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NBA / Dec 17, 2013 / 11:15 am

Look Out, NBA: Miami’s Bench Has Never Been Better

Norris Cole

Norris Cole (Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY Sports)

Erik Spoelstra is boring holes through me as he answers my question on whether his Miami Heat are missing anything when Michael Beasley, the team’s newcomer that was sitting out Saturday night’s win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, isn’t available.

Adamantly, he speaks highly of his bench, specifically the volume of talent, saying, “Depth’s one of our biggest strengths on this roster, so we don’t like to use excuses.”

No, excuses have never been a viable option for Spoelstra or anybody on this Heat team. Since signing LeBron James and Chris Bosh to team up alongside Dwyane Wade, Miami has been expected to do no less than win at every opportunity and every juncture of the season, eventually ending in a championship.

Not even when the Heat boasted a bench with Eddie House and Juwan Howard receiving significant minutes, in the NBA Finals no less, were excuses remotely acceptable.

As a result of their loss in the 2011 Finals, Miami has since made it a purpose to upgrade their supporting cast, easing the burden off the shoulders of the Big Three and bringing in guys who emitted confidence and had ice flowing through their veins.

[RELATED: The 15 Biggest Surprises Of The NBA Season So Far]

Since losing to Dallas, the Heat has added on Chris Andersen, Norris Cole, Rashard Lewis, Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Michael Beasley, or basically every player that you see playing rotation minutes off the Miami bench.

We learn from our mistakes, and the Heat endured that life lesson when they lost three consecutive times to end the ’11 Finals, each as painful and lasting as the next. Once the season ended, though, the front office recognized what needed to be done: Turning a Big Three into a team.

“It’s just an opportunity for another guy to step in and help us win,” says Spoelstra, a two-time champion head coach.

The Heat entered this season with the deepest bench, by far, in the Big Three era. Despite the loss of Mike Miller, the additions of Beasley, Roger Mason Jr. and Greg Oden quelled any lingering thoughts of the sharpshooter.

Miami can not only boast having the deepest bench in franchise history, but arguably in the league. With an offense centered around spacing the floor, the myriad of shooters the Heat has added (Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Rashard Lewis, and, since two years ago, Norris Cole) have flourished. Cole, specifically, has been at the forefront of this improved bench. Since shooting below 40 percent from the field and below 30 percent from beyond the arc in his rookie season, Cole has evolved into a third-year guard that can be relied on at any given situation on either side of the ball.

Against Cleveland, he helped hold All-Star Kyrie Irving to 10 points after scoring nine within the first four minutes of the game. By the end of the night, Irving was 6-for-16 from the floor and was a non-factor in a tightly-contested fourth quarter, mainly because Norris was locked on him defensively.

It certainly isn’t the first time Norris has had defensive success against Kyrie:

Talking to Norris would lead you to believe he’s a seasoned veteran, with the way he speaks of efficiency and focusing on all aspects of his game. It’s so jarring that he comes across as a mouthpiece for one of the numerous 30-somethings that inhabit this Heat roster, which is the oldest in the league.

“I work on my complete game, but shooting was definitely something I wanted to focus on,” he says. “Coming out of college, I was a guy known for putting the ball in the basket and I wanted to continue doing that, but you have to be efficient at doing that.”

“The only way to be efficient, scoring and making plays, is to consistently be in the gym shooting so that when you’re open, you’re going to knock down shots, so it doesn’t take you five shots to make one. I think our team, we’re very efficient and I’ve learned that from the vets. To be an efficient shooter, you don’t need a lot of shots. You just have to make open shots, and that comes with repetition.”

Cole finished with a .3 plus/minus rating last year, and boasted a net rating, a player’s disparity between offensive and defensive rating, of only 3.1, the worst among Heat rotation players.

It’s a completely different story this year, though, as Cole actually leads the team in both plus/minus rating and net rating, each by comfortable margins. He’s also shooting career-highs from the field (46 percent) and three-point arc (40 percent). As a result, Cole is earning five more minutes per game than he had the previous two years.

Keep reading to hear how effective the Cole/Chalmers backcourt has been together…

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