P.J. Hairston, 6-foot-6 shooting guard, Texas Legends
2013-14 stats: 21.8 PPG, 0.8 APG, .870 FT%
The former North Carolina standout was on an upward trajectory following a strong finish to his sophomore year and would have likely ended up in the same place he is now, a first-round draft prospect, though certainly on a more direct path than the one he embarked upon. Hairston left school prior to last season due to NCAA violations — he accepted improper benefits, including the use of a rental car, from a local promoter, who happened to be a convicted felon, in addition to being connected to drug and gun possession charges that were eventually dropped — and played in the D-League, where he more than held his own. Hairston is one of the better outside shooters and pure scorers in the draft, and with his combination of size and ability, the only question is how much his previous issues are held against him.
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Career highlights: A McDonald’s All-American out of high school, the in-state recruit was a reserve as a freshman, playing behind the likes of current pro Harrison Barnes and averaging 5.7 points per game. As a sophomore, Hairston again began the season as a backup, but eventually earned a starting job and eventually became the Tar Heels’ leading scorer for the season, averaging 14.6 points per game, to go along with 4.3 rebounds per game and 39.6-percent shooting from three-point range, with scoring outbursts such as a 29-point effort against Virginia and a 28-point performance against Miami (he made six threes in each game), as well as making the ACC all-tournament team. After his aforementioned off-the-court issues, he was dismissed from the team prior to his junior year and entered the D-League, where he excelled for the Texas Legends — the Dallas Mavericks’ minor-league affiliate — notching seven games with 30 points or more in his 26 total contests, including a 45-point explosion.
Strengths: Hairston is a big, physical wing with good athleticism and the tools to be a good defender and rebounder from the perimeter, even if he doesn’t always apply them to use. He’s capable of using his strong frame to punish smaller defenders on the interior and can finish on the interior as a slasher, in transition, on the low block and on the offensive glass, not to mention having a knack for getting to the foul line. The best aspect of his game, however, is his shooting, as Hairston has tremendous range, can knock down shots coming off screens, hit pull up jumpers, is dangerous when spotting up and doesn’t have much of a conscience, which makes him able to get on a roll very easily.
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Weaknesses: His volume shooting is problematic when he’s struggling to make shots, as Hairston has the tendency to become a one-dimensional player and not concentrate on the other aspects of his game. Past troubles aside, he can sometimes display poor body language on the court, be an indifferent defender, exhibit questionable shot selection and not contribute on the glass as much as he should. While he has excellent size for his position, his lateral quickness isn’t great, meaning he has to work at the technical details defensively and maintain his conditioning, as well as improving as a ballhandler and passer.
Draft projection: Assuming he sufficiently answers questions about his college transgressions, Hairston’s draft range should be anywhere from the mid-to-late teens to the end of the first round, depending on how he fares in pre-draft workouts. His shot-making ability is undeniable and as a natural scorer with a pure shooting stroke, there’s certainly a place for him in a team’s rotation from the outset of his NBA career, provided he stays on the straight and narrow, works hard to address his weaknesses and can adjust to not being a featured offensive option. But at his young age, with flashes of dominant play against a level of competition higher than the college ranks, there’s no reason to suggest that Hairston can’t have a successful run as an instant-offense scorer, with the potential to develop into an effective all-around scorer as time goes on.