P.J. Hairston, SG, North Carolina
When P.J. Hairston was kicked off the University of North Carolina men's basketball team by head coach Roy Williams, his future as an NBA prospect began to look bleak. He had multiple problems and run-ins at North Carolina before finally being told to get lost, giving many potential NBA suitors pause about his character. However, when Hairston was at his lowest, almost out of basketball, he clawed his way back in as part of the D-League. The Texas Legends took a shot on him, and he pulled himself up by the bootstraps to become one of the more polished players in this year's draft class. One could argue that's the biggest indicator of his character yet.
Stats Courtesy of Sports-Reference and NBA D-League Stats Page
Looking at Hairston's stats, it's not inconceivable to say his draft stock jumped up considerably during his D-League stint. He proved that not only could he play against grown men, but that he could thrive against them. He averaged 21.8 PPG for the Legends, good enough for second on the team in his stint (qualifier=10 games played).
In a more open style of play, Hairston excelled. He was able to show what he does best, which is shoot the ball. The Legends liked to get out and run, and Hairston was a deadly three-point shooter in transition. Being able to hit an in rhythm three in transition is highly valuable in the NBA. Just ask the Wizards exactly why they like Trevor Ariza so much.
Hairston's three-point shooting ability carries over to the half-court game, too. He is used to playing off the ball, and he's mastered getting open every way possible, whether that's by waiting patiently on the wing sliding over just enough for a kick out, capitalizing on off-ball screens, or utilizing dribble hand-offs. He executes all three with a high level of efficiency. He is a volume shooter, but an NBA team that needs shooting, say the Grizzlies, wouldn't mind him taking so many threes because 1) he will do wonders for floor spacing and 2) he was 36% from beyond the NBA three-point line in 26 games with the Legends.
It's no mystery how Hairston is such an efficient shooter when you look at his stance. He also always has a perfect base (feet shoulder width apart with feet either square to the rim or pointed just slightly to the side of the rim) before rising for a shot, no matter whether he is performing a catch-and-shoot or utilizing an off-ball screen. His form at the top of his jumper is smooth, quick, and consistent, three things you want from any NBA shooter.
At 6'5, 230 pounds, Hairston already possesses an NBA body. He doesn't need to fill out any, and his performances against grown men in the D-League confirmed that fact. He's strong like a bull, and he can be incredibly dangerous when he puts the ball on the floor if he has a straight line to the basket. He uses his strength to muscle defenders backwards, almost willing his way to the rim. His frame also makes him almost impossible to stop in transition when he's barreling straight towards a defender.
One thing that inhibits his slashing ability is his average handles, but he can dribble adequately to drive in both directions. His thick frame allows him to absorb a lot of hard contact once he gets to the rim and either finish through it or draw a foul. He got to the charity stripe at a high rate in the D-Leage, averaging 5.6 attempts/game.
Lack of an explosive first step while possessing no advanced handles could be the undoing of Hairston's slashing ability in the NBA against defenders that slide well laterally and are strong enough to keep Hairston from essentially running them over on his way to the rim as is his won't. His weight can be a double-edged sword, as it hinders his explosiveness on the dribble and also makes him a more below-the-rim finisher than NBA teams might like him to be. If his first step proves too slow to get the step on defenders at the next level, will Hairston be able to develop decent enough handles to get by his man in other ways? That remains to be seen.
If an NBA team is drafting Hairston to create an open shot for someone else at the end of a game, which is highly unlikely, then they are drafting him for the wrong reason. He is not someone who gets teammates involved, averaging less than one assist per game in the D-League. Not only does he not get others involved, but he struggles to make even the most basic passes at times (read entry pass). That shouldn't be a huge concern as he will be playing predominantly off the ball in the NBA, but it is always nice to have someone that can make a play for someone else when his own play breaks down.
Hairston won't give a team much on the glass, so it would be best if he was drafter by a team that could mitigate that weakness, and the Grizzlies fit the bill. With Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, and Marc Gasol on the floor, the Grizzlies gobble up rebounds. Insert Hairston into the starting five on the Grizzlies, and his lack of instincts on the boards doesn't sting too bad.
One of the more interesting areas of Hairston's game is his defense. He profiles as a possible defensive stopper in the NBA with his great length (6'9.5 wingspan), sturdy frame, and sufficient lateral quickness. On nights when he's giving maximum effort, he can almost take his man completely out of the game. The catch is that he doesn't always give maximum effort. He often relaxes especially off the ball, falling prey to silly things such as ball watching, helping one pass away, and not knowing when to rotate when his teammates have been beaten.
He's not terrible all the time off the ball though. There are times when his length and exceptional instincts allow him to jump into passing lanes and come up with a steal. He averaged 1.5 steals/game for the Legends, and the impressive thing is that he didn't have to gamble to get many of them. If a coach can get him to be interested on defense every time down, then he could be a versatile menace that can guard point guards, shooting guards, and small forwards.
Hairston, as he's proven throughout his basketball career, can be a very different guy both on and off the court any given night. He's a bit unpredictable when it comes to his attitude and effort, and that's a real issue. However, he seems to have made great strides and exhibited remarkable maturity since his debacle at North Carolina and his stint in the D-League, which might be reason for teams to worry about what's going on in his head a little less. Hairston would be best served to come into a roster full of veterans that demand discipline and respect like the Grizzlies. Aside from his potential character issues, he is one the most NBA-ready players in this year's draft class. He's played the grown man's game and faired well. For a team like the Grizzlies that are in win-now mode, picking Hairston make a heck of a lot of sense.