The playoffs already seem out of reach for both the Milwaukee Bucks and Utah Jazz, both of whom have the worst records in their respective conferences. That doesn't mean the season is lost, however, as both teams enter Thursday night's game with their rookies taking early promising steps.
In Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks have an athletic swingman who can create matchup problems on both ends of the floor. Since moving into the starting lineup on Dec. 18, Antetokounmpo has averaged 10.0 points and 7.7 rebounds, while proving to be a valuable defender against a variety of positions.
The15th overall pick out of Greece made his first six starts at shooting guard, but moved to small forward in the team's most recent game, a 94-79 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday. Antetokounmpo had eight points and 11 rebounds in the win, along with a highlight-reel dunk that showcased his athleticism.
Point guard Brandon Knight led the way for the Bucks (7-24) - who have the NBA's worst record - with a career-high 37 points.
"My teammates did a great job of running the floor and running the lanes and creating plays for one another," Knight said. "But it started with our defense. We got after it. Part of that was them missing shots, but I want to give credit to our guys for contesting those shots."
Against the Jazz, Knight will be matched up against Trey Burke, Utah's prized rookie and No. 9 overall selection. Last season's Wooden Award winner while at Michigan, Burke has picked up his game of late as well. Over the team's last seven games, the point guard has averaged 16.7 points and 5.4 assists.
On the season, Burke is second among rookies in scoring at 13.8 points per game.
''He continues to learn lessons and get better every night," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said of Burke.
Burke made perhaps the biggest shot of his young career on Tuesday night, when he hit a driving layup with 19 seconds left to give the Jazz an 83-80 win over Charlotte on Monday. Burke milked the clock before attacking, and his shot fell through just as the shot clock expired.
The rookie finished the game with 21 points, and the Jazz (10-24) are 5-1 when Burke scores 20 points or more.
"I hit (defender Kemba Walker) with the hesitation and got a better shot," said Burke. "He knew I didn't have much time. It was a matter of me staying poised because I only had 1 1/2 or 2 seconds to make my move."
The win against the Bobcats was the second straight home victory for the Jazz. They haven't won three straight in Utah since a four-game run last March 25-April 1.
The Jazz have won 11 consecutive home games against the Bucks, whose last victory in Salt Lake City came at the start of the 2001-02 season. Milwaukee snapped a four-game overall losing streak to Utah with a 109-108 overtime win in the most recent meeting on March 4.