There's a decent chance that P.J. Hairston would have been a lottery pick in this year's draft if he was able to play at North Carolina last season. Instead, he was forced to turn pro early, excelled for three months as a member of the Texas Legends in the NBA Development League... and is now firmly entrenched as a fringe first-round selection.
It doesn't make sense to me, either.
The off-court red flags surrounding the former UNC shooting guard are relatively inconsequential. A reckless driving charge and the illegal use of rental cars (the latter of which ultimately led to his dismissal from the Tar Heels) don't make P.J. Hairston a bad person, and together, they shouldn't have much of an impact on his draft stock.
That's not to say that they won't, however. And if Hairston is still on the board in the latter half of the first round, he'd be an ideal target for a Philadelphia 76ers' team that desperately needs an infusion of perimeter shooters.
After North Carolina dropped its bid to restore Hairston's eligibility last December, the 6'6", 230-pound shooting guard spurned Europe (in part due to his desire to continue working towards his degree) and submitted the necessary paperwork to join the D-League. Less than a week later, Hairston was signed by the Texas Legends, and in just his second professional game, he dropped 40 points against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
Hairston managed to score 20 points or more in 14 of the 26 games he played with the Legends, and he ended the season averaging an impressive 21.8 points - good for eighth in the league - and 3.5 rebounds per game. Thanks to the frenetic pace of the D-League, Hairston was able to acclimate himself rather quickly to the longer 3-point line, knocking down 35.8 percent of his 204 attempts from beyond the arc.
Despite his half-season stint in the D-League, Hairston is as (un)polished as any other 21-year-old with a late first-round grade. His mid-range jumper is still a work in progress, and he would benefit with a little more focus on the defensive end. Even so, there's little reason to believe that Hairston can't have (at least) a Hollis Thompson-like impact as a rookie.
It should be noted that Hairston is far more than your run-of-the-mill spot-up shooter: He has enough quickness to create his own shot, and his ability to draw and finish through contact at the rim (5.6 free-throw attempts per game) sets him apart from most other wing players in his draft class.
"He has a knack and a feel for how to get free from defenders," said an unnamed Western Conference executive in an interview with Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated. "I see him as a mid-first-round pick."
Hairston is one of six D-League alum eligible for the 2014 NBA Draft, and with all apologies to Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Hairston is probably the most talented player in the group. The former UNC standout didn't join the Texas Legends until January, and he still managed to land a spot on the D-League's All-Rookie Second Team.
Even though nearly 150 players currently on NBA rosters have spent time in the Development League, there continues to be a stigma attached to those (like Hairston) who put up big numbers at the minor league level. Discounting Hairston's potential would be a mistake - hopefully, it's a mistake that the Sixers won't make on draft night.