P.J. Hairston Can Greatly Improve 2014 NBA Draft Stock Playing in D-League

Rob GoldbergFeatured ColumnistJanuary 14, 2014

ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 11:  P.J. Hairston #15 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts after he make a 3-point basket in the second half against the Florida State Seminoles during the Final Game of the 2012 ACC Men's Basketball Conference Tournament at Philips Arena on March 11, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Sometimes in life, you get second chances. P.J. Hairston is one player fortunate enough to get that opportunity to turn his career around in time for the 2014 NBA draft.

The former North Carolina guard was declared ineligible to play this season by the NCAA after receiving impermissible benefits, and he was unable to be reinstated. As a result, he decided to join the Texas Legends of the NBA D-League, which the team announced on its Twitter account:

According to Marc Stein of ESPN, Hairston seemed extremely positive in his released statement:

I'm extremely grateful that the Texas Legends organization believes in my abilities, and thank them for signing me to their team. I intend to take full advantage of this opportunity. This is another positive step towards accomplishing the goals I set out for myself. This is an exciting time.

It seems one of the goals he wants to accomplish is to find a way into the NBA. While he cannot be called up to the association this year, he is eligible for the first-year player draft in June. The good news is the Legends give him a good opportunity to shine.

Coming into the year, Hairston was considered one of the Tar Heels' best players and someone who could eventually become a quality NBA contributor. He proved his outside shooting ability last season with a 39.6 three-point percentage, while his size at 6'6" is above average at the position.

ESPN's draft analyst Chad Ford gave this assessment following his 2012-13 campaign (subscription required):

Hairston had a strong sophomore season where he dramatically improved his ppg and shooting percentages. He also was, at times, the toughest player on this Tar Heels squad and especially thrived when he moved into the starting line-up for the last 14 games of the season. He was projected as a bubble first-round pick in 2013, and should, with improvement, be a solid first-round pick in 2014.

However, his removal from the North Carolina basketball team dramatically hurt his stock. Not only would NBA teams not be able to evaluate him during the year, but it also leads to questions about his character.

The good news is that he is on his way to turn this around. In the D-League, he will get a chance to showcase his pure scoring ability as well as his athleticism against quality competition.

Although he will not get the publicity he would in college, there will be plenty of scouts at his games that will vouch for him if he fares well.

This path to the NBA was seen this past year with Glen Rice Jr., who was suspended by Georgia Tech during the 2011-12 season. He ended up leading the Rio Grande Valley Vipers to a D-League championship for the 2012-13 season before being selected by the 76ers with the No. 35 pick in the 2013 draft.

Hairston is more polished and has a wider skill set than Rice, which should lead to more buzz heading into the draft.

Still, the other question NBA teams will have before drafting him is whether he can be trusted based on character concerns. You certainly do not want to risk an early pick on someone who can be a distraction to the organization.

However, he does still have a friend in his corner in the form of Roy Williams. The head coach released this statement after it was apparent Hairston would not be returning to school, via GoHeels.com:

He is not a bad kid; he just made some mistakes. Since summer, P.J. has been outstanding with our basketball program and with his schoolwork. He went through an extremely intense conditioning program with flying colors. He has been called a "perfect teammate" by one of our other players. He has dominated our practices and at times has been as good as any perimeter player I have ever coached, giving great effort to help our team.

This goes to show you that these issues are not long-term, but just mistakes that he can learn from. The fact that the young player enrolled in online courses to finish his degree is also a positive sign.

As long as he does not have any complaints about his character from his new coaches or teammates, this is something that can be overlooked on draft day.

In that case, it will all come down to playing ability. This is good news for Hairston because he has the unique combination of size, athleticism and shooting ability to succeed at the next level. 

Of course, the pressure is still on him to succeed. If he is rusty or simply cannot cut it in the D-League, it could force him to be considered undraftable. No one is going to risk a pick on a player who was kicked off his college team and struggles in a mediocre league.

A strong season for the Legends could show scouts that he can excel in the NBA and that he is worthy of a first-round pick and possibly a huge steal. All signs point to this being the most likely scenario for the talented player.

Still, a bad showing could keep him out of the spotlight forever.


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