P.J. Hairston has endured a unique, arduous path to the highest level of pro basketball, culminating when the ex-North Carolina guard was chosen in the 1st round at No. 26 overall in the 2014 NBA draft, the NBA Draft Twitter account announced:
According to ESPN's Chad Ford, the pick has been traded to the Heat in a deal that will send Shabazz Napier to Miami:
With the 26th pick the Charlotte Hornets select PJ Hairston with the 26th pick (via Heat)— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) June 27, 2014
After averaging a team-best 14.6 points per game as a sophomore in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Hairston's future with the storied Tar Heels program appeared to be bright. Unfortunately, he violated NCAA rules and was deemed ineligible for the entire 2013-14 season.
That led to an alternative avenue for Hairston to explore: the NBA Developmental League. Instead of sitting on the bench at North Carolina, unable to play competitive collegiate hoops, he signed with the Texas Legends and played for three months.
InsideCarolina.com tweeted Hairston's stellar stats from the stint:
PJ Hairston's NBDL season is over. Final stats in 26 games: 21.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.5 spg, 45% FG, 36% 3FG— InsideCarolina (@InsideCarolina) April 7, 2014
Hairston discussed how the D-League impacted his game, per Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer:
It’s a professional league, not like college where you have someone holding your hand, saying, "Shoot this, don’t shoot that!" It’s basically up to you. You’re a man and you have to take care of your business on the court. [...] Things I didn’t do at North Carolina I did more at Texas. I became versatile. My mid-range game needs to be better. It’s a consistency thing – shoot until it’s perfect.
[...] I wasn’t supposed to be in the D-League, but it helped me a lot. It’s definitely healthy there was an alternate way to get better.
The place Hairston could prove himself most in front of NBA scouts—not only through drills but also in interviews—was at the predraft combine in Chicago.
After putting together a solid performance and a better-than-expected 37" maximum vertical leap, per NBA.com, Greg Rosenstein of ESPN Insider was impressed, though he wondered whether the off-court issues in the past would plague Hairston's draft stock:
PJ Hairston looking good in workouts today. Great scorer, but are the off-the-court issues too much?— Greg Rosenstein (@grosenstein) May 15, 2014
But the David Glenn Show, citing Bonnell, noted that Hairston held court about his checkered past when pressed about it:
Bonnell: PJ Hairston came across very mature, very gracious, didn't duck any embarrassing question.— David Glenn Show (@DavidGlennShow) May 16, 2014
The Hornets evidently felt confident enough that Hairston had grown from the humbling circumstances that got him ousted from Chapel Hill—and about his game—to be willing to draft him when it did.
How will P.J. Hairston fare as an NBA rookie?
Just to have the opportunity to still be alive for consideration in the NBA draft had to be thrilling for Hairston. The move to the D-League may actually aid his adjustment to the Association, as those players are fighting for the right to be promoted to the pros, whereas college players aren't facing quite the same caliber of competition.
What also helps his cause is that Hairston can play either the 2 or 3 position, thanks to his ideal size and functional strength. As long as he can dig in on the defensive end, Hairston should please his new coach right away.
The fact that Hairston was able to put up the strong numbers he was with the Legends shows that he isn't far off from being a strong contributor at the NBA level. A gap still needs to be bridged in terms of elevating his game and acclimating to the superior pressure of playing in the top league. However, Hairston is well on his way to developing a new appreciation for the game and rewarding the Hornets' faith in him by blossoming into a reliable scorer.