NEW YORK — When Danilo Gallinari suffered a torn ACL this summer, there was plenty of speculation about how the Celtics would replace him. Carmelo Anthony was rumored to be an option. But all the while, the C’s had their answer in-house: Sam Hauser.
The undrafted forward spent most of his first professional season in the G-League with the Maine Celtics and played minimal minutes in Boston. He was told to keep working hard in order to be ready for opportunities. A big one, while certainly unfortunate, arrived with Gallinari’s injury. But Hauser has seized it.
With the Celtics looking for another shooting punch off the bench, Hauser is filling the role Gallinari was supposed to. A strong training camp and preseason earned him a roster spot, and nine games into the season, he has already emerged as a key rotation player on the Celtics’ second unit. In Saturday’s win over the Knicks, Hauser had his best game as a pro – a career-high 17 points on 5-for-8 shooting from 3 – as he continued to solidify an important role for these Celtics.
“Sam is lights out,” Jaylen Brown said. “You can’t leave him. We’re looking for him. Once he hit a couple, we’re looking for him, and Sam is always ready. He works hard, and he’s developing a nice role for himself in this league.”
The 3-pointers were flying for the Celtics on Saturday as they set a franchise record with 27 triples. Hauser didn’t need an excuse to let it fly. It’s what he does. By midway through the second quarter, he had already set his career-high with four 3s, and it even required a heat check.
Hauser seems to be a perfect fit on this Celtics team, especially in the second unit lineup combinations that Joe Mazzulla has experimented with over the last couple games. He’s grouped Jayson Tatum with four reserves – typically Hauser, Malcolm Brogdon, Grant Williams and a big – and Hauser has thrived with the space and open looks he’s given.
“I definitely had a lot of confidence tonight and I think I’m getting my feet under me and getting more comfortable knowing these guys and where I’m supposed to be,” Hauser said. “So I’m just going to keep playing off them and doing my part.”
Mazzulla has made no secret that he loves space and 3-point shooting, which has become the strength and offensive identity of his Celtics. Hauser fits the system he’s building, so it’s no coincidence that he’s more than doubling his minutes this season. Mazzulla was asked Saturday how the young sharpshooter has earned that trust.
“Shoot 3s,” Mazzulla said matter-of-factly, before pausing.
“No, listen, he just plays the right way,” Mazzulla added. “He plays the right way, he knows how to play off the other guys, he can read defenses, he puts a lot of pressure on the defense so it really helps our spacing. And he’s continuing to work at getting better at his defense.”
That last part is certainly still a work in progress, and will need to improve throughout the course of the season if he wants to continue to play consistently. Opposing offenses have hunted Hauser, and he and the Celtics are well aware. Marcus Smart said they tell him all the time to expect it, and they’ve gone at him regularly in practices to prepare him.
“I think I’ve still got work to do,” Hauser said. “I know I’m going to be in a lot of the actions and I’ve got to hold my ground a little better. So that’s something I’ve got to work on, but overall I think I’m getting better.”
Timelord’s time approaching
Rob Williams’ return may not be imminent, but it’s certainly going in the right direction. The Celtics center joined the team in New York and said Saturday that he’s started doing some on-court workouts over the last two weeks as he recovers from his Sept. 23 left knee surgery. He was expected to return to basketball activities in 8-12 weeks, but his progress seems to be going as well as hoped.
Though the Celtics have adjusted admirably without him, they certainly miss Williams, especially on the defense end. Whenever it comes, they’ll be thrilled to have him back.
“We’re just going to be that much better of a team,” Tatum said. “That’s how important Rob is to our group. Can’t stress enough how important he is on the offensive end, defensive end, his presence, lob threat, protecting the rim. Obviously his ability passing the ball. Obviously we miss him but we don’t want to rush him back because we want him when it matters most.”
Even though Williams has been absent from the lineup, he’s still making an impact and staying engaged with his teammates.
“I yell at them sometimes in practice,” Williams said. “(I’m) just trying to impose that energy that I bring when I’m playing.”
In Williams’ absence, Luke Kornet has earned more playing time and made a strong impact off the bench. That includes the entertaining defensive contests in which Kornet jumps far away from the shooter in an attempt to distract them. Williams is a fan.
“That (expletive) works. That (expletive) works,” Williams said. “That (expletive) works every time. And he can recover on the drive easily, you know what I’m saying? So if he jumps, closes out short, he can recover on the drive.”
But Williams doesn’t think he’ll adopt that for his own game.
“I don’t think I have the Lukeability,” Williams said.