The most noticeable moment of the 2011 NBA Finals for Norris Cole was watching the Miami Heat struggle to defend the opposing point guard.
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Eight days after the Miami Heat won the NBA title, Cole was in the gym working out twice daily. A strong dedication to improving is why Cole has been one of the early surprises of training camp.
"He's been one of the highlights of the camp so far just in terms of how much he's improved," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He's arguably the most improved player right now. It shouldn't be a surprise to any one of us. He had a terrific summer in terms of commitment."
Spoelstra said he challenged Cole to improve his shooting and play-making ability. That was the reasoning behind Cole traveling with the team to Las Vegas for the NBA Summer League, an event usually reserved for rookies and journeymen.
"It wasn't just a one-game appearance and he was out of there," Spoelstra said.
The Heat are already starting to see the benefits from the strong summer. Cole said he spent the offseason in Miami instead of returning home to Dayton, Ohio so he could focus on basketball. He realized playing time will be tougher to come by with the Heat signing Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.
The emergence of point guard Mario Chalmers also provided motivation for Cole.
"Summer league was a big part, showing that I can run the team and be a floor general, make people better," Cole said. "Just reps, coming in here putting in the time going through each drill, the ball-handling drills, the passing drills, the shooting drills. Doing it twice a day, you expect good results."
Cole said he is in the process of applying the drills into game situations.
"Just been working on things all summer and applying it to the five-on-five when we compete," he said. "It's one thing to do drills, it's another thing to apply it when you play. I've been applying it so far in practice."
The goal is for Cole to avoid late-season slump like he endured as a rookie. After starting strong, he faded once the playoffs began. Cole averaged just 1.8 points in the postseason after averaging 6.8 in the regular season.
He fell out of the rotation in the first and third rounds before making an impact in the NBA Finals.
"I'm a realist. I wasn't playing well," Cole said. "Toward the end of the year, it's time to get ready for the playoffs. … (Spoelstra) had to find a rotation that he can get out there that was going to perform well. I stayed in the gym, kept working. Of course I wanted to play, but I understood."
Cole said reaching his goals this season will be easier because there is no lockout. Last year he had a little more than a week to adjust to new surroundings before playing his first game as a professional. He learned on the fly, but said easing his way into the season could prevent another late-year slump.
"We had 10 days, I believe, we had to put in offense, defense schemes and all that," Cole said. "Now with a full camp, we can really dig into details more. You get that extra time with your teammates to build a rapport and build chemistry. Last year I was a college kid playing with a bunch of pros. I had 10 days to get myself ready to play against the pros."
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