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Get To Know Your New San Antonio Spurs #8: Malik Hairston, Last Man Standing

Ed.Note: This is from the fictitious interview notes of Tim C. and silverandblack_davis.

Pop is not impressed.

By now, you probably all know that Marcus Williams has been waived, leaving Malik Hairston as the only remaining competitor in the battle to receive the final spot on the Spurs roster. We wish Marcus well in his future endeavors, but it's time to talk about Malik Hairston. So this isn't his first time being on the official roster, but how much do we really know about Mr. Unguaranteed? Follow us below the fold to learn a little more.

Player History

High School & Oregon

Go to 0:17.

Malik Hairston is a phenom. Wait, let's correct that - was a phenom, back in his AAU days. He led his team, Renaissance High School in Detroit, to a 27-0 record and a Class B state title, was a top 10 rated recruit across all the recruiting boards, and got the usual nod to play in the McDonald's All-Star Game in 2004. That particular game, he showed early flashes of his do-it-all self by finishing with 11 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists.

His high school career ended with per-game averages of 18.7 points, 12.4 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 2.7 steals. Oh, and he was an otstanding student, too, being named all-academic at Renaissance - because you know, the Spurs don't get dum-dums like Crazy Pills.

H-bomb: High school Hairston showing his hops.
(that's one too many H's for ya)

In Oregon, being named to the Pac-10's all-freshman team and becoming one of only two freshmen to start for their team in all 27 games pointed to signs that Har-i-ston was indeed on his way to bigger things. He kept up the pace and even improved on his performance in his sophomore year, leading (not the Mighty) Ducks in scoring. But come junior year, adversity comes quacking on the big time Duck's door. The injury bug bit in the form of a groin pull (causing him to miss 5 games) and an "unusual" soft tissue tear in his left heel.

You know how he handles it? In an un-Mahinmi-like fashion, Malik flips the bird in the face of Mr. Injury Bug and plays 27 games, helps the Oregon Ducks go deep in the NCAA tournament with impeccable scoring and ferocious, Blair-like rebounding (he had an Oregon tournament record 11 rebounds in the second round) before finally falling to Joakim Noah's bad hair day and eventual back-to-back champs Florida Gators in the regional final. Senior year? Ho-hum, more of the same productivity, he's so boring now like the Spurs.

Get that weaker-than-weak sauce outta here.

But really, how many times have we heard about this and that player who's supposed to be the next badass NBA superstart only to find ourselves wondering what in the world happened to Aspiring Jordanaire No. X? We say blame it on the a-a-a-a-a--- scouts. Right, we're blaming them again, just like how the rest of the GMs around the league are strangling their doctors for red-flagging this year's 37th pick.

Despite the productivity in college, draft meisters frowned on his all-around, jack-of-all-trades but master of none, do-it-all, everything but the kitchen sink game. Draft Express pretty much sums it up:

What Hairston needs to work on to stick in the NBA is most likely finding his bread and butter that he can hang his hat on when he comes into a game. He’s a good, but not great athlete (although he’s much improved), has good, but not great ball-handling skills, plays good, but not great defense, is just decent with his pull-up jumper, and definitely needs to improve his overall mid-range game.

So, okay, they're saying he's good but not good enough? WTF NBA STFU. Long story short, he gets drafted in the 2nd round of the 2008 draft by Phoenix then traded to the Spurs for, wait for it... CASH (really, we never thought the team had cash to spend until this offseason) and Goran Dragic's fruit basket. You know you're gonna have a rollercoaster of a pro career when it starts out like this: waived at end of training camp, re-signed, waived again, then re-signed again.

Austin Toros and the D-League: Where Hairston Happens. Or Happened.

Malik started his professional career by playing in the 2008 summer league with other Spurs hopefuls like George Hill and James Gist. He played fairly well, but the Spurs wanted to let him further develop before extending him an invitation to play on the big-league team. So, they sent him where a lot of recent Spurs draft picks are sent to develop: The Austin Toros.


