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Charlotte Hornets’ P.J. Hairston a natural on court

Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen has been a columnist at The Observer for 20 years and has been at the paper for 25, writing about nearly every sport in the Carolinas.
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David T. Foster, III - dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com
Former North Carolina shooting guard P.J. Hairston had two superior workouts with the Hornets. He struggled at North Carolina, mostly with automobiles. But he was good on the court. And he provides the shooter Charlotte desperately had to have.

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Poll: Grade the Charlotte Hornets 2014 draft

Before I get to Charlotte’s picks, I have to get this out of the way. Until Thursday Sacramento was a city I never thought about. And I’ve been there. And then, with the 8th pick in the 2014 NBA draft, Sacramento selected Michigan guard Nik Stauskas. Stauskas would have been a tremendous asset for the Hornets.

With the ninth pick, the Hornets did not select Creighton small forward Doug McDermott, which they apparently were supposed to. They took Indiana power forward Noah Vonleh.

The 4,000 or so fans at Time Warner Cable Arena reacted by, except for a few hundred McDermott holdouts, standing and cheering. The ovation was rousing. When fans finished they pulled out their cell phones and Googled Vonleh to figure out who he is.

This is who Vonleh is: He’s 18, played one season for Indiana and was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. He is 6-10 and weighs 240 pounds. He’s tough and he's an athlete. He averaged 11.3 points and 9 rebounds – he led the Big Ten in rebounding -- blocked 1.4 shots and hit 52.3% from the field.

Vonleh is not as sophisticated or as polished offensively as Cody Zeller, the Indiana big man the Hornets took with their first pick last June. He was not nearly as integral to the Hoosiers’ offense as Zeller was.

The Hornets, obviously, believe Vonleh will develop. He played guard his first two seasons in high school, when he was a mere 6-5. He can handle the ball. He also is more likely to impose himself inside than Zeller.

But let’s say free-agent Josh McRoberts departs (and I hope he doesn’t). Can a team start Vonleh at power forward, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at small forward and Gerald Henderson at shooting guard? From whom do the points come?

And the final score: Charlotte 61, Philadelphia 60.

But there was hope. The Hornets still had the 24th pick, and they had an opportunity to take a shooter – P.J. Hairston, a Greensboro native who played for North Carolina.

Commissioner Adam Silver walked to the lectern and announced that – the Hornets inexplicably drafted Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier. Silver didn't say inexplicably but he could have. Suddenly I liked Sacramento more than Charlotte. You can’t take a backup point guard 24th, not when you have to have a player who can shoot from the outside and reasonably expect the ball to go in.

Although Napier briefly wore a Hornets cap, he spent less time with Charlotte than most of us spend waiting in line for coffee. Charlotte had cut a deal with Miami, which drafted 26th. The Hornets traded Shabazz to the Heat for the 26th pick and spare change.

With the 26th pick, Charlotte grabbed Hairston.

Hairston, 6-foot-6, struggled at North Carolina, mostly with automobiles. He didn’t struggle on the court.

He looks like a pro when he walks into the gym, onto the court and whenever he shoots. He has strength and size and he shoots as if he was meant to. Had he not been booted from Chapel Hill to Texas and the Development League, he would have been drafted a half hour earlier.

Vonleh lasted longer than expected and Hairston lasted longer than expected to. This was a fine first round for Charlotte. I still don't like Sacramento, but I dislike it less than I did.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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