Sunday, September 21, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

If available, Sixers should take a shot on P.J. Hairston

A lot of attention has been paid to the Sixers' top two picks in the upcoming and stacked 2014 NBA Draft, and rightfully so. The draft is expected to be one of the deepest in recent memory, as the top is teeming with talent and superstar potential.

If available, Sixers should take a shot on P.J. Hairston

North Carolina´s P.J. Hairston. (Gerry Broome/AP)
North Carolina's P.J. Hairston. (Gerry Broome/AP)

A lot of attention has been paid to the Sixers’ top two picks in the upcoming and stacked 2014 NBA Draft, and rightfully so. The draft is expected to be one of the deepest in recent memory, as the top is teeming with talent and superstar potential.

In addition to their two top-10 picks in the draft however, the Sixers also have a slew of second-rounders that they can use to try out talent, without the pressure and expectations that come with landing in the lottery.

The Sixers possess the draft’s 32nd,39th, 47th, 52nd and 54th picks. While they likely won’t keep all of those selections (they wouldn’t even be able to add that many rookies to a roster), they certainly could and will use some of them to scour the second round for value and versatility.

The second round doesn’t traditionally have the star power or the well-known names of the first round, but true talent can be unearthed in the draft’s second half, as productive players, and sometimes stars, emerge.

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Current productive players like Monta Ellis, Carlos Boozer and Manu Ginobili were all selected in the second round, as were NBA legends like Dennis Rodman, Willis Reed, and the Sixers’ own Maurice Cheeks.

In short, some solid players slip to the second round, for one reason or another. Sometimes there are concerns about size, strength or speed. Other times questions about the ability to translate to the next level causes some slippage. Off-court issues can also cause concern and keep a player on the big board, as was the case for former North Carolina guard P.J. Hairston.

Hairston, a solid scorer who looked to be developing into a go-to guy, had his college career cut short last fall when he accepted the use of a rental car that cost him his eligibility. Coming off of a sophomore season in which he averaged 14.6 points and 4.3 rebounds, and was positioned to take an even larger role for the Tar Heels, the sudden loss of his eligibility was a shocking wake-up call for Hairston.

“It was a real big shock,” Hairston told the media during the NBA Draft combine. “It was probably the worst news of my life. When I was told I couldn’t play, it felt like it was the worst thing. But, at the same time, I couldn’t go sob and cry and be mad at myself. I needed to figure out what was next.”

Hairston appears to have an excellent attitude for a young player who could have easily let such an enormous setback collapse his career. Saying and doing are two different things, however, and when it came to picking himself up off of the figurative floor, Hairston not only talked the talk but walked the walk as well.

Instead of sitting on the sideline for a season and seeking eligibility elsewhere, Hairston was proactive in the development of his professional potential. At the top of 2014, Hairston joined the NBA’s Development League and submitted a successful stint with the Texas Legends.

“Whatever it took, I did it,” Hairston said, before detailing one of the more difficult aspects of his professional preparation grind.

“I got up early every morning, and I’m not a morning person,” he said, more than semi-serious. “That was one of the hardest things for me. I told myself I had to do it.”

Hairston did a lot more than just wake up earlier than he would have liked during his D-League detour however.

In 26 games with the Legends, Hairston averaged 21.8 points per game in 30 minutes of action. While other areas of his game (most notably rebounds/assists) could use some statistical improvement, he further showcased his offensive ability and solidified himself as a solid scorer (he finished the D-League season sixth in scoring).

Most importantly, however, he remained relevant in the league’s landscape and stayed fresh in the mind of franchise front offices. 

Hairston was good at North Carolina. He got better, and more professionally prepared, in Texas. He improved upon his defense, which was often questionable at best in college. Always a good spot-up shooter, Hairston took steps to improve his off-the-dribble shooting; something that should increase his value at the next level.

“Things I didn’t do at North Carolina, I did more at Texas,” he said. “I became versatile.”

Equally important to his on-court improvement may have been the strides he made off it. Hairston’s experience in the D-League was similar to any fresh-out-of-school college kid’s first job, in that it was a maturing experience. For a kid that made some questionable decisions off the basketball court, the learning experience of playing professionally and being on your own may prove invaluable.

“I wasn’t supposed to be in the D-League, but it helped me a lot,” the guard said.

Now, after his D-League detour and over a year since he last collegiate game, Hairston will get his shot at being drafted.

It was reported on Monday that Hairston plans to work out with the 76ers and, considering his offensive ability and upside, it makes sense for the team to take a shot on him, if the opportunity presents itself.

Not that the team should reach for him, as questions about his true pro potential still exist, but if he is around for the Sixers’ second-round selections, or if they can package some of those second-round picks for another first rounder, Hairston could be a solid selection.

The former Tar Heel has already demonstrated that he can score at the professional level, and at the very least he could be serviceable in the league as a scorer/shooting specialist off the bench. If he can continue improving his defense, something that was often lacking in Chapel Hill, he could develop into a legitimate two-way player.

Hairston also appears to be one of the most NBA-ready prospects in the draft, due largely to his time in the development league.

Of central interest to Brett Brown and the Sixers, however, may be Hairston’s three-point stroke, and his ability to get out in transition. Hairston converted 73 three-pointers in 26 total games for the Legends, using what DraftExpress.com describes as a picture-perfect shooting stroke.

From DraftExpress.com:

Hairston has a pure and beautiful stroke, with great balance and follow through, and consistent elevation which he uses effectively to create separation and get his shot off quickly in a multitude of ways. He's terrific in quick actions, being especially effective in transition and early-offense situations, which makes him a very valuable weapon in the increasingly up-tempo nature of the NBA.”

Considering the up-tempo style Brown prefers to play, with a heavy emphasis on threes and getting out on the break, Hairston seems like he could be a solid fit with the 76ers.

After adding some true talent with their highly-hyped picks at No. 3 and No. 10, the Sixers can afford to take a little risk on a player that could potentially be a very good pro. Hairston could bring some much-needed scoring to the Sixers, and if he continues to develop other areas of his game he could become very valuable.

As long as they don't reach too far, the Sixers should take a shot on Hairston. 

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