Nice defense.

To a player who's just been drafted into the NBA, a D-League assignment is akin to being sent to remedial courses in school (thankfully, this was never a problem for Malik). But instead of wallowing in the frustration of being assigned to the Toros, Malik lunged into it with a purpose: make it onto an NBA roster by the end of the year. He made his case by putting up some pretty gaudy numbers. Averaging over a block and a steal per game means that you're a pretty smart defensive player, but he also showed a proclivity to be a clutch performer.

Not d-bag but clutch bag. Louis Vuitton inspired.

Malik was one of the best players in the D-league almost from the very beginning of his time in Austin, if under the radar for most NBA fans. We'll let Jon L of Ridiculous Upside provide an explanation:

He clearly can score, and as mentioned in the beginning (and throughout) he's a good rebounder for his position. He also showed he has some passing ability, and while I haven't mentioned his defense at all, he's a good (not great) defender (of course), good enough to hopefully satisfy Gregg Popovich and the rest of the Spurs coaches.

On January 31st, Hairston got the call he had been hoping for. He packed his bags and joined his new team: the Spurs.

The San Antonio Spurs Audition Redux

Hairston's limited Spurs career so far overlaps a bit with his Toros career, but there's still quite a bit to go on here.

Last year, Hairston was able to receive some invaluable NBA experience when he joined the team for the Rodeo Road Trip and for a few more games after that. He appeared in 15 games, including one memorable performance in which he teamed up with the high-flying, Pop rage-provoking Pops Mensah-Bonsu and George Hill to provide an above the rim spectacle that became a great silver lining in a very lopsided loss to Cleveland, and even prompted Mike Brown to bring some of his non-scrubs back into the game to keep the lead.

Interestingly, Malik was subject to several experiments by Pop last season: he played well in the "Pop loses mind, benches big 3 and Finley" game against the Thuggets, and we also remember being impressed with the way he handled guarding Lebron (he even blocked LeSaviour's shot once - unfortunately, all video of the incident has been deleted from its previous home on Youtube), and by the way the "kidz squad" performed in the 4th quarter of that Cleveland game.

But on April 15th, Malik was waived and sent back to the Toros to make way for Marcus Williams, who proceeded to underwhelm as a Spur. Ironically, that decision seems to have now come full circle, since Williams has been waived.

Eat it, Vince.

Malik was back in the Silver and Black for summer league play this year, showing off his jumper after seemingly losing it last year, just like how Roger Mason lost his during the playoffs. Malik shot just over 50%, including an impressive 50% from beyond the arc. He was remarkably consistent, including the game I attended, where he shot (you guessed it) 50%, but had his only missed FT of the summer (he's an above-average FT shooter, which is always an area the Spurs could use help in). His reward? The chance to compete against the aforementioned Marcus Williams for a regular season roster spot in training camp and the preseason.

With the NBA Preseason now in the books, it's safe to say Malik earned his roster spot. Just like in summer league play, Malik was again very consistent, and shot over 50%. His defensive abilities were evident again, judging by radio broadcasts and boxscores (Thanks for that, Stern.). We won't bore you with more stats, but just give one example:

During the waning moments of the final preseason game, Malik stole the ball on an inbounds pass, when inbounding was really all the Pacers needed to do to seal the victory. This set the Spurs up for the final shot, which Keith Bogans missed (what else is new), but it was still an excellent play for Malik. Malik also seemed more comfortable passing the ball, but that may have just been due to the fact that he was essentially playing with the same guys he played with on the summer league team, and learned their tendencies.

I can has krosz-overr.

Hairston's contract is not guaranteed, but he has built quite a case for remaining with the Spurs, and possibly even being a regular rotation player. Stampler recently mentioned that Hairston should see extended minutes in the games when Pop decides to rest Michael Finley or Manu, and this will definitely give him a chance to prove himself. Plus, he's a great insurance policy to have in case (FSM forbid) one of our wing players gets hurt.

