The Final Four is a few days away. Thousands of fans will be shifting their attention to Arlington, TX, home of AT&T Stadium, where college basketball’s biggest events of the year will be held before the season reaches its conclusion. 35 miles away, in a suburb of Dallas known as Frisco, Texas, a group of men are preparing for their final games of the 2013-14 NBA D-League Season. This group is known as the Texas Legends, the D-League affiliate to the Dallas Mavericks and this team is where we can now find P.J. Hairston.
If you have paid even a remote amount of attention to college basketball this season, the name P.J. Hairston probably rings a bell. In a time where an enormous amount of debate is ensuing on the structure of the NCAA and the handling of the players they are hoping to help succeed in life, P.J. Hairston’s name filled numerous headlines surrounding his suspension as a member of the University of North Carolina basketball team and the handling of the situation that ultimately ended with his departure from the University and college basketball in general. There are multiple sides to every story, and a situation like Hairston’s had no easy solution on how to be handled. The incident continues to follow Hairston around, but the past hasn’t completely decided his future as he moves toward a possible 1st round selection this June. P.J. will be one of the bigger stories to follow in this year’s draft, and the attention he has dealt with off the court may soon be shifted to what achievements are met on the court.
P.J. Hairston, a former top 20 recruit out of high school, stands at 6’5″ 227 pounds and is one of the top shooting guards expected to be selected in June. Since his departure from UNC, Hairston has been in uniform for the Texas Legends, along with a few former NBA players such as Damion James and Fab Melo. Hairston joins a shortlist of former college athletes to finish their pre-NBA careers in the D-League. Former Yellow Jacket Glen Rice Jr. went 35th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft after spending a season with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Hairston seems to be carrying a similar label to Rice as he approaches this year’s draft: A highly-talented prospect with a few red flags in tow. Rice sat in the upper 20s of the first round of most mocks last year before slipping into the second round. Hairston’s issues may be similar to Rice but his potential seems to be on a higher level.
Hairston has appeared in 24 games for the Legends this season, averaging 21.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game. At 21 years old, he seems to be one of the more well-rounded talents and the weaker depth at the shooting guard position in this draft will likely play to his advantage in the long run. Hairston currently sits in the 22nd spot in DraftExpress’ 2014 mock draft, which would make him the third 2-guard listed, only behind Gary Harris and Nik Staustkas. Hairston has had the advantage of playing in front of more NBA scouts, as teams look through options in the D-League during the season. Hairston could be one of the biggest sleepers in the draft if he has matured in his time with Texas, and as teams get a chance to interview and see his attitude for themselves, his stock could begin to rise as the summer approaches.
Hairston has the typical all-around playing style of the NBA shooting guard. The ability to drive with a decent range is something many teams look for and Hairston’s phyisical attributes, including a 6’9″ wingspan, will give teams plenty of optimism in his defensive potential as well. In the long run, Hairston’s lack of athleticism may shift him toward a more perimeter oriented playing style, but he has already shown the ability to shoot from NBA range. His shooting numbers shouldn’t turn any teams away, 44.7% from the field, 34.8% from beyond the arc with the Legends, but his reliance on including an attacking the basket style of play may hurt his stock if teams believe he won’t be able to continue to have success attacking the rim against NBA defenders. Hairston manned a few different positions in his time with North Carolina, but his time with Texas has been focused more to time on the wing and a bump in his scoring numbers has been the result. His defense has shown potential as he is able to grab a few steals a game with his wingspan, but he will continue to need to improve his ability to stay in front of his man in isolation.
The wing positions will continue to be in question for the Hawks as they enter the off-season. Both the small forward and shooting gaurd spots may be the focus for the team when the draft arrives as the roster may improve significantly if a capable scorer is added to the equation next season. Hairston may not fit the profile of the typical Spurs-type player that the Hawks have begun to be known for going after, but P.J. will likely be on the board when the Hawks are up to choose and he may be the answer for the Hawks on the wing. Adding P.J. would give the Hawks some flexibility as Korver, Carroll, and Hairston could share the minutes on the wing, adding some depth to an area that has been lacking some this season.
Ultimately, Hairston may not be the perfect fit for the Hawks, and the idea that the front office is willing to go risk taking a player with red flags like Hairston may seem unlikely. Hairston’s time in the D-League may have helped him mature as a player, but he still has some efforts to make to help teams forget about his past. The Legends’ D-League season is nearing its conclusion, therefore Hairston will have plenty of time to get started on his campaign to prove doubters wrong.
Check out my other draft profiles on Serbian shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic, 6’11″ Bosnian center Jusuf Nurkic, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s older brother Thanasis and 6’10″ big man Clint Capela from Geneva, Switzerland.