PJ Hairston is stuck in a deep shooting slump right now. PJ is a shooter, you will hear a lot of shooters and coaches who know what they are talking about tell you shooters need to shoot their way out of a slump. Well, we’ve tried that here and it’s not working, in fact, it’s getting worse. Hairston’s shot looked awful against Clemson, most of his jumpers barley hit the rim. It’s mid February, more importantly, it’s almost March. The Tar Heels are injured on the wing positions and need Hairston to come through with offensive punch off the bench. It’s time for a new plan, here’s how to fix PJ Hairston.
All season long I’ve questioned the shot selection of Hairstons. He was known as both a great shooter and a big time athlete coming into Chapel Hill. PJ was just as likely to take it to the rack, challenge the defense and dunk as fire up a three pointer. After a good start to the season shooting the ball, PJs shot has gone flat. You can’t blame a player for going into a shooting slump, it happens to greatest of shooters after all. What’s baffling about Hairstons case is his insistence on continuing to limit his game to being strictly a jump shooter. Such a gifted, strong athlete with a complete offensive game, limiting himself so much baffles me.
But I’m not baffled at PJ Hairston at all. Who can blame an 18-19 year old, college freshman, who’s coming off the bench as a role player on a superstar team for the first time in his life? This isn’t the NBA and Hairston isn’t Kobe Bryant, what he needs is some direction. This is a coaching and strategy issue in my opinion.
Roy Williams needs to do three things to get Hairstons game on the right track. Increase his minutes, Hairston can play the same level of defense Reggie Bullock brings. And Justin Watts gives you the same production if your playing him regular mins or not. Straight off the bench, he’s Justin Watts, PJ should have his mins. I’m also still waiting on Roy to send out a lineup minus a true PG to see how that works. Roy needs to let PJ know that he has 1000% confidence that his game, not just his shot will comeback. Reaffirm in the young man’s mind how important he is to the program this year and beyond. I’m not saying coach isn’t already doing this, but adding mins along with telling him is showing him you believe.
Next, instill a rule that Hairston is not allowed to take a shot beyond 15 feet until he scores. He breaks the rule, he misses his next rotation and Watts gets his mins. During practice I’d scream for him to penetrate the basketball, to trust his skills, show us his overall offensive game. One of my favorite coaches used to give us 5-10 mins ever so often in practice to “goof around”. We could throw stupid lops, show off our trick shots, launch it from half court, whatever wanted. Then he would remind us that 99% of those things were useless in basketball and we all have fundamental work to do. What better way than to hold a mini dunk contest and let Hairston show himself he’s one of the best athletes on the team? When an offensive player is struggling, a lot of getting out of it is mental.
Last and maybe most important, something I pray has already and continues to happen. Show this kid a shot chart of all the shots he’s taken this season. PJ played HS at a major college and was a five star recruit since his sophomore year. Have someone on the staff get tapes of him in HS and chart those games. I only watched a handful myself and I can tell you we’re not watching the PJ Hairston the Tar Heels recruited.
I am a firm believer that Hairston will be a top level player in college basketball one day. He may struggle through his entire freshman season. He’s too talented and too good of a shooter for this to continue much longer. That is the thinking that is slowing this kids development in my observation. I would love to turn on the next Carolina game, or any game before March for that matter. And what PJ Hairston play his game, and not this role of designated three point shooter he’s playing right now. At this point, the balls in your court Roy.