Deonte Burton was such an unknown entering his freshman season at Marquette that even the 6-foot-5 wing couldn’t figure out where he fit in, defining himself as “undefined” when asked exactly what position he played.
The shy Milwaukee native nervously laughed when asked about his best trait on the basketball court, wringing his hands and shuffling his feet as he admitted that his midrange jumper, defensive length and strength at the rim would help him in his first season with the Golden Eagles.
Burton was an incredibly tough prospect to crack, even before his comments at media day. The YouTube theory didn’t even work with the 6-foot-5 wrecking ball; his thunderous dunks shook houses in Mequon (see here, here and definitely here), he got to the lane at will against weaker opponents and posted up well with his 230-pound frame. Smarter analysts at the internet’s best recruiting services ranked Burton as a top-50 prospect in the 2013 class, with RSCI averaging him out as the no. 54 player in the country.
But where in the world was he going to play? He could have played Lazar Hayward’s stunt double as a makeshift center, his left-handed rim-rockers brought back shades of Darius Johnson-Odom, and his post play resembled closely the way a similarly-built Wesley Matthews dominated as a senior.
So #BANE set out to show everyone — and find out himself — exactly the kind of player he was.
Mr. Undefined didn’t take long to show that his fearless style of play was going to stick. In a win over hopeless Grambling State, he played 22 minutes, scored 14 points on 6-for-15 shooting and grabbed six rebounds. The shooting numbers left something to be desired, but the 15 shot attempts proved he wasn’t going to shy away from the moment or defer to his teammates; if the shot was there, he was going to take it.
He played between 7 and 10 minutes in Marquette’s next five games, totaling nine points on 4-for-11 shooting, six rebounds and six steals in 43 combined minutes. While freshmen John Dawson and Jajuan Johnson rode the bench in the Ohio State debacle, Burton saw first-half minutes (8 total) and contributed defensively. In a season of wacky rotations and inconsistent bench minutes, Burton seeing time against the Buckeyes meant something.
Then Sunday night happened.
In Marquette’s 67-59 loss to San Diego State in the championship of the Wooden Legacy, #BANE injected life into the Golden Eagles’ offense that hadn’t been seen off the bench from someone not named Gardner or Mayo — Jajuan Johnson’s 18-point outing at Arizona State was impressive, but his damage was done before halftime.
In a seven-minute span in the second half, Burton found himself. In bringing Marquette from down nine to leading by two, he scored 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting and added a block and steal to the cause. He struggled down the stretch and was ultimately benched in the Golden Eagles’ losing effort, but the damage was done. Burton is a part of the rotation Williams is trying ever so hard to build, and for more reasons than one.
Williams’ definition of “switchable” pertains to defensive versatility, but having some on offense doesn’t hurt, either. Within his five field-goal makes, Burton scored on a fast break, a pair of cuts to the basket, a 17-foot jumper, an iso spin-move and a post-up (which drew a foul and free throws).
Burton did his damage in just 16 minutes, finishing with 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting, one rebound, a pair of steals and blocks and four trips to the free throw line.
It says something when a freshman isn’t afraid to take shots when surrounded by a plethora of upperclassmen, and that’s exactly what Burton has done through eight games. It’s that same kind of attitude Todd Mayo had as a freshman, when an average Joe watching Marquette wouldn’t have known that six months prior Burton was walking the halls of a high school and attending his senior prom.
Consider that Burton is averaging 27.5 percent of Marquette’s field-goal attempts when he is on the court, which roughly averages out to #BANE accounting for 36 of the Golden Eagles’ 131 attempts in his 91 minutes. That percentage is the highest on Marquette, more than Jamil Wilson (27.3), Gardner (26.8 percent) and Mayo (24.3). For a player shooting better than 47 percent from the field, Burton’s mark is good news.
His rebounding and assist numbers have been well below-average, beginning with a total rebound rate (8.2) just a hair above Derrick Wilson (7.6) and slightly below Mayo (8.5). Burton’s rebounding numbers must improve despite him playing more on the perimeter than inside. His assist rate (2.6) is ridiculously low, seeing as the next lowest mark on the team is Jake Thomas, at 11.2 percent.
However, Williams’ tendency to play freshmen and even sophomores (see: Taylor, Steve) lies in their ability to defend.
And it’s where #BANE makes his mark.
According to sports-reference.com, Burton’s 85.7 defensive rating — the points per 100 possessions he allows when on the court — leads the team. Saying that Marquette plays at roughly 67 possessions per game, the Golden Eagles allow roughly 57 points per game with Burton on the court, almost six points better than their season average (63.0).
And it goes deeper than that. Burton’s 6.5 steal percentage — the number of opponents’ possessions that end in a steal from him — leads Marquette by more than three percentage points (Todd Mayo; 3.3 percent). While that number won’t hold up over the course of the season, especially if he sees more minutes going forward, 6.5 percent would rank fourth in the country if he qualified.
His blocks also have been a warm welcome. In just 91 minutes, Burton has blocked four shots, the same number Otule has in 141 minutes and one more than Jamil Wilson has in 201 minutes. Burton’s 4.9 block percentage leads the team, and he’s done a stellar job guarding dribble penetration and contesting at the basket.
Buzz Williams is a tough nut to crack. He’d probably admit to being hard-headed when it comes to relying on young players, hoping he can find the same trust he had in Junior Cadougan and Lazar Hayward in the players who have only worn the Blue & Gold for a few months.
The time has come for Burton to see the court as a consistent contributor. Whether he has gained Williams’ trust via the classroom, locker room or practice, he’s simply too good to keep off the court on a consistent basis. Plus, Burton admittedly is still finding himself. And on that path, he has proven to be one of Marquette’s best players in the early going.
Burton, the self-described “unknown,” may not know his position. It hasn’t mattered. For now, we’ll call #BANE a positive contributor and go from there.