The Milwaukee Bucks essentially wrote off their 2013-14 season with an eye on the future after opting not to pursue re-signing Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings in the offseason, but there's still plenty of young talent to go around. That will be on display tonight when the Bucks travel to Chicago to take on the Chicago Bulls on Comcast SportsNet Plus. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live, hosted by Mark Schanowski and Will Perdue.
At 4-16 through the first quarter of the NBA season, the Milwaukee Bucks find themselves on the fast track toward one of the most talented NBA Lotteries in recent history. After Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, the team's two leading scorers last year, left in free agency, Milwaukee was quiet in the offseason. The team replaced their backcourt by signing OJ Mayo and receiving Brandon Knight in a sign-and-trade for Jennings. It was a major step backward, and one that signaled a rebuilding project after a first-round exit as a No. 8 seed to the eventual champion Miami Heat.
So while the organization has its eyes set on the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker or Julius Randle, there's a bevy of young talent on the roster that is making some quiet noise during what has become quite a disappointing season.
John Henson: The Bucks had their choice of North Carolina forwards in the 2012 NBA Draft, ultimately selecting Henson over Tyler Zeller. That has proved to be a smart decision. In his second season, Henson is averaging 11.3 points. 7.0 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in just 27 minutes per game. He entered the starting lineup two weeks ago, and in his last five games has upped his numbers to 14.6 points and 10.2 rebounds in 34 minutes per game.
The increase in minutes has come about thanks to injured bigs Larry Sanders and Zaza Pachulia, and the 22-year-old Henson has made good on his new role. He's certainly a role player the Bucks can build around, and though he's starting at center he projects long-term as the team's power forward beside Sanders.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: The Greek Freak. Alphabet. Greece Lightning. Take your pick of nicknames, but just understand that Antetokounmpo, the youngest player in the NBA, is oozing with potential in his first NBA season. He turned 19 last week, and after playing against average competition in Greece last year has shown flashes of greatness in his first 20 games in the Association.
Head coach Larry Drew has progressed the No. 15 pick in June's draft slowly -- he averaged 14 minutes in his first 10 appearances and is up to 20.9 minutes in his last five -- but he is showing glimpses in all areas of the game. The lengthy 6-foot-9 wing (who can also handle the ball) has averaged 5.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.4 steals and 1.4 blocks on 54 percent shooting during the Bucks' recent 2-3 stretch. It'll be a few years until anyone knows just how good he can be, but considering he'd be a freshman in college right now says plenty about his upside.
Brandon Knight: The 22-year-old combo guard was actually the Bucks' second option this offseason -- they gave Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague an offer sheet that the Hawks eventually matched -- though it may mean more for Milwaukee in the long run. Knight, the No. 8 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, got off to a slow start with his new team with an ankle injury, but has turned up the productivity the last two weeks.
In his last six games, Knight is averaging 15.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.7 assists while shooting better than 42 percent from beyond the arc. Looking to the future, Knight gives the Bucks versatility being able to play either guard position, which will help the team in next year's draft -- Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart could be in play, with Knight moving to shooting guard. Knight will need to improve his efficiency, however, as he has made just 40 percent of his shots in two-plus seasons and averaged 2.7 turnovers in 153 career games.
Khris Middleton: He was the "other" player who came over in the sign-and-trade for Jennings, but Middleton has shown some upside in his second NBA season. A second-round pick out of Texas A&M in 2012, Middleton struggled for playing time in his rookie season. That hasn't been the case this season in Milwaukee; Middleton is averaging 11.3 points on 47.5 percent shooting, including a 29-point outburst last week in Washington. Middleton is a name to keep an eye on going forward, even though he wasn't as high profile a prospect as the three names above.
The future looks promising in Milwaukee, and that potential will be on display tonight in Chicago. Tune in to CSN Chicago Plus throughout the night for all your Bulls coverage, and join Bulls Pulse to stay interactive throughout the night.