For the first time since Jayson Tatum’s rookie season, the Boston Celtics find themselves as one of the top three-point shooting teams in the NBA. They currently rank second in three-point percentage (39.7%) while simultaneously sitting atop the league in attempts per game (41.3%).
The obvious difference now from Tatum’s rookie year is that instead of being a role player displaying heaps of potential, he’s now the co-star of a championship-caliber team. Tatum and Jaylen Brown are the stars of the show, and Boston has been building around them for the better part of the last three years.
Throughout that time, they’ve assembled top-notch defenders, star point guards, and plenty of other supporting around Tatum and Brown in an attempt to help them win. But the one thing the Celtics never managed to land was a shooter.
Grant Williams fits the bill, but he only emerged as a three-point threat last year. Al Horford has played well in recent years, but his role extends far beyond that of just a shooter. From Semi Ojeleye to Aaron Nesmith, Boston has tried to add shooting around their stars, but to no avail.
Not until Samuel David Hauser.
Boston picked up Hauser after the 2021 NBA Draft as an undrafted free agent. He didn’t get much playing time his rookie season. But despite that, his teammates were overtly confident in him heading into the season.
During an appearance on The Long Shot with Duncan Robinson and Davis Reid, Williams was asked about who he would take in a shooting competition: himself or Robinson. After his initial answer, Williams quickly shifted his attention to Hauser.
“If he ever cracks our rotation, because he has a gauntlet ahead of him right now, this man, if you see him shoot, it’s absolutely absurd,” Williams said. “I don’t know who I would take in a shooting competition besides Sam Hauser. Sam can spray it.”
So far this season, Hauser has lived up to Williams’ praise. He’s averaging 7.7 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 0.7 assists on 52.0% shooting from the field and 48.9% shooting from distance.
Since Tatum and Brown have been on the team together, only four players have shot 40% or better for Boston for an entire season (min. 50 GP, 15 MPG). Two of those players were Kyrie Irving in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, another was Al Horford in 2017-18, and the final was Williams last year.
Obviously, Williams is a role player, but Irving and Horford were co-stars on the Celtics. And Williams isn’t just a shooter. He’s one of Boston’s top defenders — he guarded Giannis Antetokounmpo for the majority of a playoff series, and the team trusts him to take on almost any defensive matchup in front of him.
But not Hauser. Hauser is primarily on the court to shoot the ball.
Head coach Joe Mazzulla said as much after Boston’s November 9 win over the Detroit Pistons when Hauser had just put up a career-high 24 points on 6-of-12 shooting from deep. Mazzulla was asked what Hauser did to earn the trust he has within the rotation. He kept his answer simple - “not miss.”
Over the course of the season, Hauser has slowly become an integral part of Mazzulla’s rotation. He failed to crack 15 minutes in any of the team’s first five games, including two where he didn’t even play 10 minutes. Since then, he’s played over 10 minutes in every game, over 15 minutes in 12, and over 20 minutes in nine.
Having someone who can shoot the ball as well as Hauser is a luxury that teams are desperate for. Just look at Robinson’s prime two years with the Miami Heat (and Max Strus now). There’s Seth Curry with the Brooklyn Nets, Luke Kennard with the LA Clippers, and Kevin Huerter with the Sacramento Kings. Three-point shooting comes at a premium in the NBA, and the Celtics managed to identify an elite shooter in the undrafted free agency pool.
But the impact Hauser brings to the court stretches beyond the number of makes. His mere ability to make the shot is enough to completely transform the Celtics’ offense. Hauser has a gravity that sucks defenders out of the paint and opens things up for Boston.
Just look at this play. It’s small, but Hauser’s impact cannot be ignored. Malcolm Brogdon drives the ball as Hauser shifts from under the basket into the corner, forcing Dorian Finney-Smith to follow him. In turn, Dwight Powell has to rotate over, Brogdon passes the ball to the open man in the corner (Horford), and from there, the ball zips from open man to open man until Brown gets a solid look at the rim.
Hauser won’t get any credit in the box score. He doesn’t get a screen assist, a hockey assist, or anything else of that nature, but his impact is clear as day. Finney-Smith respects him as a shooter enough to chase him into the corner. The Dallas Mavericks respect him too much to leave him open from that spot. And that alone is enough to generate ample opportunities for the Celtics.
To put Hauser’s impact into greater perspective, just look at his plus/minus. When he’s been on the court this season, the Celtics have outscored opponents by 138 points. That ranks fourth in the NBA behind only Stephen Curry, Nikola Jokic, and Mikal Bridges - two MVPs and last year’s runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year.
Yes, plus/minus is absolutely flawed. Hauser often shares the court with superstar talents like Tatum and Brown as well as top-notch facilitators such as Marcus Smart, Derrick White, and Brogdon. But regardless, the amount Boston has beaten opponents compared to the number of minutes Hauser has played is staggering.
The Celtics have beaten their opponents by 138 points while Hauser has been on the floor this year, but he’s only logged 339.5 minutes. Meanwhile, the only three players above him in the rankings have played 656.3 (Curry), 516.1 (Jokic), and 705.5 (Bridges). The next player down the list with the same or fewer minutes played than Hauser is Kevin Love (331.4 minutes), who holds a plus/minus of +97 - 39 points less than Hauser.
Boston is an elite three-point shooting team this season. There are five other players on the roster shooting above 40% from deep, all playing regular rotation minutes, but most play other roles. Brogdon and White are initiators, Williams and Horford are defensive leaders, and Pritchard is a ball-handler and spark plug.
But Hauser is out there to shoot. The Celtics haven’t had somebody like that on the roster in a long time, and so far, it’s made a world of a difference.