D-League Profiles: Malik Hairston

via www.nba.com

Sorry for disappearing yesterday.  Job stuff.  You don't want to know.  But I'm back today, and ready to talk about Malik Hairston.  Hairston is listed at 6'6", 220 pounds, and while he's listed in various places as a guard-forward, he's really more of a stocky shooting guard.  He's a very good rebounder for his position, and while he doesn't shoot a ton of threes, he does that well, too.  Hairston is younger than the other guys we've profiled so far (he's 22), so there's less to cover and this won't be as unbearably long as everything else I write (I'm just kidding.  It's going to be long anyway).

How he got here

Malik Hairston was a high school all-American in Detroit, where he played alongside fellow D-Leaguer Joe Crawford.  Hairston then went to the University of Oregon, where he started all 27 games and showed his combination of skills, leading the Ducks in scoring in seven games and rebounding in seven games.  He became the team's leading scorer his sophomore year at 15 points a game and their second-leading rebounder.

In his junior year Hairston suffered a series of injuries, though he was still able to appear in 27 games.  His scoring dipped that year to just over 11 points a game, though his rebounding improved to six a game and his three-point and field goal percentages rose as well.  He scored 1,000 points as a junior, becoming the 10th Oregon player to do so.  Move over, Blair Rasmussen!  Oregon went to the NCAA tournament that year, making it to the Elite Eight.  Hairston set an Oregon tournament record with 11 rebounds in the Sweet Sixteen.  That last game, though, impressed some folks, as he scored 18 points despite being guarded by Florida's Joakim Noah and Al Horford.  Draft Express had this to say:

"Hairston is a superb slasher, capable of breaking down a defense in a variety of ways. He utilizes a fantastic midrange jumper, which will keep defenders just honest enough for him to get a step to the basket on a slashing move. Hairston does a great job of recognizing what the defense is giving him, and taking advantage of it. He is far from explosive, but makes up for it with a patient style of play that makes him a great teammate."

During his senior year, Hairston was able to maintain his improved shooting and brought his scoring back up to 16 points a game, though his rebounding went back down slightly.  His free throw shooting jumped way up as well, though it still wasn't great for a guard/forward at 73.2 percent.  And here's a fun fact: Hairston graduated with a degree in political science, just like me!

Hairston had a solid pre-draft camp, showing good shooting mechanics, though the description about his game that came up the most was "good, not great."  The positive in that is that there are a lot of things he's good at - shooting, rebounding, passing.  A lot of observers game him some benefit of the doubt, though, as he's a smart player and he was still just 21 after graduating.

The Phoenix Suns selected Hairston midway through the second round of the 2008 draft with a pick they acquired from the Cavaliers (for Milt Palacio...there's a name I hadn't heard in awhile), but Hairston soon was traded to San Antonio for, uh, Goran Dragic.  The Spurs stay winning.  Hairston was assigned to the Austin Toros at the beginning of the season.  A look at how it went after the jump.

D-League play

Hairston had an up-and-down start to the year, scoring 33 points on 12 shots against Tulsa (he shot 19-20 from the free throw line) with seven rebounds and six assists, but followed that up with nine points on 14 shots against Erie.  Despite his occasional early stuggles he was still a mostly efficient shooter.  In December he scored 25 points on 11 shots against Colorado, 16 points on seven shots against Albuquerque, and 22 points on 11 shots against Rio Grande Valley. 

That trend continued in January, when Hairston had one of his best games of the season, scoring 43 points on 23 shots against Colorado, including 2-3 from behind the arc and 11-13 from the free throw line, along with eight rebounds, six assists and three blocks.  The one downside was that Hairston showed a propensity to turn the ball over and get into foul trouble.  He had seven games with at least five fouls in December and January, and nine games in that same timeframe with at least four turnovers.

The Spurs called Hairston up at the end of January, and he appeared in 15 games for them.  His playing time was a bit all over the place, but he played more than ten minutes in seven of those games.  Four of those were in the last five, so it appeared as if San Antonio was getting a better look at what they had.  But, Hairston went back to Austin, where he tore it up again.  The Spurs released him on April 8, though, in order to sign Toros teammate Marcus Williams. 

After sitting out a game (because he was no longer a Spurs assignee and hadn't been signed to a Toros contract yet), Hairston took whatever frustration he may have felt and used it on the court, scoring a combined 83 points in back-to-back games against Rio Grande Valley.  He also had a great pair of games in the playoffs, including scoring 34 points on 22 shots (and making four of his six threes) with six rebounds and seven assists in the first round.

Overall outlook

Frankly, I'd be surprised if the Spurs don't sign Hairston again next year.  They have only 11 players under contract for 2009-10 at the moment, plus Marcus Williams.  Whether he plays in the D-League will depend in part on what they do with Williams and Ian Mahinmi, but there's a lot to like about Hairston.  He clearly can score, and as mentioned in the beginning (and throughout) he's a good rebounder for his position.  He also showed he has some passing ability, and while I haven't mentioned his defense at all, he's a good (not great) defender (of course), good enough to hopefully satisfy Gregg Popovich and the rest of the Spurs coaches.  San Antonio will probably need to retool their roster at some point in the future after relying on crusty veterans for so long (neither Bruce Bowen nor Michael Finley has much, if anything, left), and there's a good chance Hairston will be part of the resulting "youth movement."

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