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Sam Hauser’s time to shine might be right around the call

It’s a small sample size, but with opportunity knocking more often lately, Hauser has answered the call.

Washington Wizards v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Much was made of Sam Hauser’s potential this offseason, particularly as it pertained to him cracking the Celtics rotation. He was dubbed a marksman; Boston’s answer to Duncan Robinson; the would-be knockdown savior this team could turn to when Tatum, Brown, & Co. would undoubtedly find themselves swarmed by opposing defenses.

“Sam is obviously a great shooter, and his game has come a long way,” Jayson Tatum said in early October amidst Hauser’s extended heater from three this preseason. “I’m happy for him. I’m happy he’s getting these opportunities, and he’s obviously making the most out of it, and we’re going to need him. He’s going to play a role for the team this year.”

It was all quite exciting to ponder. Perhaps too exciting.

All of the chatter felt like exactly that — chatter — once Hauser began the 2022-23 season by playing just three minutes in the opener against Philadelphia, committing one foul and attempting no shots. He then played 11 minutes against Miami, a welcome sight, scoring six points on two triples. But then, he followed that up with a seven-minute outing against the Magic, and though he scored nine points (again, all on shots from beyond the arc), he was competing for minutes with Payton Pritchard. You’d have been forgiven if you found yourself wondering aloud, “what gives?”

If Hauser’s three most recent returns are any indication, those worries can be considered moot. He has logged three consecutive double-digit-minute games, seeing increased time in each respective outing. Against the Bulls on Monday, he played 11 minutes, scoring four points, grabbing two rebounds, and dishing out a single assist. A few days later, in Boston’s loss at the hands of the Cavaliers, he managed one additional minute — for a grand total of 12 — and scored five. Finally came Sunday, when the Celtics rebounded from their two-game losing streak by trouncing the Washington Wizards, 112-91. On paper, Hauser might not have looked like a huge part of it. In reality, though, it was easily his best outing of the season, particularly because it was his most impactful.

Hauser saw a career-high 23 minutes of action, matched his season high in points (nine) and shots made (three, fittingly all from three), and set a new season high in shot attempts (five). He was more involved in Boston’s scheme than he had been to this point in the young 2022-23 campaign; at long last, Hauser looked like the off-the-bench spark the Celtics hoped he would be when they re-signed him to a three-year deal in July.

But Hauser’s most vital contribution might have been how he helped create opportunities for others as a deep threat and will continue to pose as the season proceeds. Before the season began, Hauser noted that his job is “to just space the floor, find openings and be an outlet for those guys like JT, JB, Malcolm (Brogdon) and (Marcus) Smart, the guys who are making plays.”

Hauser’s ability to get open and knock down shots shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given the players he studies closely. After a mid-October practice, he specifically mentioned watching film on Khris Middleton, Klay Thompson, the aforementioned Robinson, and even Joe Harris. “I can take bits and pieces from each and use it to what I do best,” he said.

Derrick White has called him automatic, saying he hardly ever misses in practice. Jayson Tatum, while balking at the idea that Hauser is or ever could be a better shooter than he is, has sung his teammates praises on more than one occasion. And on Sunday, you could see why. Not only is Hauser a knockdown shooter, but he reads the game quite well for a player who sees such limited time. He reacts to his teammate’s movements, filling gaps and shuffling through contact to find open spaces and create shot opportunities as his teammates get collapsed in on by the defense. He’s adept at reading pick-and-pop sets, Essentially, what Hauser does best is serve as a standby option when all else fails; for a three-point specialist, that’s not a half-bad role to fill.

What he also managed to do on Sunday was distribute and defend, two of the weaker areas of his game. His two assists were both hand-offs that evaded the defense’s clutches; he also recorded a block and a steal, and despite the fact that his block was followed by a foul seconds later, it offered a glimpse at a defensive awareness he had previously failed to show. Maybe it was the limited time that caused the lack of cognizance. If that’s the case, just imagine what Hauser will be able to provide if given 20-plus minutes of PT every night.

What’s more likely? That Hauser is a work in progress, an incomplete project that, with time, can become more and more complete with every passing opportunity to contribute. And in that time, there will be moments that cause us to wonder whether or not he belongs in the rotation at all. He’ll miss defensive rotations, fail to fight over screens, or throw a sloppy pass to a cutting Tatum; hands will be thrown in the air, and eyes will roll.

No matter what, Hauser will grow. He’ll read the defense with more confidence, thus becoming a better all-around player. He’ll learn when to pass, and when to put the ball on the floor. Overall, he’ll learn how to become a real rotation player for the first time in his young NBA career. That’s when those lofty offseason projections could — and if the Celtics are lucky, should — pay off.

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