As Sam Hauser's rotation role begins to expand, it’s hard not to wonder how things might have been different if Danilo Gallinari hadn’t tore his ACL before the season.
Boston’s need for frontcourt help opened a door for Hauser, who has responded by connecting on a sizzling 54.8 percent of his 3-point attempts to start the year. On Saturday night in New York, Hauser totaled a career-high 17 points over 21 minutes while knocking down five of Boston’s team-record 27 3-pointers in a 133-118 win.
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Maybe the 34-year-old Gallinari would have been just as impactful off the Boston bench. You can make a case that, given Boston’s lack of big-man depth, Gallinari could have been even more valuable while playing minutes at the 5. His post-up game could have added a dimension to Boston’s second unit.
But watching the 24-year-old Hauser state a strong case for a rotation role feels like a potential sliding doors moment. The Celtics have a lot of money committed to the top half of their roster and need low-cost talent capable of holding down rotation roles. Boston locked up Hauser on a three-year, $5.6 million pact this summer that would be especially team-friendly if he can maintain his hot shooting.
Hauser’s early-season advanced metrics are off the charts. He has the best on/off splits on the team with a net rating differential of +29.7 in his 118 minutes. The Celtics’ offense hums with an offensive rating of 127.9 during Hauser’s court time then dips to 102.8 in his time off the court.
Even more encouraging: The Celtics’ defensive rating with Hauser on the court is 102.8. That’s the best mark among any regular. His individual defensive metrics are not nearly as glossy but Hauser has held up better than most probably expected coming into the season. He competes despite teams often targeting him in isolation.
The Celtics have put Hauser in position to thrive by accentuating his shooting skills. The offseason addition of Malcolm Brogdon has increased the shot quality for all of Boston’s bench players. What’s more, Hauser has played roughly half his total minutes with Jayson Tatum on the court. Entering Saturday’s game, the Celtics’ offensive rating for Tatum/Hauser lineups was 135.1 with a net rating of +28.8.
Hauser hasn’t strayed from his bread and butter. Entering Saturday’s game, every shot he had taken had a touch time of less than two seconds and no more than one dribble. He was shooting 58 percent on all catch-and-shoot looks. He knows his role.
There’s plenty for Hauser to improve upon, particularly on the defensive end. He can be a better rebounder for his size. But Hauser takes care of the basketball and he’s a willing ball-mover for a second unit that has shot the ball exceptionally well to start the season.
Marcus Smart expressed appreciation Saturday for the way Hauser has carried himself on both ends. Smart noted that the Celtics go at Hauser in practice trying to prepare him for when teams pick on him. The progress is evident just from last season.
Hauser admits he has to hold his ground better and be ready for when opponents target him.
When Gallinari underwent potential season-ending surgery in September, it felt like a potential gut punch for a Boston team that tried to beef up its bench this offseason, especially when paired with news that Robert Williams III would miss time at the start of the season. But Hauser’s emergence has masked Gallinari's absence.
Hauser was ready for his moment and he could be vital to Boston’s second unit sustaining its early season impact.