Analyzing the MU freshmen at the halfway mark

Deonte Burton has been stellar in his first year under Buzz Williams. (USA Today)

Deonte Burton has been stellar in his first year under Buzz Williams. (USA Today)

We’re just past the halfway mark of the 2013-14 season (Marquette has played 17 games; it has 15 guaranteed games remaining) and given the Golden Eagles’ struggles to date, it’s only fair to look at how their first-year players have performed. There’s been good (#BANE), bad (Jameel McKay says goodbye) and ugly (Duane Wilson redshirts) with the 2013 class.

Here’s how we’ve seen the three active freshmen perform as Marquette enters the heart of its Big East schedule. Get your torches and pitchforks ready, screaming for more playing time. These are the cold hard facts:

Deonte Burton

For as long as we’ve been running this site, Todd Mayo’s freshman season has been the barometer and comparison we use to talk about freshmen. Mayo’s numbers were great, and so were his intangibles, taking care of the ball, relaxing under pressure and staying aggressive in his 21.1 minutes per game.

It seems like we have a new freshman. Burton entered his freshman season without a true position or role. Buzz Williams didn’t know how much Steve Taylor would play, how much improvement Juan Anderson would show or if Burton would be able to corral his insane athleticism and turn it into a positive contributor who played within the offense.

Through 17 games, Burton has passed with flying colors. His most impressive stat is that he’s using more than 27 percent of possessions while on the court. That’s the team’s highest mark, and is equal to Darius Johnson-Odom’s number two seasons ago. In fact, here are the top-5 usage rates from a Marquette player the last five seasons (Note: Lazar Hayward’s senior season…woah):

Screen Shot 2014-01-13 at 4.28.27 AM

Now realize, Burton’s usage rate will inevitably come down as possessions become more important and the games slow down in Big East play. Still, he’s been incredibly aggressive going to the basket and is unafraid to pull the trigger on shots — his 15.9 FGA per 40 minutes are a team-high — shooting 47 percent in his freshman season. On a team full of players who seem afraid to shoot at times, Burton has been a saving grace; his turnovers need to decrease, though that comes with the territory of a player looking to score every time he touches the ball.

His defense has improved steadily as the year has gone on, and both his blocks (0.8) and steals (1.3) are second on the team. His defensive rebound rate (9.9 percent; third lowest behind Jajuan Johnson and Jake Thomas) leaves plenty to be desired, but he has grabbed an impressive 9.4 percent of available offensive rebounds — his 12 putbacks off o-boards are third, behind Marquette’s two centers. Burton is beginning to stuff the box score on a nightly basis, and Williams would be best served to play this impressive freshman close to 20 minutes per game, if not more. He has been Marquette’s best freshman since Dominic James.

Jajuan Johnson

Go back and watch the Arizona State game. Watch No. 5 on Marquette. Then go look at the box score. Got it? Good, now try and convince yourself that Marquette’s highest-ranked recruit in Buzz Williams’ tenure doesn’t deserve more playing time — he’s played 14 or fewer minutes in four of the last five.

Jajuan Johnson played 25 minutes in that loss to Arizona State, scoring nine points on 4-for-8 shooting (three 3-pointers) with three rebounds, three assists and a steal. Johnson’s +/- rating that night was 2, second best behind Davante Gardner (10). That next night he scored a career-high 18 points on 6-for-8 shooting and made all three of his 3-point attempts.

The next three games, however, he played 11, 9 and 10 minutes, failing to score. Figure that one out.

Here’s the brass tacks on Johnson: he’s averaging 15.4 minutes per game this season. In six games he has played more than 15 minutes; in the other nine (two DNP-CD’s) he’s averaged fewer than 15. Here are those splits:

Screen Shot 2014-01-13 at 4.19.59 AMThese numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. First, there’s a good chance Williams subbed out Johnson when he wasn’t playing well and kept him when he was, and he’s bound to shoot better when he’s on the court for longer stretches. Also, the games where he played more than 15 minutes primarily came against bottom-feeder teams. Still, these splits are pretty mind boggling, and show that if given more run, Johnson could provide some much needed offense.

Johnson has shown aggressiveness, is taking care of the ball and, while his defense hasn’t blown any opposing offenses away, the other four players around him could hide any sub-par play he might suffer. Williams has his reasons for not playing Johnson, but a season that may have March relevancy in jeopardy calls for a freshman to be set free and see if he can’t spark an offense that has had its share of lackluster performances.

Aruge for Jake Thomas playing all you’d like; the redshirt senior has exceeded expectations and also provides a scoring punch. But it’s difficult to deny that Johnson should see more court time, if only to let him get a rhythm going and to earn valuable experience. The numbers don’t lie.

John Dawson

Marquette’s biggest unknown freshman has seen minuscule playing time through 20 games, and it’s really not difficult to see why. It’s not that Dawson is playing poorly or that he couldn’t bring something starter Derrick Wilson does. It’s that Dawson is really settling quite often; rarely does Dawson penetrate to the paint, looking for shots close to the rim or for open shooters.

Consider this: Dawson has attempted 20 shots in his first season. Just one of those has come at the rim.

Here’s a quick visual breakdown:

Screen Shot 2014-01-13 at 4.44.00 AM

The 14 3-pointers aren’t necessarily a problem, though the fact that he’s only made two of them may be a reason to stop shooting them, but open shots are open shots. The problem lies in that Dawson has taken one shot at the rim, and just four more on 2-pointers. Even Jake Thomas has attempted 6 percent of his shots at the basket. Maybe Derrick Wilson isn’t Marquette’s answer at point guard, but he’s attempting almost 57 percent of his shots at the rim. You want to play the point at Marquette? Get to the bucket (unless your name is Dwight Buycks. Then feel free to shoot as you please).

Do note that in Dawson’s limited minutes, he has been Marquette’s best on-ball defender. Opponents are shooting a mere 21.4 percent (3-for-14) against him, though like Johnson, he’s primarily played against the “cupcakes” on Marquette’s schedule.

Against those cupcakes, Dawson also has distributed nicely. In five games with double-digit minutes, Dawson is averaging 2.6 assists and has turned the ball over just four times for a sparking 3.2 A/TO ratio. It was also nice to see him log 17 solid minutes against Xavier (six points, 2-for-7, two assists and a rebound).

Just don’t expect Dawson to crack the rotation, see more minutes or, for you crazies, start over Wilson. Dawson’s length, speed and transition prowess make him an interesting prospect. Still, Wilson gives Marquette the best chance to win, meaning he’ll play 27+ minutes per game from here on out.

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2 Comments on “Analyzing the MU freshmen at the halfway mark”

  1. shake mo
    January 13, 2014 at 3:34 pm #

    Terrible assessment on Dawson when he hasn’t been given an ample chance to show what he’s made of….he’s not the average cookie cutter player and I want you to keep this note when he’s given a chance to really play ….i recently watched MU where their starters had 6 straight turnovers and we’re allowed to play through … but when a freshman (either one) made one they were pulled immediately, should be the other way around …. MU was the 41st D1 school to offer Dawson (yeah 41st to offer) including Creighton …Arizona State. …UNM ….but he chose MU because of the challenge… so make sure you look before you leap …. Dawson can help this team NOW AND IS READY ….. Contact m.clay if you really wanna know mclay13@yahoo.com

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