
“In Miami, the stars had the ball in their hands a lot,” he said. “I was doing a lot of catch-and-shooting, and I can do it, but that’s not what I’m strong at.
“I’m a point guard who plays with the ball, plays off the dribble.”
He’s proven that with his effectiveness. Concerning a statistic that measures a team’s net points when a player is on the court, the Pelicans are a plus-6 with Cole in the game.
He has been noticeably effective in the fourth quarter with the Pelicans. He scored 13 of his 15 points and had two assists during the fourth in the stunner against Toronto. Against Brooklyn on Wednesday night, he helped hold Deron Williams to 1-of-6 shooting while scoring three points and coming up with two big assists.
“That’s winning time, money time,” he said. “That’s definitely something I got from my years in Miami. That’s time to get timely stops, tough rebounds and execute down the stretch.”
Williams and teammate Quincy Pondexter said it’s Cole’s defense that they love. Pondexter calls him “a bulldog on the ball.”
Cole said the Pelicans have to amp up their defense if they’re going to be a playoff team, but he likes the potential.
“We have to communicate and be a little louder at times,” he said. “But this is an athletic team. It is the youngest team I’ve ever been on, and its potential as a defensive team is through the roof. So it’s exciting.”