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Burton's first Thunder season comes with promise and limited opportunity

There’s an unmistakable sound from the crowd when the Thunder goes through its pregame warm-up. Raymond Felton treats the layup lines like a Harlem Globetrotters show, Felton the assist man to Deonte Burton’s powerful displays.

You know exactly when Burton throws down a gravity-defying dunk just by the fans’ reactions. You also didn’t get to see much of that jaw-dropping athleticism in Burton’s first year with the Thunder.

Burton's first season with the Thunder came with flashes, but limited opportunity.

The Iowa State product didn’t look out of place making the jump from Wonju Dongbu Promy of South Korea's KBL to the Thunder. But his impact was scarcely felt outside of two key wins on the Thunder’s February schedule against Houston and Portland.

Following a career-best 18 points in 26 minutes against Portland on Feb. 11, Thunder coach Billy Donovan said Burton was playing so well, "I just didn’t want to take him off the floor." But even when Burton had a platform to shine, it came in extreme circumstances. Both Jerami Grant and Dennis Schroder missed that Thunder win.

Donovan’s reluctance to play Burton was as much of a deterrent to the 25-year-old as any on-court struggles.

Burton averaged 2.6 points on 40.2 percent shooting with the Thunder.

"Burton I think got some quality minutes with us and then was able to play with the Blue," Donovan said. "I think some of the experience that those guys have will help them get better and improve here throughout the course of the offseason."

There are understandably improvements to come from a first-year NBA player.

For all his athletic gifts, Burton was a part of the Thunder’s team-wide problem of finishing with efficiency. He only converted on 20-of-42 (47.6 percent) of his field goal attempts at the rim, where the league average was 57.9 percent this season. Burton struggled with his 3-point shot not just on limited attempts with the Thunder (29.6 percent), but with more than four attempts per game with the G League Oklahoma City Blue (30-of-100 from 3). Burton can defend multiple positions and make adjustments on the fly — as seen against Houston in March when defending against James Harden — but can improve as a defender, which he said he’ll focus on more in the summer.

When assigned to the Blue, Burton was able to showcase more of his unique skill set.

Donovan had similar issues with Josh Huestis he now has with Burton: Where is the best spot to play him? What Burton lacks in Huestis’ length, though, he has an advantage in ballhandling. The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder says the Thunder wants to use him as a power forward in terms of positional designation, but unlike Huestis, he can bring the ball up the floor and initiate offense comfortably.

In 24 games with the Blue, Burton averaged 16.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.2 steals and a block per game. Often, Blue coach Mark Daigneault deployed Burton as a de facto point guard, particularly off defensive rebounds where Burton’s explosiveness in transition was too much for G Leaguers to handle.

"I can make better decisions with the ball," Burton said at his exit interview in April. "I think it'll get better once I get more experience with it."

Experience is the key. The Thunder believed in Burton enough to convert his two-way contract into guaranteed money in March. Whether that will translate to playing time remains to be seen.

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This is Day 3 of The Oklahoman's Thunder-A-Day series, assessing the OKC roster entering the offseason. Up next:

Wednesday: Dennis Schroder

Thursday: Raymond Felton

Friday: Terrance Ferguson

Saturday: Jerami Grant

Sunday: Russell Westbrook

Related Photos
<strong>Burton</strong>

Burton

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-ad315b095ded1647cf0810bf426abf21.jpg" alt="Photo - Burton " title=" Burton "><figcaption> Burton </figcaption></figure>
Erik Horne

Erik Horne is in his fourth season on the Thunder beat. Horne joined The Oklahoman as a sports web editor/producer in September 2013 following a five-year stint at The Ardmoreite (Ardmore) – first as a sports writer, then sports editor. At The... Read more ›

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