Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Sam Hauser providing much needed depth off Celtics bench that will be tested

There's no question the talent that the Celtics have in their starting lineup. Currently constructed, it's one of the best groups in the league. With all five starters being able to stretch the floor and defend, opposing defenses will have their hands full.

The addition of Jrue Holiday in the offseason catapulted the Celtics into having one of the best defending backcourts in the league pairing the former Buck with Derrick White. Considering all the talent in the East, it was critical Boston added more defense to their team -- especially after losing Marcus Smart in the offseason.

Adding Kristaps Porzingis not only brought Boston some much needed size, but yet another offensive weapon who can stretch the floor and take some pressure off Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. It was a tough pill to swallow parting with their long time leader and former Defensive Player of the Year in Smart, but adding a player of Porzingis' caliber certainly was an upgrade in the front court.

While the team has been on the league's most complete teams on both ends with their starters, the one question with the Celtics has been their depth this season. Trading away both Robert Williams and Malcolm Brogdon left a big hole on the bench, even though they were able to add an elite talent in Holiday. Then moving on from Grant Williams, who brought flexibility within their lineup instantly put a dent in Boston's depth.

Players including Oshae Brissett (signed to a minimum deal), Luke Kornet, Payton Pritchard, and Sam Hauser have all assumed bigger roles by default, but none have really shown much consistency outside of Hauser. Al Horford has accepted his role off the bench which has allowed the Celtics to have some flexibility with lineups, but hasn't brought the same offense he's provided in the past.

With a lot of competition in the Eastern Conference, especially with the Milwaukee Bucks, who also have plenty of talent on their roster, the biggest question for the Celtics is, who will emerge as a reliable scorer off the bench? On top of it all, who will step into the starting lineup should an injury occur to Porzingis (who has a long injury history) or a 37 year-old Horford?

Those questions will have to be answered over the course of the season, as Boston still has plenty of time to see who rises to the occasion and which players will grow into their roles as the team builds their chemistry.

Who Can Become the Celtics Sixth Man?

At the moment it looks like Horford assumes that role, as he's the most talented player on the bench as of now. For everything he brings on the defensive end, he's been limited offensively, as he's only averaging 4.9 points per game on the season. Outside of Horford, Hauser has surprisingly been the highest scorer off the bench at 9.6 points per game

Brogdon thrived in his role as the Celtics sixth-man last season, but Boston hasn't been able to replace his production thus far. Pritchard was expected to step up his game this season, but he's been wildly inconsistent, scoring 4.6 points per game, shooting 32.7% from the field and 22.6% from deep.

At this point, either Houser or Horford seems to be the best options in that role currently, but that could change over the course of the season. Horford normally starts on most teams, so having him come off the bench is a nice luxury for the Celtics to have. Hauser has emerged as one of the team's better 3-point shooters -- knocking down 47.5% of his shots from deep on nearly six attempts per contest, while shooting 50% overall from the floor.

Despite getting off to a rough start throughout the three games played in October (3-of-15 from the field), Hauser has found his stroke in November -- averaging 12.2 points on 58.3% shooting and a ridiculous 25-of-44 (56.8%) clip from beyond the arc, while hauling down three rebounds per game (7).

In the Celtics 114-98 win over the Knicks Monday night, Hauser finished with 12 points on 4-of-6 (all from deep), four rebounds and two assists. The 6-foot-8 sharpshooter also put his defensive efforts on display when he contested six shots and had two deflections in 21 minutes -- leading to 0-of-4 shooing from New York and a turnover on shots defended by Hauser.
"I think he's a much better defender than people think. I can't say why, or else I'll get in trouble," head coach Joe Mazzulla said in his postgame comments. "His technique and his ability to know tendencies. I feel just as comfortable with him guarding as anybody else. I've said it from day one, I think he's a very, very good defender, underrated, and as he continues to get better, it makes our team better."
Considering Brad Stevens' current assets, don't be surprised to see him pull off a move at the trade deadline, packaging picks and salary into a high impact player -- much like what the Denver Nuggets did in the offseason last year with Bruce Brown -- who played a large role in winning the franchise's first championship.

Boston still has five first-round picks until 2028, along with eight second-round picks -- according to The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor, following the Holiday trade -- which gives some flexibility in any trade package. It will still be tough to package enough salary to take on a high impact player, but if the Celtics want to acquire some younger talent or an expiring contract, they have the draft capital to make it happen.

If either Horford or Hauser don't end up being the reliable options off the bench that the team needs, the Celtics could look elsewhere to find someone who can take control of that role.

Front Court Depth

Considering Robert Williams' health concerns over the years and Al Horford's age, the Celtics' depth in their front court was very limited over the past few years. However, they were able to mix in Grant Williams to fill in when needed. The Celtics no longer have that luxury with the departure of both Rob and Grant, leaving a lot of question marks behind Porzingis and Horford.

Porzingis has only played in over 65 games only three times over the course of his eight year career (not including this season), which begs the question regarding his durability. He hopes to squash that this season with the Celtics, but it's hard to ignore. If he's unable to go for any stretch of the season, that leaves the team with only a few options to replace him.

The Celtics needed to sacrifice some depth in order to get the talent they acquired in the offseason, but the team may need to address that at the trade deadline or through the buyout market later in the season.

Right now, it will be tough for the Celtics to make any significant moves considering their cap situation, but down the road they may have to use some of their draft capital to add another big man to the rotation. Kornet has been able to bring some size and scoring on occasion, but his production has been inconsistent. It's tough to see him be able to hold up against players like Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo if needed, as opposing teams will likely try to isolate him in pick and rolls.

The Celtics do mix in the starters with the bench throughout games, but considering if they face any injuries, Boston will be thin in the front court. Teams always suffer injuries at some point in the season, so the team will need to have some solid back-up options on deck.

Boston will continue to be in the championship conversation this season as their starters are arguably one of the best in the NBA. However, like most teams there's always a weakness. The Celtics when healthy will be a serious threat to any team, it'll just be worth monitoring how they're able to adapt when they get faced with some adversity.

It's a long season and a lot can happen over the course of 82 games, but the Celtics roster (8-2 record) will be tested. Not many teams have the talent in the starting lineup they do, but they'll have to get more production from their bench. They certainly have the ability to be one of the league's best all around teams, they'll just have to get more out of their rotational players. If the Celtics can figure that out, there will be no questions regarding Boston's ability to seal the deal and hang banner 18 in the rafters. 

Ian Carrano

Photo used courtesy of Getty Images

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