PJ Hairston has certainly taken a path less traveled to get to the NBA, but ended up just 150 miles away from where he played college ball in Chapel Hill, NC. Tar Heel fans are certainly excited to see him play in the Hornet teal, but watching him tear up the NBA D-League last season for the Texas Legends was certainly tough — especially since his best basketball skill, 3-point shooting, is something UNC sorely missed.
That is something the Hornets also badly needed and it's why they selected Hairston this summer with the 26th pick of the first round of the NBA Draft. What exactly are they getting? Let’s start by taking a look at his statistics from his three post-high school seasons.
|2011-2012||UNC Tar Heels||13.0||3.8||.273||.466||5.7||14.1|
|2012-2013||UNC Tar Heels||23.6||6.6||.396||.586||14.6||27.1|
Hairston’s college stats his sophomore year were actually very impressive when you look at them in depth. On sports-reference.com, you can put in specific stats and it will query all the players who historically hit those set marks. Unfortunately, it’s a fairly new tool, so we can only go back until 2009 for some of the advanced stats. Five years still includes many college players, so let’s do it anyway. Here’s a list of players who played for a major conference school, had a 27 or higher PER, had a True Shooting Percentage (TS%) of at least .585, and played at least 800 minutes in either of their first two seasons:
Jared Sullinger (21st overall pick, currently plays for the Celtics)
Derrick Williams (2nd overall pick, currently plays for the Kings)
Cody Zeller (4th overall pick, you know him)
Anthony Davis (1st overall pick, currently plays for the Pelicans)
Otto Porter (3rd overall pick, currently plays for Wizards)
Anthony Bennett (1st overall pick, currently plays for the Timberwolves)
Jordan Adams (22nd overall pick this draft, currently plays for the Grizzlies)
P.J. Hairston (26th overall pick)
Most of the guys on this list are big men, which makes sense because TS% was one of the criteria of the search. Hairston being with these names is certainly impressive. More so, if you add a 3-point shooting criteria (let’s say, four 3-point attempts a game), the list shrinks to just Hairston and Adams.
If there is an observation to glean from this exercise, it’s this — perhaps Hairston was undervalued in this year’s draft. Players who were as efficient as he was in their first two years of major college basketball (which is rare in itself) mostly went as high draft picks. The notable exceptions of course are Sullinger — who is looking like he was undervalued at 21st overall — and fellow 2014 draftee Adams.
And the Hornets should hope that Hairston is indeed undervalued, because the historical production of players selected in the late first round (25 to 30) is not very optimistic. Take a look at this table of win shares accumulated on average by each draft pick position in the 20s (you can see all first round values here, data is from 1985-present).
|Draft Pick||Career Win Shares||WS in First 5 Years||WS Yearly Average||WS/48|
As you can see, the average player taken at his draft position, while it’s actually higher than some of the other positions in the 20s, still typically performs at a replacement-level or lower rate. In fact, an average 26th overall pick accumulates 17.29 win shares over their entire career. For reference, Kevin Durant had 19.2 win shares this past season alone.
These numbers are an average of players, so of course there are extremes on either end. And there have been All-Star players from even later in the draft, like the 2nd round, where it’s statistically less than a coin flip if they’ll be replacement-level or better. Names like Paul Millsap, Anderson Varejao, Monta Ellis, Marc Gasol, Michael Redd, K.C. Jones, and Jeff Hornacek — all second-round picks — give hope to fans that have equally high expectations for a guy like Hairston.
The good news for Hairston is that his specific skill set mentioned above, 3-point shooting, is something the Hornets need to seriously contend. It’s not crazy to think that Hairston could be their best 3-point threat other than Gary Neal by the end of the season.
History says that most players selected later in the draft often don’t work out because they can’t get on the floor. It’s a vicious cycle — the draft pick is selected late (which generally means he’s going to a playoff team) and can’t get on the court because he’s still raw, but never gets any better and never hits his potential because he never gets on the court.
Hairston is such a nice fit for a very real Hornets need that he might break from that circle. And when that happens, who knows what playing with All-NBA caliber players like Al Jefferson can do for a young player’s confidence and development. If statistics say anything about P.J. Hairston’s future, he could very well end up being a steal of the draft and a good long-term piece for Charlotte.