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Sam Hauser can seize the day and become a fulltime member of the band

With Grant Williams gone, Sam Hauser has an opportunity to seize a big role on the Celtics.

2023 NBA Playoffs - Boston Celtics v Miami Heat Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Opportunities to change your life or your career don’t come around that often. But they’re usually different than the movies. Very rarely are our lives defined by one big, make or break choice of which the fate of you, or your family, or sometimes the world depends on. Instead, those opportunities play out over weeks, months, and years. The first-year law student walking into their very first contracts class. The apprentice electrician showing up to their first job site. Reel Big Fish stepping into the studio to record Turn the Radio Off.

Sam Hauser sits on the precipice of such an opportunity. Despite being undrafted, he’s made his way into an NBA contract. He’s joined the Celtics on tour, now he just needs to become a full-time member of the band.

There are steps for undrafted players to make the NBA and eventually a rotation. Like the indie band peddling their first EP from the trunk of their car, the first step is getting the right people to notice you. Hauser did that two years ago when the Celtics inked him to a 2-way deal. His combination of shooting and size was exactly the archetype that Brad Stevens wanted to surround the Jays with.

The next step is securing the security, whether it be a record deal or an NBA contract. Hauser showed enough promise in limited NBA minutes and not so limited G League minutes to do just that. He made shots, he didn’t get completely toasted on defense, and he played within himself, a recipe for a solid role player. He had found his place, now he needed to carve out his sound.

Hauser’s 2022-23 season was a huge initial step to cementing himself. While his traditional stat-line was modest (6.4 points, 2.4 rebounds, 0.9 assists), there are some encouraging trends. Easily the biggest concern with Hauser was on the defensive end. How he fit in an NBA offense was obvious, he’s an elite, deadeye three-point shooter. Well, the Celtics were 1.5 points per 100 possessions better with Sam on the court opposed to off. The reason for this sizeable differential? The defense was 3.6 points per 100 possessions better when Hauser played.

Brad Stevens started his tenure as the President of Basketball Operations with a very clear mantra, he wanted to find players that complement the Jays. He wanted backup singers, rhythm guitarists, and maybe a dude that plays the cowbell. Hauser did just that in his first full season. He had a positive effect on Jayson Tatum’s net rating when they shared the court. With Tatum on and Hauser off, the Cs had a net rating of +7.9 (per PBP Stats). With both, the net rating jumped a not inconsequential 1.4 points per 100 possessions to +9.3. For context, the Celtics led the NBA with a net rating of +6.7. His impact on Jaylen Brown was even more pronounced. Jaylen’s net rating with Hauser off was +4.3, with Hauser on, +7.9. His early returns as a backup singer were right on key.

Which brings us to this upcoming season. Hauser’s chance to become an irreplaceable member of the band. It’s not without worry though. The rosy numbers cited above regarding Hauser’s positive impact on the team and the Jays are primarily due to the defense improving. Hauser is a solid, decent defensive player that has the effect of luring teams into attacking him. They think he’s an open wound, a soft spot in an otherwise solid defensive line. The one band member that’s just a little off beat, but he’s not.

He’s also not the type of defensive player that improves your defense by 3.5 points per 100 possessions. There’s undoubtably some noise in those numbers. While there’s likely some regression to be expected defensively, we might get the opposite offensively. The Celtics were 3.1 points per 100 possessions worse with Hauser on the court. Again, part of that is probably noise, but another part of that is how one dimensional he was last season.

If he really wants to carve out a big role on the Celtics, if Hauser wants to be more than a travelling backup singer, he needs to diversify his offensive attack. There’s a world where Sam Hauser is playing 25 minutes a night and gets real, honest playoff minutes, he just needs to do a little more offensively.

Hauser’s jumpshot is a weapon. One that he can leverage to create opportunities for himself. He took 396 field goals last year. 307 of them were 0 dribble threes. He’s very good at catching and shooting, it bends defenses and should allow him to do two things he can be good at without the need of an improved handle or above average athleticism.

The first is minor relocation threes, the Duncan Robinson special. When he comes off screens, or catches out of pick and pop, defenses scramble. They know if they leave him open, that shot is going in. He shot 0 dribble threes at an elite 42.7% last year. When defenses overreact like that, you can take advantage. A pump fake, one dribble, and he can generate a wide open three on command. The problem is that he barely took these types of shots, and he was pretty bad at them when he tried, albeit on a small sample size.

These types of shots are very makeable for a shooter like Hauser, he just needs to get more aggressive in taking them. It will open him up as a legitimate offensive option on the weakside flying off screens and can bring a different dimension to the Celtics offense they haven’t had since the days of Ray Allen.

Second is a taller ask, but still doable. Sometimes the backup singer needs to step up and belt out a solo. Sometimes Sam Hauser needs to step up and go to the rim. The threat of his jumpshot will get defenders running at him often. They will try to run him off the line. If they do, he needs to drive, and drive hard. He did that occasionally last year, and when he did, it was highly successful.

He shot 80% under 5 feet last year; the problem is the volume. With only 45 attempts, about 0.5 shots a game, he’s not generating any real value. He simply needs to be more aggressive attacking the rim against hard closeouts. I don’t expect him to be Paul Pierce pumping and blowing by defenders to finish over length, but he can definitely be Duncan Robinson. Using the threat of his shot to keep defenders off balance and make it easy for himself.

Getting to the rim even once a game will go a long way to diversifying Hauser’s game. If you combine that with a more aggressive pull-up repertoire and solid but unspectacular defense, he can turn himself into an entirely different player. Sam will go from humming the chorus while the Jays belt it out to having a solo of his own every once in a while. The Celtics can go from being a three-piece band to a full-on orchestra, and that always sounds better.

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