When the 2013-2014 college season started, UCLA sophomore Jordan Adams and former North Carolina sophomore P.J. Hairston were not players I viewed as first round material. Adams seemed an underrated college player with limited athleticism, effectively hiding in the disappointing shadows of Shabazz Muhammed and Kyle Anderson. Hairston was a player who mostly fell short of expectations prior to losing eligibility before the start of his junior season. I could not have imagined either player rising to being evaluated at 24 and 25 on the Peachtree Hoops Draft Board.
As the draft approaches, both players have improved their stock in unconventional ways. Adams did not carry the Bruins to any special heights while playing alongside potential lottery picks Kyle Anderson and Zach LaVine, but he played with great efficiency on both ends of the floor. Hairston put up some very impressive scoring numbers in the D-League, although his offensive performance was inconsistent.
The Atlanta Hawks would appear unlikely to choose either player at #15, but should they trade down either could be a viable option. Shooting guard should not be a priority for Danny Ferry in the draft, but both players show enough potential defensively to be a good fit for a team in need of better perimeter defense. While playing the same position, both lengthy 6'5" prospects bring different gifts to the shooting guard position. If both players are available, who should be selected?
Jordan Adams (6'5, 209), 20, UCLA
Great hands, long arms, immeasurable instincts. Those are the three qualities a player needs to make up for lacking great quickness. Jordan Adams is a monster at taking the ball away from the opposition. He led all eligible draft prospects with 3.5 steals per 40 minutes. Using a 6'10 wingspan (7 inches longer than his height without shoes), Adams is masterful at taking away the basketball without gambling. He is a great help defender and deceptively adept at jumping passing lanes (you can see both in the video below). What I like most about his on-ball defense is that I have not seen him poke at balls from behind against quicker players like so many NBA defenders do today (a habit that Paul George has acquired and used to his detriment against Jeff Teague in game 5). Adams does not give up ground to an opponent in hopes of getting a steal. He plays solid position defense and shows remarkable intuition at timing passes and dribbles when an opponent makes a mistake.
Adams is not an elite shooter, but he is a very good one. He posted a 49/36/84 slash from the field. If he translates that slash at the NBA level, he projects as an average and efficient starting two guard. It would be optimistic to project Adams to slide to the point guard position, but he is a relatively good play-maker who values the basketball. At 3.1 assists per 40 minutes against 2.0 turnovers, Adams may be able to run a team for limited minutes and provide value as a secondary handler. He does not need the ball in his hands to be productive and was one of the more willing passers on UCLA's team in his 2 seasons with the Bruins.
In addition to providing solid shooting and valuing the basketball, Jordan is no stranger to the lane. Producing 7 free throw attempts per 40 minutes along with 7 rebounds, the sophomore is unafraid to get involved among larger players. In his highlights below against Nevada, you can see many of these strengths on display. (Nevada is not a powerhouse basketball team, but they do play quality basketball.)
Adams is a capable athlete for the college game, but there are reasonable questions about his athleticism (lack of) limiting him in the NBA. These concerns were confirmed at the recent NBA combine where he recorded a mostly anemic vertical of 24.5 inches and failed to impress in most of the drills. Teams were impressed that he dropped 20 pounds, but the loss in weight did not translate to his athletic performance. Combine numbers are not everything, but that vertical number confirms the fear of the film and statistics. With only 4 blocks this entire season, long NBA athletes may not ever allow him to use his excellent hands. They may be able to simply shoot over the top of him. Additionally, his numbers finishing in the lane are likely to be damaged by the length, size, and athleticism of NBA bigs.
I like the way Adams drives to the basket when the opportunity is available and does not force himself into the lane unnecessarily. Unfortunately, he is mostly a straight-line driver--albeit while taking good angles. He has good vision and willingly distributes clean passes in traffic, but it will be a much greater challenge for him to do so without possessing the first step or wiggle with the basketball to get by defenders.
Converting his efficiency at the next level will require him to become a more lethal outside shooter or to grow as an athlete. Turning 20 before the draft, he still has some potential advancement as an athlete (is it possible his weight loss actually left him weak at the combine?). However, it is more likely that he will have to grow as a shooter. Jordan shifts weight from his lead foot toward his back foot as he extends upward on outside shots. The movement causes him to separate his legs as scissors after he releases the ball. Some players have a knack for shooting beyond fundamentals and it can be dangerous to mess with it. It is possible that Adams could have a more consistent shot if he works to quiet this motion and make it more easily repeatable. Despite this unnecessary action, Adams has an outstanding release point and finishes his shot high enough to be effective at the professional level.
Here is a full breakdown of Jordan Adams from DraftExpress:
P.J. Hairston (6'5, 229), 21, North Carolina/D-League Texas Legends
You cannot talk about Hairston's abilities on the basketball court without acknowledging the self-admitted mistakes he made to lose his eligibility in college. It is bothersome any time a player who gets in trouble in a closed, protected college environment gets introduced to a professional setting with less support. An evaluation of Hairston must begin there. According to recent interviews and what I have seen of his play, Hairston has done about all that can be done to show that he has matured since leaving North Carolina.
While Adams is a player who is effective without the ball in his hands, Hairston needs touches to be successful. For a player who needs the ball, he is a relatively efficient shooter who values the basketball--even if he is not eager to give it up. P.J. posted a 45/36/87 shooting slash in his time in the D-League and is a microwave shooter known to get scorching hot. It is hard to evaluate his numbers this season due to the weak defense played in the D-League, but his shooting slash which includes the NBA 3-point line is definitely a plus for a streaky shooter. Hairston is an outstanding offensive rebounder for his position and a good rebounder overall. His 3.3 offensive rebounds per 40 minutes during his sophomore season at UNC would certainly meet a need for the Atlanta Hawks.
When he is engaged, Hairston has the potential to be a plus defender. He has the athleticism to defend shooting guards and small forwards. He has shown more proficiency at covering players with more length than those with more quickness. He is not an elite athlete, but possesses the athletic potential to play man-to-man defense on the wing without needing help in isolation. As the D-League season progressed, Hairston fell into bad habits and gave less energy on the defensive end. He was prone to those lapses at North Carolina. A big challenge for him as a prospect is to demonstrate a willingness to give more attention to detail as he makes the jump to being a professional defender. Some of these traits you can see in his D-League highlight video:
Hairston shows some great finishing plays in the highlights, but he is generally an average finisher near the rim. In comparing him to Adams, he has more legitimate moves with the basketball, yet he is not as good at getting by people as he often attempts. He is a strong player with a great handle who makes poor decision about when and where to attack. A team considering Hairston is going to be challenged to determine if that is something that can be corrected. He too readily ignored open players at both UNC and with the Texas Legends. He compounds the problem of not giving up the ball by not having the necessary first step to beat good defenders. P.J. is one of the worst passing guards in this or any draft. He only averaged one assists every 40 minutes in the D-League and turned the ball over at more than twice that rate. That statistic is as damaging for a guard as nearly anyone that can be found among 2014 NBA Draft prospects.
Here is a full breakdown of P.J. Hairston from DraftExpress:
The decision between Adams and Hairston is a tough one. The decision of who to select could come down to need. Do you need a a shooting guard who can slide to play the point (Adams) or who can slide out to small forward (Hairston)? In that comparison, Atlanta would appear to be better off with Hairston. Adams possesses an elite skill in defending the perimeter and lacks the Hairston's sputtering motor on the defensive end despite being a better overall athlete. If I had the pick for the Hawks, I would choose the player with the best and most reliable NBA tool: Jordan Adams.