Four months ago, P.J. Hairston's career with the Tar Heels came to an abrupt halt, but soon after the news leaked that the University of North Carolina wouldn't seek to reinstatement him for violating NCAA rules, the highly touted shooting guard put his name in the D-League player pool to boost his draft stock. Yesterday, that chapter of his story came to its conclusion when the Texas Legends played their 2013-2014 regular season finale against the Idaho Stampede.
The game had no playoff implications for either team. Both Idaho and Texas finished the season with a 24-26 record, which eliminated their hopes of making the post-season weeks ago. Nevertheless, it was a final chance for some to strut their stuff and pad their resumé's before entering another off-season filled with countless workouts in the hope of them leading to an NBA gig. For Hairston, it was just that, although slightly different, as he is one of only two players in the D-League this season (the other being Thanasis Antetokounmpo) hoping to hear their names called during the NBA Draft on June 26th.
The Legends held a commanding lead for most of the game and Hairston set the tone right from the jump ball. He scored his first bucket within the opening two minutes and wound up with nine points after 12 minutes of play, helping the Legends build a 13-point lead. He continued to provide a steady hand all night long, chiming in with seven points in the second quarter, nine in the third and eight in the fourth. Not only that, but he did it in a variety of ways, ranging from transition threes, fast-break layups, mid-range pull-ups and spot-up jumpers. When it was all said and done, he scored 33 points in 38 minutes of play - his highest scoring output in over a month. He shot an efficient 11-for-20 from the field, 4-for-11 from three and 7-for-8 from the charity stripe. He also got a big hand from Melvin Ely (25 points, 15 rebounds) and Ricky Ledo (26 points), helping the Legends notch their 24th win of the season, which tied the franchise's best record since it moved to Texas.
With the D-League's regular season now over, Hairston can finally shift his focus to the draft. While his stock took a hit in wake of his dismissal from UNC, he stepped up to the plate in his 26 games with the Legends, which could help him move back up the charts. On the season, he averaged 21.8 points per contest on 45.3 percent shooting from the field and 35.8 percent shooting from three. He got off to a blazing start, netting 246 points in his first nine games, and after a rough three week stretch between February 8th-27th, he wrapped up the year with some dominating performances. On March 1st, he broke out of his shooting slump with a 36-point outing against the L.A. D-Fenders and a few weeks later, he recorded another 30-point game, this time against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
NBADraft.net currently has Hairston slipping to the second-round in the draft while DraftExpress.com has him going by the 21st pick in the first-round. This variance isn't surprising, seeing as there will inevitably be some skepticism surrounding Hairston in the months leading up to the draft after what happened when he was at UNC. However, he has shown a lot of growth in his short stint with the Legends, and it's now be up to him to woo teams into using one of their precious draft picks on him by impressing them in individual workouts and interviews.
Hairston has an interesting couple of months ahead of him, but there are few who doubt that he'll get his chance at making an NBA roster by next season. The talent is certainly there - his ability to stretch the floor and finish in transition is an asset that could give some team's bench a nice facelift - but that's never been the main concern.