Almost a year ago, the Charlotte Hornets took a flyer on P.J. Hairston, swapping the rights of Shabazz Napier for the North Carolina shooter on draft night.
Fans weren't sure what they should expect out of the Hornets' earlier pick, Noah Vonleh, but almost everyone expected some kind of impact from Hairston entering the season.
After his eligibility was revoked for the Tar Heels, Hairston caught on with the NBDL and the Texas Legends. He attempted eight 3-pointers per game, knocking down 35 percent of them, a sign of Hairston's mentality and potential impact.
The 2013-14 Charlotte Bobcats struggled from the outside, and thus their spacing suffered. As Steve Clifford often says, "Your spacing is your shooting," and last offseason the Hornets made it a priority to improve their shooting, adding a few marksmen during the offseason. The draft night acquisition of Hairston was supposed to be a piece of that plan.
The 2014-15 Charlotte Hornets shot worse from behind the arc than that final Bobcats team did and this year's Hornets finished as the worst 3-point shooting team in the NBA.
Hairston was one of several players that were expected to create an uptick in outside shooting but ended the season with average or below average years shooting-wise. Playing 90 percent of his minutes at the small forward position, Hairston connected on 30.1 percent of his 3-point attempts. A percentage that is hovering around the average for an NBA player but is below average for someone who was supposed to be a 3-point specialist.
Hairston's shot selection was what we expected though. Sixty percent of his attempted shots this season were treys.
Good news: Hairston shot 23 corner 3's this season and knocked down 41 percent of those. Also, he shot 40 percent from behind the arc in the month of January.
We knew he was a gunner but we just expected he would be one that made more of his shots. He showed flashes of being that guy. Even from the beginning of the season to the end, anytime Hairston caught the ball behind the 3-point line, you could feel the energy and the buzz in the arena rise because he might let it fly and drain it. A shot that might mark the start of a thrilling streak that night.
We just got flashes and that may not entirely be his fault, it may just be normal, again, he was a rookie. Hairston's 15 minutes a game was what I expected heading into the year but a lot of those minutes came by way of injuries ahead of him and the colossal failure of Lance Stephenson. Was Hairston thrust into roles he wasn't ready for or capable of because of the issues that arose on the depth chart in front of him?
Possibly but he also didn't look ready at times for the NBA, especially off the court. His time in the D-league helped him get somewhat acclimated, especially concept-wise on defense, but maybe we expected too much from Hairston.
His nine PER is solidly below the league average of 15. In 45 games this year Hairston averaged 5.6 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 0.5 assists per game with shooting splits of 32-30-86. His 5.6 points per game ranked 19th amongst rookies in scoring and his 30 percent 3-PT% ranked 267th in the NBA.
Despite his troubles on-and-off the floor this season, Hornets head coach Steve Clifford is still a fan of Hairston and his game. "P.J., to me, has the chance to be a very good play," Clifford said after the season. "His approach has to be where he is constantly learning what the NBA game is about. He hasn't done that well.
"I like him. I like him as a person. I like what he can become," Clifford expressed. The head man sees the talent but he also feels as if he clearly sees Hairston's issues. He once mentioned that he feels like Hairston got to this point in his basketball career just on his talent and competitiveness. Those two qualities you absolutely need to be a good player at the sport's highest level but Clifford also pointed out, "If you want to be a good player, you've got to learn this league." A lesson can be making that gunner mentality something he uses only when he's hot because using all your minutes with that character trait makes you look like a selfish basketball to a guy like Clifford.
"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." Regardless if Hairston ever breaks the chains of that mentality, he's a player these Hornets need. His game fits what this organization needs because his shooting can create space on the floor.
He'll need to spend his summer becoming more consistent in every phase of the game, but especially from deep. He'll definitely need to get in better shape as well. Hairston knows what he is, but can he be more? Clifford thinks so. That learning process Clifford notes is one that will hopefully take P.J. from being a catch-and-shoot specialist and transform him into a wing that can play in any system, a player that will take and make those catch-and-shoot opportunities while also becoming a player that will drive the ball, suck the defense in, and kick it back out to a teammate.
Maybe Hairston's most memorable moment was this:
But the optimist I am, I'll post this and hope it has more staying power:
How lengthy the growth section was and how lengthy this section will be compared to other report cards is a good indication of the prospect P.J. Hairston is. He fills a need, has starter talent and ability, but will his problems off the floor ever let him live up to that potential?
His troubles and departure from the University of North Carolina were well-documented, a drug possession at a traffic stop in Durham, NC that revealed several connections to Fats Thomas, a convicted felon and one of those guys that thinks he's cooler than he is because he hooks athletes up.
Shortly after that, Hairston was cited for speeding. Not a huge deal, I speed, you speed, everyone speeds but the judgment he showed by doing that when he was already under a microscope is troublesome.
He followed that up by signing with an agent that was not certified with the NBA Players Association and punching a teenager during a pickup game at a local YMCA.
Once the season started, all indications were that Hairston had cleaned up his act and was ready for NBA life. An employee of the Hornets even told me before the season tip-off that Hairston was constantly working out, putting in the time a player was required to and more. The long season must have gotten to him because those habits faded. Clifford openly dogged his worth ethic and it all peaked when Hairston missed a workout session and was left in the locker room for a March match-up with Orlando.
Next season Hairston is guaranteed $1.2 million but after that he has two remaining years on his deal, one at $1.2 million and one at $2.2 million, both are team options however.
He'll be 23 in December and the Hornets hope he has started to learn the ways of the NBA by then. He is capable of not only being a rotation player in this league but a starter. His success or lack thereof will be predicated on how much he wants it and how willing he is to put in the work to get it while also staying clean off the court.
After everything at North Carolina and possibly after portions of this season, Hairston may suffer from a mindset that things in life are against him. A lot of crappy things happen in life and they happen to everyone. And you are not responsible for the things that happen to you, but what you are responsible for is how you respond to those things. After an on-and-off the floor roller-coaster the last two years while also having his work ethic publicly ridiculed, how will Hairston respond?