Sam Hauser proves why he’s critical to the Celtics’ success in defeating the Knicks

Forsberg: How Sam Hauser can be a game-changer for Celtics originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

As Sam Hauser’s rotational role begins to expand, it’s hard not to wonder how things would have been different if Danilo Gallinari hadn’t torn his cruciate ligament ahead of the season.

Boston’s need for frontcourt help opened a door for Hauser, who responded by scoring 54.8 percent of his 3-point attempts to start the year. On Saturday night in New York, Hauser notched a career-high 17 points in 21 minutes while knocking down five of Boston’s team-record 27 3-pointers in a 133-118 win.

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Perhaps the 34-year-old Gallinari from the Boston bank would have been just as effective. You can argue that given Boston’s lack of big-man depth, Gallinari could have been even more valuable if he played minutes on the 5. His post-up play could have added dimension to Boston’s second unit.

But watching Hauser, 24, make a strong case for a rotary role feels like a potential sliding-door moment. The Celtics have invested heavily in the top half of their roster and need low-cost talent capable of filling rotational roles. Boston landed Hauser this summer on a three-year, $5.6 million deal that would be particularly team-friendly if he can keep up his hot shooting.

Hauser’s advanced metrics early in the season are off the charts. He has the best on/off splits on the team with a +29.7 net rating differential in his 118 minutes. The Celtics’ offense is booming with a 127.9 offensive rating during Hauser’s playing time and then plummets to 102.8 in his off-court time.

Even more encouraging, the Celtics’ defensive rating with Hauser on court is 102.8. This is the best grade among all regular guests. His individual defenses aren’t nearly as brilliant, but Hauser has held up better than most probably expected at the start of the season. He competes, though teams often attack him in isolation.

The Celtics have enabled Hauser to thrive by emphasizing his shooting skills. The offseason addition of Malcolm Brogdon has improved shot quality for all Boston benchers. Additionally, Hauser has played about half of his total minutes on court with Jayson Tatum. At the start of Saturday’s game, the Celtics’ offensive rating for Tatum/Hauser lineups was 135.1 with a net rating of +28.8.

Hauser has not deviated from his bread and butter. At the start of Saturday’s game, every shot he fired had a touch time of less than two seconds and no more than a dribble. He shot 58 percent on all catch-and-shoot looks. He knows his role.

Hauser has a lot to improve, especially on the defensive end. He can be a better rebounder for his size. But Hauser cares about the basketball and is a willing ball pusher for a second unit that shot the ball brilliantly to start the season.

Marcus Smart on Saturday expressed his appreciation for the way Hauser behaved at both ends. Smart noted that the Celtics go against Hauser in practice and try to set him up if teams pick him. Progress can only be seen from the last season.

Hauser admits he needs to assert himself better and be prepared when opponents target him.

When Gallinari underwent possible season-ending surgery in September, it felt like a potential punch in the stomach for a Boston team looking to strengthen their bench this offseason, especially when coupled with the news that Robert Williams III would miss the time at the beginning of the season . But Hauser’s appearance has masked Gallinari’s absence.

Hauser was ready for his moment and he could be crucial for Boston’s second unit to maintain their impact early in the season.

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