P.J. Hairston's rookie season has not gone the way he, the Hornets, or the fans have wanted. After Hairston was drafted, out of the D-League, with the 26th pick in the NBA draft it was expected that he could step in and help the Hornets right away. After all, Charlote had struggled with shooting in the previous season and shoot is all he did in the D-League, averaging eight 3-point attempts per game, and connecting on 35 percent of them.
However, despite a skill set that would be beneficial to a struggling Hornets offense, Hairston has struggled to find a spot in the Hornets rotation. He has only gotten legitimate playing time while others have been injured, and even in those situations Steve Clifford has chosen other options over the rookie guard. Why is that? Well according to Clifford it has to do with how Hairston has developed as a team player. Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer explained it all.
"P.J., to me, has the chance to be a very good player," Clifford said. "His approach has to be where he is constantly learning what the NBA game is about. He's hasn't done that well.
"He hasn't been terrible, nor has he done as well as I would like."
"Potentially he could be a starter. He can shoot with range and rebounds for his position," Clifford said. "But he hasn't developed any way to play to make his teammates better."
Clifford said Hairston has gotten this far on talent and competitiveness and now "if you want to be a good player, you've got to learn this league."
Obviously not the best words coming from Clifford, but coaches will sometimes use the media as a way to motivate their players.
Admittedly, Hairston has struggled in his limited playing time this season only shooting 32% from the floor, on 6.1 attempts per game, and 31% from 3-point range. On the other hand, the majority of his shot attempts are from 3-point range so really the argument can be made that Hairston is shooting close to average. Except his shooting isn't why Clifford won't play him, it's the rest of his game that's a problem.
Clifford wants Hairston to do more than go out there and gun 3-pointers. We laugh about it here, but when Hairston gets the ball he really doesn't plan on doing anything else besides shooting it. There's even a flow chart for it.
It's funny to make jokes about, but for Clifford maybe he sees that as a player that isn't playing team basketball. Hairston isn't looking to make the pass, drive the ball to suck in the defense so he can kick it out, or really play to any kind of system. He's just gonna shoot.
Admittedly, this isn't the worst thing in the world, because it's not like Hairston is out there dribbling around and firing up bad shots. Per NBA stats, 65.6% of Hairston's shots have zero dribbles, and 59.4% of his shots are off catch and shoot situations. So Hairston is usually firing away off designed plays meant to get him open. So perhaps it's not all on court, but the way Hairston is approaching the game off the court.
The reason these quotes from Clifford came up was because he got asked about Hairston missing out on a weight training exercise that caused him to be deactivated for Sunday's game against the Orlando Magic. There have been questions before, during, and after this incident related to Hairston's work ethic, and it was not his first time having an off court problem. Before the season even started Hairston got in a fight at a pickup game, and then he signed with an agent not certified with the NBA Players Association, and of course there was having a year of eligibility taken away from him in college. However, that last off court issue might have less to do with Hairston, and more to do with NCAA rules being ridiculous, but the fact of the matter is that he can't seem to stay out of trouble.
The growing list of non basketball related discussions surrounding Hairston finally peaked when he missed that weight training exercise before the Magic game. There might be further off court tension that isn't being seen, however that's pure speculation. What is known is that Hairston has been out of the rotation for quite some time, and Clifford ripped his work ethic publicly. Hairston's development is becoming a problem for the Hornets. He has been the same player all season, trouble always seems to find him, and it's effecting his ability to get on the court. Whatever the problem is it's something that the Hornets, and Hairston, are going to have to solve before Hairston's development as a player is effected even more.