Former North Carolina Tar Heels guard P.J. Hairston will be eligible for the 2014 NBA draft in June. You wouldn't know it from watching college basketball—Hairston was suspended by the Tar Heels following some off-the-court troubles this summer, which ultimately led to his departure from the program and eventual arrival in the NBA D-League (where he's ineligible to be called up by an NBA team).
It's only natural to assume some teams have already knocked him down their boards. Between his questionable past behavior, North Carolina's decision not to pursue reinstatement and the untraditional path he'll be taking to the draft, Hairston doesn't exactly scream "can't-miss prospect."
But how much stock should teams be putting in Hairston's baggage? And how much does that baggage actually weigh?
Though Hairston's legal troubles and poor decision-making should be thoroughly examined and taken into account, coach Roy Williams' previous comments might lead us to believe they're a thing of the past.
Back in September, Coach Williams granted Hairston the opportunity to start practicing with the team after releasing the following statement via Eric Prisbell of USA Today:
In 26 years as a head coach, I've never made the demands on a young man that I have made of P.J. … P.J. has done, to this point, everything he's been asked to do, and done it with an outstanding attitude and a sense of remorse for his actions which put him in this position. He knows he made a series of mistakes and understands very clearly that he embarrassed his family, our program and the University.
NBA general managers and scouting departments do all sorts of homework on the prospects they're evaluating. That means talking to coaches and people who've been around the player of interest—just like any company would do when interviewing candidates for a high-profile job.
And based on everything we've heard on Hairston since his string of reckless incidents, it appears we're dealing more with immaturity than evil. And while evil can stick, immaturity tends to fade.
At the end of the day, the predraft interview process might be his tallest hurdle to clear.
Hairston is going to get grilled—and selling GMs on his character might be tougher than selling them on his game. Because the talent is there. Hairston had a monster sophomore year in Chapel Hill, where he averaged 14.6 points, 4.3 boards and 1.3 steals, while shooting 39.6 percent from downtown on 2.6 made three-pointers per game.
As a prospect, he brings something to the NBA table that plenty of teams could use—athleticism, a shooting stroke and perimeter defense at the wing.
Hairston went for 22 points and six steals in his D-League debut for the Texas Legends. He answered by dropping 40 points on 14-of-24 shooting the following game.
He has a beautiful outside stroke that should be his bread and butter in the pros. Hairston can also put it on the floor, attack the rim and finish after contact around it. And at 6'6'' and roughly 220 pounds, he's as big, strong and physical as any 2-guard in the draft pool.
After receiving plenty of criticism and scrutiny for his behavior, along with the humiliation likely caused from essentially being booted from North Carolina, Hairston should now be operating in something-to-prove mode. And sometimes, a little extra motivation could make all the difference in the world.
Keep an eye out for Hairston in the D-League. If he keeps torching opposing defenses, he's going to be hard to simply write off.
Last year, it was Glen Rice Jr. who used the D-League to boost his NBA draft stock, after he was kicked off Georgia Tech's team following multiple violations. A terrific season with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers led the Washington Wizards to ultimately select him with the No. 35 pick.
Hairston doesn't exactly project as a high-ceiling All-Star or franchise cornerstone, but given his physical tools and skill set, he offers an attractive, complementary two-way package. If I'm a playoff team looking for an immediate contribution, I've got Hairston circled on my board in that 15-30 range.