After a strong start to the season, Sam Hauser’s shooting went cold, and with it, his place within the rotation came under scrutiny. You have one clear remit as a sharpshooter: make your threes at a consistent clip. If those shots are falling, your impact on the game is negligible at best.
In fairness, though, the amount of attention Hauser received from opposing defenses certainly increased after the season's opening months. When he lifted, so did his defender; if he came off a screen, his man went over. Close-outs were being felt more. There was very little room being afforded to the skilled shooter. Hauser’s belief never wavered, though.
“Teams are guarding me a little bit different with the hot start to the year. But I just stick with my routine, trust it, knowing that I’m still a good shooter even though I’m missing. And the best part is the shot still feels good coming off my hand. That’s always encouraging…Overall, my confidence is pretty good in my shot. I know that I’m a good shooter and I’m going to keep letting it fly. And they’re going to fall. It’s law of averages,” Hauser told NBC Boston’s Chris Forsberg back in December.
Boston is at their most dangerous when everyone on the floor is a threat from deep, with the exception of Robert Williams, of course. The spacing and defensive attention that a rotation full of perimeter threats commands is something that can generate a fearsome driving game while punishing defenses for staying with their man — and it’s been how Boston has cooked their opponents all season.
This year, a staple of Boston’s offense has been the Spain PnR, with Joe Mazzulla running multiple variations of the popular action to give his team an additional edge when generating open looks. The crux behind this action is that you have an elite, or high-level, shooter operating as the ‘popper,’ that is, the back-screener who pops out to the perimeter as the play unfolds.
That ‘popper’ role is perfect for Hauser — when his shots are falling, just as the one in the above clip did. Since being thrust into the starting lineup in Jaylen Brown’s absence, Hauser has been the benefactor of reduced attention from the defense as they hone in on the other starters and dare the previously slumping flamethrower to shoot. Unfortunately, all that limited attention has done is give Hauser his swagger back, and now, he’s out here cooking like it’s a barbeque in mid-summer.
“I feel like you’re able to get in a rhythm real quick when you’re in there to start the game and get your feel and get your legs underneath you a little bit. So. it was definitely a cool experience. And yeah, I don’t know if it’ll happen again or not, but I’m glad that happened,” Hauser said after his first career start against the Detroit Pistons.
As Tweeted by CelticsBlog’s Bobby Manning, Hauser has shot 19-of-33 in the three games he’s been in the starting lineup for Boston, which, while a small sample size, should be enough to have people excited that he's finally broken out of his slumber and is ready to contribute down the stretch of the season and potentially in the playoffs.
The thing about confidence is that it’s freeing. You play without weight on your shoulders, and that extricates you to become more active off the ball. Take a look at Hauser’s movements in the above possession, when he starts on the strong side wing before relocating, ‘L’ cutting (a cut in the shape of an L, straight down vertically, and across horizontally) before taking a few side-steps on the weakside to get open for the shot.
That type of movement makes it hard for a defense to track. Note how Xavier Tillman signals for a teammate to pick up Hauser’s cut, but due to Robert Williams’ presence in the weakside dunker and Jayson Tatum’s presence on the weakside wing, no defender comes, thus leaving Hauser free to roam until he finds his spot before calling for the rock.
“I’m seeing a little more minutes right now, which is great, too, for confidence-boosting. And some shots are going through and overall just feeling great,” Hauser told reporters after torching the Grizzlies for 20 points.
Hauser isn’t going to cement the starting spot for himself; that belongs to Jaylen Brown. Yet, the second-year shooter is quickly regaining any trust that may have begun to wane during his months-long slump. We’ve all seen his defensive improvements this season and his unexpected ability to take a few dribbles when attacking closeouts, but the hard truth is he needs to hit threes at a consistent clip.
And with plays like these being run for him (yes, this is another Spain PnR) and the spacing that is littered throughout this Celtics roster, you can only hope that his tough spell is in the rearview mirror and there are brighter, more consistent times ahead. And with the amount of rim pressure the Celtics can provide, Hauser is going to be in the best position possible to continue hurting opponents as a catch-and-shoot threat from deep.