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What the Nets need from their big three

Next week, when their schedule gets a lot tougher, the Brooklyn Nets face three of the NBA's best defensive teams: the Houston Rockets, Washington Wizards (twice) and the Memphis Grizzlies.

Scoring points has been a problem for Brooklyn all season. Going into Tuesday night's action, the Nets ranked 23rd in offensive efficiency.

An updated look at the stats reveals that the Nets also rank 21st in points in the paint and free throw attempts per game, 25th in 3-point percentage and 26th in fast-break points.

They have had more success recently using a spread pick-and-roll system that also features a bit of drive-and-kick. But there are still too many times when the ball movement stops and the offense becomes stagnant, which leads to a desperation shot before the shot clock expires. Nets coach Lionel Hollins has been limited in what he can do because the lineup data shows that only certain players can play with one another and have success.

Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson are the three key cogs in Brooklyn's offensive attack. Here's what might allow them to perform better (all data from basketball-reference.com):

Williams: Finish inside, turn those long 2s into 3s

Williams is shooting just 40.1 percent from two-point territory, significantly down from his career average of 48.8.

The most stunning part when looking at his shooting splits is that he's shooting 46.5 percent from 0-3 feet. In his previous two seasons, Williams shot 65.7 percent from that close. He has yet to dunk, no longer possessing the explosive vertical leap he once had prior to multiple ankle injuries. That Williams is attempting 19.5 percent of his shots from that range is at least encouraging. Although it's below his career average (26.5 percent), it's as high as it's been since his first full season with the Nets (19.8 percent in 2011-12).

Williams is taking 25.1 percent of his shots from 16 feet to the 3-point line and making those 34.8 percent of the time. Meanwhile, 31 percent of his shots are 3s and he's making them at a 38.9 percent clip. Seems like he should be taking more triples. Long 2s have long been considered the worst shot in basketball.

Lopez: Play more like a big

Lopez's scoring talent is incredible. But what really stands out looking at his splits is his numbers from 0-3 feet. In 2012-13, Lopez attempted 37.6 percent of his shots from that area of the floor. Now, he's down to 28.4 percent. It's also worth noting he's dunked only 11 times this season. In 2012-13, his last fully healthy season following his first foot surgery, he had 97 dunks.

Meanwhile, after making 55.3 percent of his attempts from 16 feet to the 3-point line in a small sample size last season, Lopez is back to taking them again. He tries for them 23.4 percent of the time and converting at a 45.1 percent clip. That's great and all, but less long 2s and more inside play is better for everyone involved.

Johnson: Not to be nitpicky, but ...

It's hard to criticize Johnson, who has been pretty darn consistent. But if there's one thing he could do more of, it's take more shots from zero to 3 feet. This season, he's attempted 10.1 percent of his shots in that range, converting at a 67.4 percent clip. Since his age 30 season, Johnson has attempted 9.2 percent of his shots from zero to 3 feet -- down from 17 percent for his career. Maybe that's just the player he is at this point, which is understandable, given age, mileage etc. BR lists Johnson for one dunk in 2014-15, but we're not sure he touched rim on it.

Successful teams have avoided doubling Johnson, not allowing Brooklyn to gain advantages as a result. Part of being a good offensive team is finding as many mismatches as possible and then exploiting them. If one player is doubled, it creates a 4-on-3 situation, and it's easier to score playing 4-on-3 than 5-on-5. Sometimes the Nets will run P&R at the 3-point arc and then it turns into an isolation and an off-balance midrange jumper.

The Nets have talent, but what is unknown is whether they can continue to rely on jump shots. It has not worked so far. Getting more opportunities inside from Williams, Lopez and Johnson -- or at least converting a high percentage of them -- would definitely help.

Notes: Williams (sore left side) is doubtful to play against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night at home. He missed Monday night's loss to the Dallas Mavericks with the same injury after initially being listed as probable. ... The Nets waived forward Brandon Davies. ... Only three of the NBA's top-20 highest-paid players -- Amar'e Stoudemire (15 games), Williams (six games) and Lopez (six games) -- have come off the bench this season.