It seemed that the young man was on his way to becoming another cautionary tale about what happens to those immense talents who stray from the straight and narrow, but he clearly intends to subvert the usual narrative and carve out a successful NBA career.
Hairston is well on his way to accomplishing exactly that, especially after scoring 45 points on Wednesday night in just his fifth D-League game, h/t CBS Sports’ Will Brinson:
The former UNC star reached that lofty 45-point mark by hitting 12 of 22 shots from the field, going 5-of-10 from beyond the arc and knocking down all 16 of his free-throw attempts.
It wasn’t all about buckets for the 21-year-old, as he also hauled in three rebounds and recorded three steals. He turned the ball over just once in what would be a 124-115 loss for his Texas Legends to the Reno Big Horns.
This is Hairston’s second explosion of 40-plus points in less than a week. The former Tar Heels standout shot 14-of-24, including 4-of-9 from deep, in just his second game as a Legend.
While that first game could initially be perceived as an anomaly, scouts are certainly taking notice after this latest outburst from the Greensboro, N.C., native. Even before his most recent performance, ESPN’s Jeff Goodman felt that Hairston would be a first-round pick in June’s 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
It was clear this kid had talent from his early days in Chapel Hill, and his sophomore campaign further proved that. Hairston averaged 14.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.3 steals in 23.6 minutes, a solid season that he could have built off of going into his junior year.
While he was ultimately removed from the team before that, UNC head coach Roy Williams did heap some praise on his former player in a statement and conveyed that he wasn’t as bad as his punishment may make him out to be, as per Eric Prisbell of USA Today:
"I am extremely disappointed for P.J., his family and our team as he will no longer be playing basketball at North Carolina," head coach Roy Williams said in a statement. "P.J. made mistakes and I was very disappointed by his actions and now he is suffering the very difficult consequences. He is not a bad kid; he just made some mistakes."
That endorsement may end up being critical, as clubs tend to put a decent amount of stock into character evaluations when it comes time to select prospects in the draft.
Where will Hairston be drafted in 2014?
Regardless, because of his athleticism, shooting touch and 6’6”, 220-pound size, there are going to be plenty of intrigued organizations giving Hairston heavy consideration.
Right now, Hairston’s stock is higher than it’s been since leaving UNC, and he’d be a surefire first-rounder if the draft were tomorrow. If he continues to shoot the lights out in the D-League, there is no doubt that his stock will only continue to rise, and he could even creep up into the late lottery.
The talent is clearly there; it’s now just a matter of sustaining these great performances and avoiding any and all off-court trouble.