Forsberg: Hauser’s shooting slump may force Stevens’ hand prior to the deadline originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
That was the unceremonious length of Sam Hauser’s third-quarter shift on Saturday night in Charlotte. And a quick hook after just one defensive possession adds a fresh layer of murkiness to Hauser’s already diminishing role.
Subbed in for Marcus Smart with 2:18 remaining in the third quarter, Hauser watched his defensive assignment Cody Martin snag an offensive rebound off a missed 3-point attempt. Seconds later, Martin got Hauser leaning with a jab step and, even as Boston’s second-year forward scrambled to recover, Martin bulldozed his way for an and-one layup that made it a one-possession game.
Celtics interim coach Joe Mazzulla immediately looked down his bench and dispatched Payton Pritchard in Hauser’s place. Boston had worked too hard to rally out of a double-digit hole and Mazzulla was putting a priority on defense and effort.
It was the latest bump in the road for Hauser, who has slumped badly since late November. After logging a mere 5 minutes, 9 seconds of floor time earlier this week in Brooklyn, Hauser was on the court for just 5:22 in Charlotte. He was a minus-14 in plus/minus against the Hornets and missed both 3-pointers he attempted.
When Mazzulla needed a big wing to start the fourth quarter, he instead dispatched rarely used Justin Jackson. Hauser didn’t get back in the game until mop-up duty over the final 1:44.
Hauser has been trying to pull himself out of a funk since the start of December. Second on team in plus/minus behind only Jayson Tatum over Boston’s first 21 games, Hauser is a team-worst minus-65 over the Celtics’ last 23 games. And no one else is really close to him.
Hauser was certainly not the only bench player to slump through much of December but as some of Boston’s more veteran bench players start to pull themselves out of their funks, Hauser is still trying to rebuild his confidence.
After connecting on 46 of his first 94 3-point attempts, Hauser has made just 21 of his last 74. When you consider he’s missed 3 of 4 free-throw attempts over the last six weeks, it only emphasizes his shooting slump.
Boston president of basketball operations Brad Stevens said last month that it was his job to figure out what was a blip and what was real while the team hit its first rough patch. Hauser has projected confidence throughout his slump but his persistent shooting woes suggest he’s struggling to get out of his own head.
The NBA’s defensive tracking metrics don’t show a huge decline in Hauser’s performance. Opponents were shooting a mere 1.4 percent above expected against him through the first 21 game and that number has bubbled to 3 percent above expected over the last 23. Still, it feels like teams have been able to target him easier than they did at the start of the year when he routinely blew up isolation attempts.
All of which makes you wonder if Stevens will think a little harder about a potential move to add a big wing before February’s trade deadline. Hauser can aid his own case with a January surge but his court time is eroding and it appears he has to re-earn Mazzulla’s trust.
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Boston could benefit from a more defensive-minded wing who might eat some minutes when Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are not on the floor. That’s further higlighted at the moment with Brown sidelined by a groin strain.
Hauser’s offensive ceiling, based on the early season returns, is probably much higher than most players the Celtics can reasonably fetch on the trade or buyout market. But could Mazzulla trust Hauser to hold up, particularly on the defensive end, in even bite-sized playoff minutes? For the moment, the answer is no.
Stevens has a small handful of trade exceptions as well as a disabled player exception generated after Danilo Gallinari’s offseason ACL tear. The latter could aid the team if it pursues a known commodity on the buyout market with an ability to outbid most suitors. A trade seems less likely since Boston would have to give up assets and has already splurged to build out its current bench, but would still have to be considered if Stevens believes this is a true championship contender. Stiff tax implications linger over it all.
For his part, Hauser needs to find his early season swagger and it might have to happen in the shadows of practices and shootarounds. We’re still bullish on his long-term ability to thrive as a bench weapon but this slump has complicated his immediate path to meaningful minutes on a team with championship aspirations.