The Baseline: Catching up with experimental Thunder pick Josh Huestis


Josh Huestis is getting better. Whatever might be said of his situation with the Thunder—the team that owns his rights—and the Oklahoma City D-League team for which he currently plays, there is no doubt that the result to this point has been significant improvement.

“It’s been great,” Huestis said at last weekend’s D-League Showcase in Santa Cruz, Calif. “I am having a blast playing with these guys, there are a lot of great opportunities to learn playing against good competition. Really getting my feet wet in the Thunder’s system and I am loving it.”

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Huestis was the strangest of last year’s draft picks. Most teams around the league had Huestis, a 6-7 power forward who had averaged 11.2 points and 8.2 rebounds as a senior, projected as something between a low second-round pick and an undrafted role player who would get some summer-league time before honing his game overseas.

Instead, Thunder general manager Sam Presti slipped in and, with the 29th pick in the draft, made Huestis OKC’s guy. It was a head-scratcher at the time, but soon after, the vision became clear—Oklahoma City had chosen Huestis with the understanding that he would not immediately be signed to a rookie contract, but would instead spend the season in the D-League, developing with the Thunder’s affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue.

Huestis was, essentially, the first draft-and-stash player who would remain stateside, rather than in an international league. It marked a first for first-round picks.

At the time, the Huestis pick was considered a breakthrough, a completely different way of approaching the first round of the draft, especially the low-end picks that are often as much a gamble as second-rounders because of their guaranteed contracts.

It required that Huestis give up on the notion of playing for an NBA team right away and accept a piddling D-League salary. That, naturally, is a precedent that makes some agents nervous.

But as one fellow general manager said, the move was unique to Presti. “I don’t think you will see a lot of other teams trying to do that,” the GM said. “You need the right circumstances—a deep team like OKC, a lot of late picks, a player who will agree to do it. Sam Presti, maybe (Philadelphia’s Sam) Hinkie, I think those are the only kinds of guys who are going to go out and try to do that kind of thing.”

Huestis is not much concerned with the implications of his selection. Instead, he has gotten down to the business of simply trying to become a better player. And not just a better player—the kind of do-everything role player that the Thunder envision him becoming in time, much as Thabo Sefolosha did for the team for year


In 20 games, he is averaging 10.5 points and 6.1 rebounds. Offensively, he has been focused on getting comfortable making NBA-length 3-pointers, and though he is still inconsistent with that (33.1 percent), he has improved. He is putting up 5.5 3-point attempts per game, and just 4.0 shots from inside the arc.

Most important, he is making the transition on the defensive end, from power forward to small forward. The Thunder are under no illusions that Huestis will be a star, but the goal is to maximize him as a role player—again, think Sefolosha. Huestis has a 7-1 wingspan, and if he can make open threes and be a shutdown perimeter defender, he will have a place in Oklahoma City’s rotation.

“Guarding really, really good players on the perimeter in this league—that is a lot different,” Oklahoma City Blue coach Mark Daigneault said. “He has put a lot of work into it. I think the perspective that we need to have and he needs to have is projecting him as an NBA player. In terms of that, he is doing his job right now.

"He is doing a really good job of understanding how to fit in with the team, understanding how to play a role on a team—that’s his future in the NBA. He needs to understand how to be a glue guy, how to be a complementary player.”

Offensively, Daigneault said Huestis had gotten better at finding the open space when his teammates penetrate—a necessity if he were to play with, say, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Defensively, the challenge has been to make Huestis a more instinctive defender on the wing—so that he uses his long frame aggressively, rather than as a crutch.

“He’s vertical off the floor and he has great length,” Daigneault said. “Right now, his length is a means of recovery—he is late on some plays, and he recovers with his length—he goes and blocks a shot on a play that he might have been out of if he did not have the same stature or presence. We have got to get him to a point where he is anticipating and he is asserting his size on the game rather than using it as a bailout sometimes.”

The fact that the Blue play in Oklahoma City has been helpful, but Huestis said he has not gotten an overwhelming amount of interference from the Thunder front office and staff—he knows what they’d like to see from him, and he’s trying to deliver.

“Our schedules kind of clash at times, but I see them every once in a while,” Huestis said. “They’ve been very supportive and stayed in contact. … They definitely give me a direction they want me to go and it’s completely up to me how hard I want to work at it. So I have been working my hardest to make this transition, and they’ve been with me every step of the way.”

As for Huestis’ future, that’s still up in the air. The presumption is that he will be in Oklahoma City next season, as an NBA rookie. But he’s gotten no guarantees.

“Right now, I am not really thinking about that,” he said. “I am just thinking about this season and getting better and everything that I can control.” 

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