No Adjustment Period Needed for PJ Hairston
By: Bobby Karalla...@BobbyKaralla
PJ Hairston is off to a roaring start to his D-League career.
Through his first seven games with the Legends, the sweet-shooting Hairston, who made his team debut on Jan. 18, is averaging 27.4 points per game. And he’s doing it efficiently, shooting 49 percent from the field and higher than 38 percent from beyond the arc.
For a player who spent more than a year away from the game, Hairston has made his transition from the college game – he spent two seasons at North Carolina – seem effortless. “I expected a transition period, but also I came in and didn’t want to be able to play timid,” he said after a 30-point, six-rebound performance in a loss against Rio Grande Valley on Feb. 1. “I didn’t want to come out timid, and show that I was scared, or show fear. I wanted to come out and play ball. That’s just what I’ve done, is play ball, and let the game come to me.”
Hairston’s 30-point outburst hasn’t even been the crowning achievement in his young D-League career. On Jan. 24, the guard put up 40 points on 14-of-24 shooting against RGV in his second game with the Legends. Less than a week later, he tallied 45 points against Reno, this time doing it from the free throw line. He hit all 16 of his attempts from the charity stripe. Remaining humble, however, Hairston said he can still improve from the outside.
“I’ve just been able to get to the rim and finish is my strongest thing, and then the shots will come,” he said. “Unfortunately I haven’t hit as many jumpers as I want, but I’ve been getting to the free throw line, trying to find different ways.”
It should be noted that Hairston is shooting 11-of-25 on three-pointers from the right side of the floor, per NBADLeague.com, which is well above league average. Hairston’s proclaimed goal of getting to the rim has also paid off. There, he’s made nearly 59 percent of his attempts, right in line with the rest of the league. In addition, he’s attempted at least nine free throws in four games this season, including in three straight.
Perhaps Hairston’s only disappointing game this season came in a loss to the Santa Cruz Warriors, the night after his 40-point eruption against RGV. Hairston made only one of his nine field goal attempts and finished with a career-low seven points. However, that game came on the second night of a back-to-back, with the first coming against a Vipers team that plays at a lightning-quick pace.
For a player like Hairston, who spent so much time away from the game, adapting to that sort of pace is difficult enough, let alone turning around and playing again the next night. In the five games that weren’t on the second night of a back-to-back, Hairston is shooting better than 54 percent from the field and 40 percent from behind the three-point line.
Hairston said before his team debut that growing accustomed to the speed of the game would probably be his biggest challenge. NBA and D-League teams play with a 24-second shot clock, and that rule difference alone is enough to quicken the pace of a game. But three of Hairston’s games with the Legends have come against the Vipers, who seem to play with an imaginary 10-second shot clock. They play at a different level of fast. “They like to run,” Hairston said. “They run every possession. It’s very tiring.”
Aside from the heightened pace, though, Hairston said his transition to this level has been smooth, and his performance on the court certainly backs that up. His box score lines have been raising eyebrows across the country, with NBA TV even going so far as to re-air his 40-point game in the early afternoon on Super Bowl Sunday. The buzz is building around the player who is just happy to be playing again.