Celtics

Can Sam Hauser find his shot again and break back into the Celtics’ rotation?

Shooting slumps aren't always easy to crack.

Sam Hauser
Boston Celtics forward Sam Hauser is too good to continue struggling like this, but being a cold shooter is a lonely feeling. AP Photo/David Zalubowski

If you look closely, you can still see heat waves from Sam Hauser’s start to the season shimmering in the Celtics’ team stats. 

On Nov. 28, Hauser went 3-for-6 from deep in a 35-point win over the Hornets. That performance lifted him to a 49.4 percent clip from behind the arc on 93 attempts. The sample size was becoming increasingly noteworthy, and Hauser was one of the most impactful role players in the NBA – the Celtics’ leader in on/off numbers by a wide margin. While he was unlikely to be a high-volume near-50 percent 3-point shooter for the entire season, Hauser was clearly a major contributor.

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Fast forward to now. Hauser received DNP-CDs in his last two games and is largely out of the Celtics’ rotation when the team is healthy. Since that 3-for-6 performance against the Hornets, he’s shooting 28 percent from deep. 

Even after nearly two months of poor shooting, Hauser is third in on/off on the Celtics with a 71st percentile efficiency differential league-wide, per Cleaning the Glass. The Celtics have learned to win (a lot) without Hauser, but looking back at his monumental impact on the Celtics’ 18-4 start, one can’t help but wonder what the team would look like if he regained his fire breathing form in time for the postseason.

But why is he missing now? What in the world happened? 

It’s a rare occasion when a sportswriter can relate to an NBA player’s struggles. Still, on a personal level – with the presumably obvious caveat that I played at much lower levels – I feel Hauser’s pain.

Like Hauser, I was an excellent shooter on my various men’s league teams. I was always compared to a very specific type of NBA player – Kyle Korver, Duncan Robinson, you can see a certain trend developing – and I always chuckled. I knew exactly what it meant, and I knew that my skills were a very useful cog in a bigger machine.

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As a shooting specialist, you know the deal. If your team is any good, you aren’t the superstar, even if you lead them in scoring sometimes. You are expected to be an unshakeable gunslinger, but the truth is, there are more talented players and everyone knows it including you. After all, unlike the superstars, you don’t really create plays as much as you finish them. You daydream that you look like Steph Curry out there, but Curry creates his own offense. In your heart, you know you are much more like Danny Green – talented, useful, ultimately replaceable.

And hey, shooters can try to pitch in a little here and a little there. Opponents attack you because they think you can’t defend, but you can defend a little, and you take some pride in being a massive net positive as a C+ defender who lights up the scoreboard on the other end. Your teammates love the 3-pointers, because they stay in the air forever. They love watching defenders panic and scramble when you float to an open spot and get a clean look. They eat it up when you dive for a loose ball or swat away a chase-down block.

But your teammates don’t love it so much when you miss. No one says anything, because shooting is all about confidence, and saying something would make it worse. Still, you can feel the frustration. You know you cost the point guard an assist after he did the work of collapsing the defense and kicking it to you. You can see the benchwarmer try to sit down discretely after leaping off the bench with three fingers extended from each hand. You try to pitch in still, but the little things you bring to the table don’t hit quite as hard when you can’t make your open 3s. 

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Over time, the misses add up. Quietly, your minutes start to slip and your coach finds lineups that don’t include you. Your teammates find ways to win with you on the bench, and you celebrate because you are happy they are succeeding, but it was a lot more fun when you were a part of the fabric of the winning lineups.

Ultimately, Hauser’s shot should come back around. Roughly 67 percent of his 3-pointers since Dec. 1 can be classified as “open” or “wide open” per the NBA’s stats, and he’s too good to continue missing forever.

But a shooter can’t always resurrect the old magic. Ask Duncan Robinson, who received a five-year, $90 million contract that runs through 2026 for his fiery shooting but who has received a number of DNP-CDs this season, hitting just 33.1 percent from behind the arc. Teammates might not want to say anything about a shooter’s struggles, but rival league executives aren’t so kind – one told Heavy.com last year that Robinson’s contract might be the worst in the NBA.

Or ask Davis Bertans, who ranked among the league’s best 3-point shooters from 2016 to 2021, when his numbers suddenly dropped and his minutes soon followed suit. Bertans is guaranteed $33 million over the next two seasons, but he is playing just 10.9 minutes per game for the Mavericks. 

Cold streaks hit shooters brutally hard. “Shoot through it” often seems to be the only solution offered, but that isn’t easy to do when you get yanked off the floor after one or two misses, so all you can do is fire up shot after shot on your own, hoping minor adjustments will help when what you really need is a nice 3-for-6 performance against the Hornets to regain a little bit of gunslinger swagger.

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For his sake, I hope Hauser finds his shot soon. Being a cold shooter can be a lonely feeling.

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