Fan Favorite

Malik Hairston, the Hairy Hairstonaires and more bits of wisdom before Malik gets, uh, cut?

Okay, we just made that fan group up. Who want's to be prez? Anyway, given his pleasing personality and all-around game, it's not surprising that Hairston was a fan favorite during his Oregon Duck days. In fact, I think their fans are even crazier than the members of PtR. Who would've thought that was possible? Check out the video below. Because, ya know, you can never have too many remixes of JUST ONE FREAKING DUNK.

The greatest college highlight package EVAAAAH!!!

It's also nice to know that Oregonians still keep track of him with this video interview during the Summer League. And hey, here's a link to the Oregon Ducks SB Nation blog with Malik in it.

Also, remember Rule #1 in dealing with Hairston - Don't mess with someone who has a duck mascot for a friend that beats up friendly, unsuspecting cougars.

Gotta love the swagger on this Duck.

What about a nickname? I mean, Har-i-ston is good, but still not legendary, right? ShamSports' suggestions are "Motown Malik" or "Miki", which feels more associated to the corpse of Miki Moore, so let's not go there.

Malik's name has also been fodder for people who are bored with their lives. There's this weird game that you can play... obviously, Malik makes an appearance, however forced it seems.

People Talkin' 'Bout Malik (quotes)

From Sam Webb, after Hairston's performance in the 2003 Nike Memorial Day Classic:

"Malik quite simply is a big time scorer. Those who favor flash over substance won’t like his game because Malik is a substance player. He doesn't have a freaky crossover or a 40" vertical, but he has that "dog" in him. When I say "dog" I mean he's a kid that's supremely confident, unafraid to fail, and is damn tough! Don't get me wrong,...he has great basketball skills. However, his demeanor is an equal part of what makes him special. He'll go down low to rebound if he needs to, AND he'll throw an elbow or two to send a message while he's down there. If his man comes down court and scores, Malik wants the ball so he can get those points back. If his teammates need encouragement, Malik is the guy that gives it to them.

After seeing Malik play four of five times, I thought a comparison to Jalen Rose was the most appropriate."

Jonathan Givony, Draft Express (apparently a bit more impressed than he was when his first quote way up above was written):

[Hairston] utilizes a fantastic midrange jumper, which will keep defenders just honest enough for him to get a step to the basket on a slashing move. Hairston does a great job of recognizing what the defense is giving him, and taking advantage of it. He is far from explosive, but makes up for it with a patient style of play that makes him a great teammate.

Tim Varner of 48 Minutes of Hell is a Hairston believer, and in fact has written several articles about Malik. Tim also has no doubt about the guy eventually finding a place in the league if he gets waived again by the Spurs:

But maybe, unlike myself, Gregg Popovich is not nearly so enamored by Hairston. In that case I won’t cry for Hairston. He should not have too much trouble finding another contract. He’s earned it. That year in Austin really helped.

Lastly, you gotta love this short quote from Andrew McNeill of

I was talking to my buddy who works for the Spurs last night during the game, and at one point the Spurs subbed Malik Hairston out of the game.

He said as Malik was walking off the court, Pop got up and gave him a high five. My buddy was taken aback by that and said “not everyone gets that.”

People have had good things to say about Malik seemingly everywhere he's played. His intelligence, work ethic, and relentless nature seems to make people like him, and those are some of the things that have endeared him to us here at PtR as well. He may never be a star, but he's still a very good player, and the opportunity that he's been given this season is well-deserved, possibly even overdue. Here's to a long and fruitful relationship between Malik Hairston and the Spurs.

Previous entries in this series

Richard Jefferson
Marcus Williams (oops, missed it by that much)
[San] Antonio McDyess
Theo Ratliff
Marcus Haislip
DeJuan Blair
Keith Bogans

Well, that wraps it up. This is the last edition of GTKYNS for 2009, unless there's still another trade coming that we don't know about.