In the week leading up to Duke basketball’s first game of the season Friday against Georgia State, The Blue Zone will preview all the expected contributors on this 2012-2013 squad, beginning with the freshman Monday and ending with the seniors Friday.
- Year: Junior
- Height: 6-foot-7
- Position: Forward
- Last year's key statistics: 2.7 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 8.5 MPG
Game breakdown: Hairston is a prototypical energy guy who hopes to supplement his strength and energy with some offensive firepower this season. Often considered an undersized power forward, Hairston has struggled to crack the rotation in his first two seasons at Duke. Hairston's time in the lineup in 2011 was sparing, albeit consistent, as he averaged just 8.5 minutes per contest but saw action in 29 of the Blue Devils' 34 games last year.
Hairston is without a doubt one of the most passionate players on Duke's team. The consummate "glue guy", Hairston stepped up as one of the leaders of this team even as a sophomore, when he consistently encouraged his teammates and led the squad in its pregame rituals. His energy translated to his time on the court as well, when Hairston consistently played physical defense despite the fact that he often guarded players much bigger than him and fought hard on the glass. These attributes will continue to serve him well at any level of basketball, and after a rigorous summer of getting in shape with former classmate and NBA Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving, Hairston appears poised to make a larger contribution for the Blue Devils in the coming season.
One of the main ways Hairston can accomplish this is through an improved presence on the offensive end, which has been evident even in limited scrimmage and exhibition play. You can tell Hairston worked hard on his mid-range jumper in the offseason—he found the bottom of the net on many occasions and carried his squad of second-teamers in this year's Blue-White scrimmage at Countdown to Craziness. However, now with new-found capabilities on the offensive end, Duke would love to see Hairston improve his court vision on that end of the floor. In his first two seasons, Hairston has grown very fond of pulling up for a jumper as soon as he catches the ball along the baseline, playing as though he had something to prove to warrant more minutes. Although sometimes he is able to knock those shots down, it disrupts the flow of Duke's offense. He will take open shots if they are there, but one of the keys for Hairston this season is to take an extra second and examine his options—if he can do that, he has the potential to be a very efficient player for the Blue Devils this year.
Role on the team: With seniors Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly patrolling the paint for Duke, don't expect Hairston to be cracking the starting lineup anytime soon. The junior was slated to be the team's first forward off the bench as the Blue Devils entered this season, but stellar play by freshman Amile Jefferson in exhibition action has potentially put some of Hairston's minutes in jeopardy for this season. Overall, expect Hairston to definitely see the court more this year than he did last season, but he likely still won't crack 20 minutes per game.
But Hairston's enhanced versatility may help his case to get into the lineup. His ability to step out and knock shots down from up to 18 feet add a significant element to his offensive game and gives Duke options as well. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski has alluded to utilizing bigger lineups this season, so it is even possible that Hairston could find some playing time at small forward, a position that despite his size he previously could not play due to his inconsistent jumper.
Player comparison: Although he consistently draws comparisons to New Orleans Hornets forward and former Dukie Lance Thomas, with his new-found mid-range game Hairston is starting to look a lot like the Miami Heat's Udonis Haslem. At just 6-foot-8, Haslem is a relatively undersized power forward, but makes up for it with his quickness and strength. He is known for his hard-nosed defensive play and leads by example on the Heat's ego-driven roster of superstars, but is also able to step up and knock down shots from mid-range when called upon.
Projected statline: 5.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 15.0 MPG
Check back tomorrow for previews of Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly.