The lack of news each offseason has a way of turning tiny question marks into must-answer situations. It’s the state of the business but does make for intriguing discussion and analysis. Sometimes the questions are answered, and sometimes they aren’t; in the case of freshmen — like this one today — sometimes they don’t need to be answered immediately. But in the case of Deonte Burton, how Buzz Williams and the Marquette coaching staff utilize the freshman’s unique combination of stature and skill set will be something to watch this season.
As a 6-foot-4 “switchable,” Burton truly is unlike any recruit Williams has recruited to Marquette. Don’t call the hyperbole police right away. Instead, consider that Burton is listed by Rivals.com at 230 pounds. To put that number in perspective, 6-foot-6 Jae Crowder arrived in Milwaukee at 210 pounds; 6-foot-7 Jimmy Butler weighed in at 215 pounds; even incoming forward Jameel McKay, all 6 feet, 8 inches of him, weighs 205 pounds.
The key here is not to focus on Burton’s 230-pound frame and consider that some sort of liability, as highlight reels and recruiting experts will tell you the Milwaukee native is far from out-of-shape or somehow limited in his abilities because of his weight. At the end of the day it’s just a number, and there are more important factors that will determine Burton’s value than what the scale reads when he steps on it.
What his frame and athleticism do show is that Williams and the Golden Eagles’ coaching staff will have plenty of options on how to use Burton this summer when his freshman season begins.
Jog your memory back to 2010 and remember Lazar Hayward’s senior season, when he saw time at center as a 6-foot-5 small forward. Dwight Burke was gone; Youssoupha Mbao and Brett Roseboro had transferred out of the program and Chris Otule was still an injury liability, rendering the tiny — yes, tiny — Hayward a makeshift center. He made it work, but, man, did it look silly and it took him, at times, off the perimeter where he was most effective.
Fast-forward four seasons and the landscape has changed entirely. It’s almost unbelievable to process that Marquette will trot out an Opening Day roster that consists of a 6-foot-11 center (Otule), three 6-foot-8 power forwards (Taylor, McKay, Gardner), a 6-foot-7 small forward (Jamil Wilson) and even a 6-foot-6 perimeter switchable (Anderson). Four years ago Burton — all 6-feet, 4-inches of him — would have been plugged in at power forward in the mold of a Wesley Matthews, somehow defying logic of guarding 6-foot-9, back-to-the-basket bigs.
Williams won’t need to use Burton anywhere in 2013 or beyond. True, Marquette is not a Kansas or Connecticut in the sense of having a 7-foot center, a 6-foot-10 power forward and 6-foot-7 small forward to boot, much like an NBA roster. It’s tough for any team to get to that point, as the Joel Embiid’s and Andre Drummond’s of the world don’t grow on trees. Most teams make due with size disadvantages in some way, Marquette more than others. And perhaps for the first since Williams took over as head coach, that disadvantage will hinder him least.
That’s where Burton comes into play. Paint Touches has seen him play on multiple occasions — in AAU settings — and watched highlight reels (yes, the dreaded YouTube Theory, just work with it) and his role in the lineup is truly a question mark. That’s not to say it’s an issue, and coupled with Marquette’s roster the guess as to where Burton plays is a good problem to have. It may not come into focus next season when Burton is a freshman, but even his four-year projection is one that needs dissecting.
His most NCAA-ready attribute is his slashes and drives to the basket. The left-hander, using a power dribble and that 230-pound frame, attacks the basket and finishes with authority — with incredible dunks, yes, but also with finger rolls and layups. In that sense he’s most useful as a wing, similar to Darius Johnson-Odom (VERY LITE).
His ESPN.com scouting report — and one we agree with — is that Burton shoots “with range to about 17 feet. Most of his points come inside 10 feet.” The report also says Burton is “a streaky shooter that needs to improve his accuracy and range.” Comparisons are usually far too simple and lazy to make, especially to someone from the same program, but this description sounds a lot like Trent Lockett.
The Arizona State transfer was deadly around the rim in terms of offensive rebounds and drives to the basket, and he shot 33.3 percent from beyond the arc. His jump shots were far below average at 25 percent, but 46 percent of his attempts came at the rim. Put another way, the heady Lockett knew his limitations from the outside and made up for it by taking the majority of his shots at the basket (compared to 33 percent of his shots on 2-point jumpers and and 21 percent of his shots on 3-point field goals).
We noted this earlier in the week, that Williams and the coaching staff will have their choice of how to mold Burton. That’s true for any prospect — Duane Wilson could become a shooting guard; Jameel McKay may become a post-up forward; Steve Taylor might play like a Jamil Wilson-like small forward down the road — but Burton’s skill set and body type exemplify that statement. He has the body of a power forward and the height of a shooting guard. Again, this is a good problem to have.
This analysis wouldn’t be complete without addressing the defensive end. After all, it’s easy to fall in love with the Fantasy Sports theory — the one that says only offense matters. If Burton is to play the small forward position, one in which only Jamil Wilson truly occupies at the moment, he must be able to defend guards. Teams will attempt to run three guards at the Golden Eagles to cancel out larger/taller lineups, and Burton may be the X-factor in all of that.
ESPN.com notes that Burton “needs to improve defensively but is strong and athletic and should improve as his game matures.” As is the case for any freshman, defensive effort will determine playing time. This means even more to Burton, as that question mark of a position could make it more difficult for him to defend, yet his offensive talent and overall skills make him someone who may need to be on the court.
There’s room for Deonte Burton in Marquette’s lineup this year. His athleticism is off the charts, he plays physical and gets to the basket as well as any 2013 prospect. Williams will find a spot for the undersized small forward because of his talents. For now he’ll earn playing time on his talent and accolades, and as Williams molds him into more of a basketball player than a pure athlete — not unusual for a top-40 recruit — some of the questions facing HOW he fits in will be answered. It’s nothing but offseason fodder for fans, but it’s something to watch nonetheless.