Michigan State basketball

© Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State basketball: Tracking Joey Hauser’s continued improvement

Joey Hauser’s journey with Michigan State basketball hasn’t been an easy one but he’s proven doubters wrong along the way.

If you look at the history of streaky Michigan State basketball players, few are more polarizing than Joey Hauser. While his time at MSU has its share of up and downs, there is no more important player for the team to succeed offensively this season.

Hauser came in as a highly sought-after transfer from Marquette who could space the floor and light it up from deep. Many were comparing him to Goran Suton or A.J. Granger as a classic Tom Izzo stretch-four. The buzz he received in the offseason meant he would be subject to one of the toughest things you can receive from the fanbase of a high-level basketball program: elevated expectations.

As soon as he arrived on campus, he was unfortunately deprived of a chance to play alongside Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman in the 2019-20 season due to a declined transfer waiver. Ultimately that season ended in disappointment as MSU never got a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament due to COVID-19.

Once Winston left campus, there was a noticeable void at point guard. During the 2020-21 season, Foster Loyer and Rocket Watts failed to pick up the mantle effectively. Likewise in 2021-22, AJ Hoggard was prone to costly mistakes and poor shooting, and Tyson Walker was too tentative with the tools he had at his disposal. Both of those teams barely scraped into the tournament, a departure from what MSU fans were accustomed to.

When you look at Hauser’s lone season at Marquette, there’s no question he benefitted from playing alongside Markus Howard, who was able to distribute in lethal fashion on dribble drives and pick-and-rolls. And once Winston left MSU, the lack of elite play at point guard meant Joey’s performance suffered as well.

This year, Michigan State basketball has displayed an offense that has a full season’s worth of experience and continuity at point guard. Hoggard and Walker have both taken steps forward, showing improved vision and decision-making. The coaches are also rolling with a tighter eight-man rotation, with each player understanding their role and spacing in the offense.

As a result, we are getting more productivity from No. 10.

Hauser’s most significant improvement this season has come on the offensive end. Things are visibly clicking with his ability to operate in Tom Izzo’s pick-and-roll offense as well as in transition. And the numbers back up what we are seeing:

ORating (per 100 possessions), offensive box score +/-, PPG

2018-19: 110.3, +1.1, 9.7 PPG
2020-21: 106.1, +2.7, 9.7 PPG
2021-22: 118.1, +2.8, 7.3 PPG
2022-23: 118.5, +4.9, 14.0 PPG

Joey is posting career highs in scoring, offensive rating, and offensive box score +/-, all of which lead the team.

Many MSU fans had mixed reactions about him coming back for this season, based on how his career at MSU had gone so far. But we need to trust in Tom Izzo’s process, knowing that there will be growing pains along the way.

When Joey had one of his worst games against Gonzaga, he bounced back in strong way against Kentucky to launch MSU back into the national conversation. Izzo commented on the difference in Hauser’s demeanor this season: “There was just a different Joey than the last couple of years. He wasn’t hanging his head, he wasn’t all upset about it, and he just went back to work.”

Joey is shooting with much more confidence, even in games where he gets off to a slow start. Looking at his career numbers from deep, there is a considerable difference this season:

3-pointers made/attempted per game

2018-19: 1.3/3.1 (42.5%)
2020-21: 1.2/3.6 (34.0%)
2021-22: 1.1/2.8 (40.8%)
2022-23: 2.8/5.5 (50%)

While a 50 percent mark is likely not sustainable, it is a sign of good things to come from Hauser. Those numbers are still impressive, given they have come against stiff competition in Gonzaga, Kentucky, and Villanova. And the Gonzaga game, which was Joey’s worst on the season, had elements that will not be present for 98 percent of MSU’s games this year. 

Malik Hall said it best: “It’s going to make it a lot easier for everybody on the team if he looks for his shot. He’s going to continue to knock them down.”

Joey has also shown some flashes of creativity in the post and mid-range. He utilizes ball fakes and duck-unders effectively, and if he can’t get a clean look he has the ability to kick out the ball to an open shooter. He is not afraid to take big shots at key moments in the game, especially when MSU needs a counterpunch.

A major part of the criticism from the fanbase over the past 2 seasons has been Joey’s defensive liability. He does not have the size to contend with the plethora of high-level centers that the Big Ten churns out every year. He also does not pose the lateral quickness to face guard more mobile, athletic power forwards.

However, you can still see moderate improvement in his ability to defend this season.

DRating (per 100 possessions), defensive box score +/-

2018-19: 101.0, +1.2
2020-21: 102.6, +1.6
2021-22: 104.0, +1.3
2022-23: 97.4, +1.8

Similar to his offensive numbers, he declined from his freshman year through his preceding two seasons but has bounced back in a major way this year. Through four games, Joey posted his best defensive rating in his career, as well as his best defensive box score contribution.

Those numbers certainly don’t stack up to the likes of Marcus Bingham or Xavier Tillman, but that is not what MSU needs Hauser to do. They need him to be serviceable on that end of the floor. Don’t get embarrassed, stay in position, and don’t get into foul trouble. MSU can live with Joey occasionally getting beat on the defensive end, because of the way he lifts the team offensively.

We can all sincerely hope that Joey continues to make Michigan State basketball fans eat crow for doubting him as much as they have the past two seasons. Watching Joey playing with the confidence he has so far, the sky is the limit for this team.

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