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Draft pick breakdown: PJ Hairston

After a trade with Miami, the Hornets selected PJ Hairston with the 26th overall pick in the draft. How will the former UNC Tar Heel and Texas Legend impact his new team?


After Noah Vonleh basically fell into the laps of Rich Cho and the Charlotte frontcourt offense, the draft strategy likely had to be changed a bit. All reports indicated that the Hornets were targeting Nik Stauskas or Doug McDermott, both of whom are primarily perimeter shooters. Drafting Vonleh dealt with a void in the frontcourt, but the Hornets still needed a shooter, and they took one at the 26th position with P.J. Hairston.

After two years playing in Chapel Hill, Hairston played his professional ball with the Texas Legends of the NBA D-League last season, becoming the first D-Leaguer to be drafted in the first round. His offensive numbers were more or less in line with what we expected to see from him, with quality shooting percentages despite taking a lot of shots (which roughly translates into "he scored a lot"). Hairston dropped 21.3 points per game on a .453/.358 line, in a great season in the D-League. Statistically, he doesn't appear to be prolific in other areas, but statistics from other leagues can be unreliable when scouting for a player's future.

So what would Hairston bring to the Hornets? Let's start with the obvious quality: three-point shooting. Hairston has proven that he can knock down the long ball at a professional level, and his presence on the court would help the Hornets spread the floor, something that was often lacking with their below-average 3P%. He's probably a better shooter when creating his own shot or in transition, but has no problem playing the catch-and-shoot game either. He's an immediate upgrade in that regard, and while this probably wouldn't give him starters' minutes so early into his NBA career, he could easily enter the role held by Chris Douglas-Roberts or (at times) Anthony Tolliver last season.

What helps, though, is that Hairston's scoring ability isn't purely in range shooting. He's effective at the rim because of his body type and strength, converting many and-ones and and drawing a lot of fouls, getting 6.3 free throw attempts per 36 minutes this season. While he's not overly quick, he's not slow, and can get by his man in iso defense. Or sometimes, he will just work through his man; Hairston's kind of a truck when it comes to his drives to the basket, and very difficult to stop by putting a body on him.

Unfortunately, he's probably limited to scoring, on the offensive end. While he rarely turns the ball over, I have to believe this is a consequence of being a pure shooter and rarely trying to force ball movement -- but it does help that he will take care of the ball while dribbling. Hairston, though, is not a passer in any sense of the word. His first instinct is to shoot, his second instinct is dribble the ball until he has a good place to shoot, and his vision, when it comes to finding his teammates, is pretty subpar. While I think it would be unfair to characterize him as a me-first, team-be-damned type of player, his miniscule assist rate (4.1% of teammate field goals while on floor, 20th of 22 Texas players) means that his ability to move the ball in accordance with an NBA offense is going to need some time to develop.

On the other end of the floor, Hairston's strengths and weaknesses are both pretty pronounced, and there is a significant amount to like about Hairston's defensive game. His length allows him to jump into passing lanes pretty easily and get a significant amount of steals, he likely won't be muscled through by opponents (both SGs and SFs), and his aggressive instincts lead to a lot of positive effects for his team, especially because he has surprisingly solid recovery ability if a quicker man gets the first step on him. He acknowledges that on-ball defense is his biggest weakness, so it seems like just getting a consistent focus out of him will be a main thing to improve his defense.

Even with a season of professional basketball under his belt, I'm somewhat unconvinced that Hairston went through a significant growth period as a complete team player. There are a lot of issues still remaining with his overall play, and I'm hoping that the presence of Steve Clifford as his head coach would instill the quality team defense concepts that worked for so many members of the Bobcats last season. Overall, I think Hairston is an asset to the Hornets, as his strengths fit perfectly within the team's needs, but his weaknesses may limit his minutes for the near future.