Bucks step back on court, but future secure with new arena

ST. FRANCIS, Wis. (AP) The Milwaukee Bucks took one step back on the court while taking a big step forward off of it.

The team's future in Milwaukee is secure. Groundbreaking is set for June on a new downtown arena that is scheduled to open by the 2018-19 season.

The hope is that there will be a winning product on the floor long before then.

The Bucks finished 33-49, an eight-game slide from the 2014-15 season. Instead of making a surprise run to the playoffs, Milwaukee never recovered to become a serious threat the improved Eastern Conference after a sputtering to a 7-13 start.

Still, optimism abounds, especially around the team's franchise cornerstones.

''Was there some disappointment that we didn't more games? That was also true, but I think guys are excited about the future,'' general manager John Hammond said Thursday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, both 21, turned into dunking machines. Coach Jason Kidd gave ball-handling responsibilities to Antetokounmpo after the All-Star break and the 6-foot-11 forward had five triple-doubles over the last two months of the season.

If Antetokounmpo and Parker weren't dunking or driving the lane, they were often trying to find the other guy for an alley-oop. It made for highlight-reel stuff while the team wasn't really in serious playoff consideration down the stretch.

''I didn't think we'd make the playoffs last year, so you sort of feel like we've taken a step backwards,'' co-owner Marc Lasry said before the 97-92 loss to Indiana in the season finale on Tuesday. ''Hopefully next year, we're going to take a couple steps forward and ... if you sort of look at this, we have a phenomenal young core.''

Some other notes and highlights from the season and a look toward the offseason:

YOUTH IS SERVED: The Bucks had one of the youngest lineups in the league, and a starting five down the stretch with an average age that rivaled a Final Four team in the NCAA Tournament. It was partly by design as the team shed some veterans from last season with the hope of developing players like Antetokounmpo, Parker and guard-forward Khris Middleton.

But injuries hit Milwaukee, too, especially in the backcourt. More experienced players like guards Greivis Vasquez, O.J. Mayo and Jerryd Bayless sat out for at different points of the season, sapping the Bucks of three of their top 3-point threats.

The GOOD NEWS: In Antetokounmpo, Parker and Middleton, the Bucks have the makings of a ''Big Three'' core. Parker (14.1 points) finished strong in his first full NBA season after coming back from a left knee injury in his rookie year.

THE BAD NEWS: On so many nights, the Bucks were done in by a barrage of 3s by an opponent. The Bucks allowed opponents to shoot 35 percent from 3-point range, which was in the middle of the 30-team NBA.

But 3-point defense proved to be more of a liability because of how little offense the Bucks got from the perimeter. Milwaukee was 440 for 1,277 from 3-point range for the season, all league lows. The 34.5 percent accuracy was 21st in the league.

Overall, field-goal defense sagged from 43.7 percent in 2014-15, the fifth-stingiest mark in the league; to 45.4 percent, 17th in the league.

BIGGEST NEED: Three-point shooting. In a league tilting in the direction of perimeter play, the Bucks took the opposite approach and relied on Antetokounmpo and Parker to help make plays in the paint.

''In trying to figure out how to go in a different direction, we had to go in the paint. We had to score the ball,'' coach Jason Kidd said. ''Unfortunately in today's game, two is not going to beat three. In today's game, the 3 is so important.''

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