How P.J. Hairston’s Fall from College Stardom to the NBA D-League has Solidified His Draft Status

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Photo via Bleacher Report

by Andrew Ford

After P.J. Hairston’s removal from the North Carolina Tar Heels men’s basketball team for getting in trouble with the NCAA off the court, many wondered loudly what that would mean for his NBA draft stock. Would he fall off the face of the earth, thus relegating him to the second round of the upcoming 2014 NBA Draft, or worse leave him undrafted? Furthermore, where would he play until the draft, and would the competition he faced be good enough to leave NBA scouts without pause? Given the past tense used to pose those questions, they have obviously been answered at this point.

After being out of team basketball for nearly a month considering his options, Hairston decided to throw his name into the D-League player pool. Less than a week later, he had a bite from the Texas Legends, who at the time held the number one pick in the D-League’s player selection process.

From the first game he played with the Legends, Hairston has milked his new platform for all it’s worth. Being with the Legends has given him a public forum to acknowledge he made mistakes at the same time as putting those swiftly behind him by getting back out on the court. After violating NCAA rules, many immediately gave Hairston the dreaded label of a guy with “character issues,” not stopping to consider that he was just 20 years old when these wrong-doings occurred, a prime age for people to do stupid things.

Hairston, still just 21 years of age, has apologized for everything that transpired at North Carolina, and luckily for him and his draft stock, what happened seems to be an isolated incident that can be attributed to the follies of youth. Hairston’s newfound maturation off the court coupled with his already seasoned game on the court being showcased in the D-League has left him in the best position yet to become a first round draft pick.

Here’s what Hairston has done on the court since joining the Legends that has his stock soaring.

Slashing to the Paint

Hairston possesses the ability to put the ball on the floor and weave his way to the rim with ease, and his strength allows him to finish through contact once he gets there. He isn’t the best ball handler or the most explosive guy, but he has good instincts for when to pull up and shoot and when to put the ball down and blow past his defender. In the air, Hairston possesses excellent body control, which will be extremely significant at the NBA level when the best shot blockers in the world are challenging his shot. Notice Hairston contorting his body, finishing through contact, and getting an and-one in multiple clips in the video below.

Utilizing Off Ball Screens

If you want to know if a shooting guard prospect has a chance to be successful at the NBA level, watch how they utilize screens and move off the ball. Hairston is great at using pin down screens and hugging tight to the screeners hip to rid himself of his defender, as he does multiple times in the video below. Of course, the ability to shake free of a defender by utilizing off ball screens means nothing if Hairston can’t shoot. However, that isn’t a problem. Hairston’s eFG% is 52.3% and his TS% is 59% in 17 D-League games. Those percentages will pop for NBA teams looking for a shooting guard in the upcoming 2014 NBA Draft. Hairston has gotten a lot of wide open looks, especially from deep since joining the Legends, but he’s shooting lights out right now regardless.

Spot-Up Three-Point Shooting

Another major part of Hairston’s game is lurking on the perimeter, readying himself to receive passes in drive and kick situations so he can be ready to rise and fire the moment he catches the ball. Hairston’s shooting form is consistent every time, which is key for shooting success. He gets great elevation on his jump and releases before he begins his return to the ground, two important elements to a great jump shot. Hairston will be called upon to knock down spot-up threes with consistency once he makes it to the NBA, and he is proving he is capable of doing that with the Legends.

Getting Steals

Two words can be used to best describe what marks Hairston’s defensive ability: quick hands. Hairston has a knack for reaching in at just the right moment before a player goes up for a shot and swiping it out of his hands. He did this countless times at North Carolina, and he has continued doing more of the same for the Legends. Hairston also disrupts passing lanes well, splitting the gap at exactly the right time to intercept the pass. It is often said that steals at the level below the NBA are an indicator of how a player will perform at the next level, and if that’s true, Hairston will be just fine.

Hairston has done nothing but impress since joining the Texas Legends, albeit in a small sample size. He’s done everything that’s been asked of him on the court and moved beyond his past shortcomings off the court. It’s no mystery why his NBA stock is as high as it’s ever been. He can score in myriad ways, rebound at a high rate for his position, and lock down opposing guards  by bullying them with his strength. He’s proved it in front of numerous NBA scouts since joining the D-League. Those scouts have undoubtedly taken notice, and for teams in need of a guard with a multi-dimensional skill set, Hairston is definitely worth a first round pick.

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