Well, that didn't take long. Four games into his brief Cyclone tenure, fans are already starting to suggest that Deonte Burton belongs in the starting line up. The explosive Marquette transfer has provided a major jolt off the bench, scoring in double figures in the last three contests, including notching an impressive 19 points in Saturday's loss to Oklahoma.
The truth is, we've been here before. During the '12-'13 campaign, Tyrus McGee was Iowa State's second leading scorer, but flourished in a 6th man role. That didn't stop fans, however, from wanting to see McGee earn a starting nod. Matt Thomas started as a true freshman to begin the '13-'14 season, but Monte Morris eventually replaced Thomas in the starting line up as the season wore on. Last year, Jameel McKay sat out first semester play, but was too good to leave on the bench and as Bryce Dejean-Jones fell out of favor, McKay's strong play put him in the starting 5.
And so here we are again. Four games may not seem like a large enough sample size for Steve Prohm to go off of, but if Burton continues to play like he has, he's at least going to give Prohm something to think about.
Burton's minutes and production has increased with every game and for the first time on Saturday evening, Prohm elected to ride Burton's hot hand in crunch time. Here are Burton's numbers to date:
Nearly 14 points in 18 minutes per game? Now that's production. What's astonishing is how well Burton is shooting the ball. At Marquette, he only attempted 18 3s in 40 career games and connected on 8 of those tries (44.4%). The range appeared to be there, but he simply wasn't getting the opportunities to establish himself as a shooter. As a Cyclone, Prohm is turning Burton loose and with excellent results. He was 1-3 in his first game against UNI, but is 6-7 from outside in his last three games, making him especially difficult to guard as he's darn near impossible to stop when it comes to attacking the basket.
Ideally, you'd like to see him rebound a little more and be more consistent from the line, but it has been a phenomenal start for Burton as a scorer off the bench. It's also encouraging to see that Burton has only 2 turnovers in 4 games and he's played 20+ minutes in his last two contests and hasn't appeared to be overwhelmed or winded by the extended time.
And now some advanced metrics:
*ORtg = Offensive rating; an estimate of points produced per 100 possessions
*%Poss = Percentage of possessions used
*eFG% = Effective field goal percentage; adjusted metric that weights 3-point production more heavily
*OR% = Offensive rebounding percentage; estimate of available offensive rebounds a player grabs
*TORate = Turnover rate; estimate of turnovers per 100 plays
Now, if Burton is going to start, it obviously means someone is getting demoted. Niang, McKay and Monte Morris are untouchable and since Naz Mitrou-Long shut it down, Matt Thomas has been a fantastic two-way player, leaving Abdel Nader as really the only candidate to lose his starting spot.
Coming into the season, both Prohm and Niang called Nader the most consistent Cyclone of the off season and to start his senior campaign, it looked like Nader was going to be the x-factor in the Iowa State line up. In his first 7 contests, Nader scored in double figures in 6 of those games.
Nader was shooting 54% from the field in those 7 games and was knocking down a respectable 34.7% of his outside looks while averaging 14.5 points per contest. In his last 6 efforts, however, Nader has only scored in double figures 3 times and has seen dips in his field goal percentage (38.4%), 3-point percentage (19%) and scoring (9.8 PPG). Nader also only has 4 assists in his last 6 games to 13 turnovers.
Perhaps most concerning has been the inconsistent effort Nader has given Iowa State on the defensive end of the floor as of late. He was really the only player on the Iowa State roster that was able to guard a red-hot Wes Washpun of UNI, but Nader was torched repeatedly by backdoor cuts against Arkansas Pine Bluff, failed miserably to slow Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok against Iowa and was the primary defender on Oklahoma's Isaiah Cousins in the second half when Cousins erupted for all 15 of his points. If you've listened/watched any of Iowa State's Cyclones.TV broadcasts, color man, Eric Heft, has also pointed out time and time again just how much Nader's defensive gambles are costing Iowa State.
Now, to say that it's been all bad for Nader recently wouldn't be fair. He played 38 minutes against Northern Iowa and posted 14 points and 7 rebounds while defending Washpun better than anyone else could. He also scored 21 points in 25 minutes against Coppin State to lead the Cyclones and of course, drilled the game-winning three against Cincinnati.
At 6'6" and 230 pounds with a 7-foot wingspan, Nader gives Iowa State a much-needed bigger body that's versatile enough to play both inside and on the perimeter. He's a one-man fast break whenever he pulls down a defensive rebound and he's shown plenty of times that he's capable of doing some amazing things on the floor. The fact remains though, that going back to his time at Northern Illinois, Nader has never been an efficient scorer and when he's off, he's really off. But have we seen enough to warrant a change in the starting line up? I'm not so sure.
We know just how short Iowa State's bench is and with Hallice Cooke playing only 3 minutes against Oklahoma, it might be getting even shorter. With those types of limitations, Burton is easily going to see 20+ minutes every night and on those nights when Nader doesn't have it going, it could be more. And as is always the case, total minutes and when those minutes come tend to mean a little more than who's on the floor for the opening tip.
Another thing to remember is that while at Marquette, Burton wasn't exactly a model of consistency either. His production fluctuated all over the place, which is largely one of the reasons he never firmly entrenched himself in the Golden Eagle's rotation.
At this point, I'd argue it might be a little premature to make any type of change, but it's definitely something to keep an eye on going forward.