The NBA Draft is tonight and former Tar Heel P.J. Hairston is being projected as a first round pick, somewhere in the early 20s. Here is a quick rundown of Hairston's background and prospects heading to the NBA.
6-6, 220 lbs
P.J. Hairston came out of high school as the #11 player in the class of 2011 according to the Recruiting Services Consensus Index. During his freshman season at UNC, he joined a loaded team that was primed for a run at the national championship. With such a loaded roster in front of him, Hairston's playing time was limited and his impact minimal. Hairston had a bit of a hot streak early in the season hitting five threes against South Carolina and going 3-4 from beyond the arc against Kentucky. After that only a four threes against Monmouth and a 3-7 shooting day against FSU in the ACC Championship were the only notable production from Hairston. As a freshman he struggled with his shot but UNC could afford that given how much talent was on the roster.
As a sophomore Hairston spent half the season coming off the bench. Even then he started to show signs of what he was capable of as a shooter but also a scorer. In early February, in an effort to jumpstart the Tar Heel offense, coach Roy Williams decided to employ a smaller lineup which included putting Hairston at the four spot. Despite often being outsized by opposing power forwards, Hairston played well and proved to be a match-up problem on the offensive end as a perimeter shooter. Against Miami in the ACC Championship, Hairston went 6-13 from three and in the NCAA Tournament hit five threes against Villanova. For the season Hairston attempted 225 threes which is the most by any Tar Heels player in the Williams era at UNC.
After a strong finish to his sophomore season, Hairston announced he would return for his junior season. With Reggie Bullock heading to the NBA, Hairston would be able to step in as the team's primary perimeter scoring option. He would be the cornerstone of what was expected to be a solid top 10-15 team in Chapel Hill. Unfortunately a series of bad decisions by Hairston ended any possibility of playing for UNC again. The "Summer of P.J." as we called it here, included Hairston being arrested in early June at a checkpoint in Durham for marijuana possession. Given the public's ever changing attitudes towards marijuana use the legal issues were not a huge deal and the charges were ultimately dismissed. The bigger problem lay with the high priced rental car Hairston was driving which signaled the possibility that the Tar Heel junior was receiving improper benefits.
As it turns out that was the case. Hairston was cited for speeding later in the summer and given a suspension by Roy Williams. During that time, Hairston submitted to internal team discipline which was said to be heavy doses of conditioning. Williams was ultimately satisfied that Hairston had met his obligations and reinstated him to practice. During this same period UNC and NCAA began probing Hairston's affection for driving rental cars, an affection shared by teammate Leslie McDonald. The end results of the probes was a nine game suspension for McDonald and UNC choosing not to seek reinstatement for Hairston. The conclusion drawn from UNC's decision and a redacted name in the report on McDonald's case was Hairston's benefits were so large, the NCAA would not grant reinstatement. UNC chose to end the ordeal there.
Hairston stayed with the team up to the Christmas break and in January was drafted to play for the Texas Legends of the D-League. There Hairston played well putting up solid numbers and setting himself up to be the first ever D-League player taken in the first round of the NBA Draft. In subsequent interviews, Hairston has acknowledged his mistakes, taken responsibility for his actions and focused on putting his past misdeeds behind him.
Hairston is the kind of shooter with the reputation of being "in range" as soon as he walks into the building. He is also capable of hitting threes in rapid succession if given the open looks. Hairston showed signs of not just being a shooter and it was expected that, had he played as a junior, his scoring would have been very diversified. In UNC's up-tempo offense, Hairston would have enjoyed open looks in the secondary break and also lanes to score around the basket.
At 220 lbs, Hairston is strong and athletic. During a game against UNLV during his sophomore season, Hairston was tasked with guarding 2013 #1 pick Anthony Bennett in the post. Despite giving up a couple of inches and a different in weight, Hairston held his own guarding the Runnin' Rebel forward. Hairston's strength gave him the ability to finish through contact and shed smaller defenders at the college level. Obviously the NBA is different in this regard but still his overall strength and toughness should serve him well.
On the defensive end, Hairston was average at UNC. There were times he played well on that end, provided great help defense to make a steal or block a shot. There were other times he got lost in the scheme a bit and left his man open. His defense was thought to be one reason why Roy Williams kept him out of the starting lineup for half of his sophomore season. When he did start, he fared well despite being asked to guarding bigger players at the four.
Concerning injuries, Hairston has been fairly durable but did miss games on two different occasions for separate maladies. In February 2012, Hairston missed a game due to a sore left foot. Later that year, a sprained knee kept Hairston from traveling to Indiana to face the Hoosiers. In a January 29th game against Boston College, Hairston suffered a concussion after a collision under the basket. Hairston missed the next game but returned showing no ill effects for the remainder of the season.
Hairston certainly has all the necessary physical tools to be successful in the NBA. While there are questions regarding his off-the-court activities, the only legal issues he had dealt with misdemeanor possession and driving a car too fast. It is reasonable to think his decision making might be a concern but everything he has done since his career ended at UNC has shown him to be on the right track. He has expressed understanding of his missteps and a desire to learn from them going forward. Based on his media interviews, Hairston gives every indication that he understands his past and what he needs to do to avoid repeating it. As a player, his shooting will be a great addition to any number of teams picking in the back half of the first round. Assuming his three point shooting pans out and he is able to become an effective scorer, any team draft Hairston will be getting a solid addition to the roster.
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