It was fitting that Sam Hauser scored a career-high 17 points on a night the Celtics set a franchise record with 27 made 3-pointers.
It wasn’t a coincidence, either.
Hauser shot 5-of-8 from distance and finished a plus-14 in 21 minutes in Boston’s 133-118 over the Knicks on Saturday triumph. He didn’t force anything but was ready to let it fly whenever he had a sliver of space, as he’s done all season.
It’s now November, and Hauser is still shooting 54.8 percent from 3-point range on the season — the fourth-best mark in the NBA. The next sniper to catch? Kelly Olynyk. A fierce battle between two machines.
Hauser is doing more than just shooting, though. He’s a team-best plus-64 through nine games and always seems to be in the right place at the right time. There’s enough of a sample size over the past two seasons to say with certainty that his ascension isn’t a fluke.
If anything, it’s the start of something bigger. All a shooter needs is great passers around him who know how to find him in his spots, and Hauser has that and then some.
He’s lights out, and would likely have success on most teams, but this is truly a perfect fit. After their blistering performance Saturday, the Celtics now lead the NBA with 16 3’s per game.
The way the offense is set up, Hauser doesn’t have to do anything outside his comfort zone. He can simply space the floor, relocate when necessary, catch pinpoint passes and fire away. Marcus Smart and Malcolm Brogdon are elite passers, and Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Derrick White and Grant Williams are all above-average in that area, too.
Making the extra pass is becoming contagious for the Celtics – who finished with 30 assists on 47 made field goals against the Knicks – and Hauser is often one of the main beneficiaries.
“Got a knock-down shooter over there,” Smart said. “It’s tough for you to help off of somebody like him.”
He seems to have developed a particularly nice rapport with Brogdon, who always seems to find him at exactly the right moment. Check out this play. Hauser plays solid defense on one end, takes off, gets to his spot, waits for the pass and splashes it.
The Celtics are making a concerted effort to run, which often leads to easy buckets. Sure, Julius Randle is basically asleep here, but he’s also in an unenviable spot. If he collapses on Brogdon, Hauser is open. If he goes to Brown, Hauser is open. If he goes to Hauser, Hauser will either let him fly by and shoot or make the extra pass to Brown. It’s not easy to defend.
Look at the way Smart’s hand goes in the air and he starts running down court before the shot goes through the net. That’s some Warriors magic right there.
Here’s another one. Look at the way this opens up so organically and beautifully. Hauser is an underrated screener, and he knows how to use his body to generate space. The defense is in a predicament once again – stick with Brown on the slip or stay with Hauser beyond the arc.
Cam Reddish and Randle (this is when the final patch of Tom Thibodeau’s hair fell out) both follow Brown, which leaves Steph Curry – sorry, Hauser – wide open for a look he’ll make probably 70-to-80 percent of the time . Yes, it’s bad defense, but it’s also a stellar offense.
If you contest the shot, don’t be surprised if he blows by you with his blazing speed. Well, OK, not quite blazing, but he can finish when he has to. Look at his first step and touch around the rim here. Not too shabby.
He’s not going to wow anyone with his dribbling ability, post defense or rebounding, but he’s not a liability in any of those areas. Hauser knows how to defend intelligently, use his strengths to his advantage and hide his weaknesses.
When other teams include him, they’re scoring occasionally attack but not as often as they probably expect to. He’s earned regular minutes by executing at both ends. Don’t be surprised if he continues to play more and more.
“We’re proud of Sam,” Smart said. “Not just for his offense, but the way he holds himself on the defensive end as well. He understands that a lot of people are going to try to pick on him on the defensive end, but he’s constantly working and his confidence is going through the roof.”
Hauser is an excellent NBA role player and one of the best pure shooters in the NBA. Remember when the Celtics needed a wing who could bury 3’s? Forget James Young, forget Abdel Nader, forget Max Strus, forget Aaron Nesmith.
Enter Sam Hauser. He’s not going anywhere.