It never has been easy for Deonte Burton, beginning with where he grew up. The streets of Compton, south of downtown Los Angeles, are regarded as mean and unforgiving.
Burton was wise enough to stay off the streets and good enough with a basketball to get out of town.
“It’s pretty rough down there in Compton,” he said, “but basketball kept that all away so you don’t have to worry about the gangs too much.”
The offer he wanted from UCLA did not come, so he took his talents to UNR. In Reno, he slipped under the radar, leading a team that never reached the NCAA Tournament in his four years.
When the first round of the NBA Draft wraps up today, Burton expects to be sitting and waiting, knowing he will have to play his way into the league the hard way.
“I’ve been in a similar situation my whole career,” he said. “Everybody had me underrated going into college. Especially when you have critics knocking you and people saying you can’t stick in the league, you better have self-confidence. For whatever reason, it just seems to be that way. I kind of fall into the sleeper category. People don’t think I can be a great player, and I have that knack for proving them wrong.”
There is no doubt NBA scouts do their homework, but many seem to be missing the point on Burton, a first-round talent about to slip into the draft’s second round. If he’s a starter in two or three years, no one who watched him play in the Mountain West should be surprised.
A 6-foot-1-inch point guard, Burton has a 6-7 wingspan and an explosive vertical leap that produced a few of the most spectacular dunks in college basketball last season. He is aggressive and strong, able to drive to the rim at will.
“He’s a lead guard who can make plays for himself and make plays for others,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “He’s an NBA player, no doubt. He has a great chance to make a team. I was impressed with him the last three years.”
In the Wolf Pack’s two-game sweep of the Rebels last season, Burton totaled 53 points and 14 assists.
He’s a scorer and a playmaker, averaging 20.1 points and shooting 47 percent from the field as a senior.
Is he durable? Scouts can check that box. Burton started all 130 games of his UNR career. He averaged 38.6 minutes per game last season, when he played a 240-minute stretch without leaving the floor.
So, here’s what the scouts will doubt: his 3-point shooting (33.7 percent for his career) and the lack of success of his Wolf Pack teams.
Chad Ford of ESPN ranks Burton as the 13th-best point guard in the draft.
“It’s frustrating,” Burton said. “I think if I’m not the best, I’m one of the best point guards in the draft.”
But Burton is likely to slide into the second round, along with former UNLV forward Khem Birch. Two other point guards from the Mountain West, San Diego State’s Xavier Thames and New Mexico’s Kendall Williams, might go undrafted.
“I think it’s one of the deepest drafts and one of the most talented that we’ve had in maybe a decade,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. “It is full of players that can not only come in and contribute, but guys that could be starters and potential stars. So you can go deep into the second round and get good players. That’s not always the case.”
Burton could be one of those potential stars as a second-round steal.
He has worked out for 15 teams, and it’s no secret the Denver Nuggets, who have the 41st and 56th picks, admire him.
“I definitely think I helped myself in workouts,” said Burton, who earned his bachelor’s degree in general studies in May. “For a guy like me, projected in the second round, in my opinion, I couldn’t hurt my draft stock. The only thing I can do is improve my stock.
“I have no clue where I’m going to go. The thing is, you’ve got to outwork people, and that’s what I try to do. It’s been that way my whole life.”
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.