Despite all of the controversy surrounding P.J. Hairston, there are few that will deny his talent on the courts. Now the former North Carolina star is proving his value in the NBA D-League.
Hairston was expected to be a big contributor for the Tar Heels in his junior season, but he was suspended to start the year after it was discovered he was receiving impermissible benefits. At the end of December, the school announced that it would not seek reinstatement for the young player.
Fortunately for the talented player, he will get another chance to prove himself with the Texas Legends in the NBA D-League. If he performs well, he could be available for teams in the 2014 NBA draft.
After two games, it is clear that he will hear his name called quite early.
The 6'6" guard scored 22 points in his debut with the Legends, adding six steals while draining four of his nine shots from deep.
In case this was not impressive enough, Hairston blew that away in his second game while totaling 40 points on 14-of-24 from the field and 8-of-9 from the free-throw line.
Hairston showcased everything you would want to see from a 2-guard looking to crack an NBA roster. He displayed great range on his shot while also showing the ability to either catch-and-shoot or create his own looks. Additionally, he threw down some big dunks to impress any scouts watching his athleticism.
After the contest, Jeff Goodman of ESPN mentioned that he could be a first-round pick in the draft:
Ex-North Carolina wing PJ Hairston scored 40 points last night in 38 minutes for D-League team. Should be a first-rounder come June.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) January 25, 2014
While this path to the sport's highest level is not ideal, it has been done before. Last year, Glen Rice Jr. was selected by the Washington Wizards with the 35th overall pick after playing with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
However, Adam Zagoria of NBA.com points out that Hairston can still break new ground this season:
Hairston won't be the first player drafted straight from the NBA D-League, but he could be the first to crack the first round.— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) January 21, 2014
Based on his play alone, there is little question that he should become the first player to accomplish this feat. Hairston is a prototypical shooting guard prospect, and his stock should only continue to rise as he keeps dominating the NBA D-League.
This only leaves the question about his character. As an NBA general manager, I would be cautious about using a first-round pick on someone who was kicked out of his school, not to mention multiple arrests for reckless driving and marijuana possession.
Still, his former head coach believes that this will not be an issue. Roy Williams explained on GoHeels.com:
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. He cares deeply about Carolina and the basketball program.
P.J. has learned from this experience and will continue to grow as a player and adult. I will support him and help him as much as I possibly can as he enters this next phase of his life and basketball career.
This is quite an endorsement from someone who was close to him over the past few years. If Williams believes that he has moved forward, so should NBA front offices.
There is no reason to believe Hairston will slow down his production in the NBA D-League any time soon. Instead, he will continue to dominate and play his way into the first round of the upcoming draft.
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