Now we start heading into the meat of the roster. If the season were to start today, the 15 players from here on out would likely be on the opening night roster. First up is Oklahoma City Thunder forward Josh Huestis.
When the Thunder first drafted Huestis with the 29th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, everyone thought it was simply Thunder GM Sam Presti out thinking himself. Many thought Huestis was at best, a late second rounder, and at worst, an undraftee. But when word got out after the draft that the Thunder had a prearranged deal with Huestis and his representatives to forego his first year in the NBA, and instead, become the first domestic draft and stash player, many around the league acted appalled by the move.
How dare a team bamboozle a young man into agreeing to withhold what is rightfully his for at least a year? This must have been sorcery or witchcraft or mind control. The Thunder will probably just renege on their end of the deal and never pay him. That Sam Presti just figured out another way to skirt the laws of the CBA. That Clay Bennett sure is cheap. Poor little Josh. A fool and his money, soon to be departed.
In retrospect, while this was roster move minutiae for the Thunder, this was definitely a power move by Huestis. The Thunder were able to delay having to pay Huestis and were able to free up a roster spot for a season. And Huestis was able to earn a little money playing in the D-League with the Thunder’s affiliate while honing his craft under the watchful eye of the Thunder organization. In essence, Huestis got a paid internship with a guaranteed higher paying job waiting for him in the wings. Not bad for someone who’s basketball future was in doubt heading into the draft.
The Thunder envisioned Huestis as someone who could guard multiple positions, while also hitting an open 3-pointer. In Huestis’ first season in the D-League, he played in 44 games, averaging 33 minutes, 10.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks, while shooting 31.6% from three. After the season, a torn pectoral muscle prevented Huestis from participating in the 2015 summer league.
Regardless, the Thunder still made good on their end of the deal signing Huestis on July 30th, 2015 to the standard four year rookie scale deal for his allotted draft position. For much of last season, Huestis once again spent time with the Thunder’s D-League affiliate, the Blue. Near the end of the year, with the Thunder resting their players from game to game, Huestis made his NBA debut. He went on to play in five games total for the regular season and two games in the playoffs.2015-16 statistics
(D-League) 25 GP, 32 mins, 12.7 pts, 5.3 rebs, 0.9 asts, 0.6 stls, 1.4 blks, 39.7% FG, 31.3% 3pt FG, 47.4% FT
(NBA) 5 GP, 11 mins, 2.8 pts, 2.0 rebs, 0.2 stls, 0.4 blks, 41.7% FG, 66.7% 3pt FGBest-Case Scenario
With the departure of Kevin Durant, a huge void opened up at the small forward position for the Thunder. More than likely, Andre Roberson will grab the reins as the starting SF. But, behind him, a battle is quietly emerging between Huestis and Kyle Singler. The best-case scenario for the Thunder is for Huestis to be more consistent this year and become a solid part of the rotation. If that happens, Singler (and his $5 million a year salary) become expendable. To do that, though, Huestis has to excel at what the Thunder drafted him for: to be a big wing defender and hit open shots consistently whenever they present themselves. He has the physical tools to do it (6’7″, 230 lbs, 7’1″ wingspan). He just has to do it consistently while on the floor.Worst-case Scenario
While there really isn’t a worst case scenario for Huestis (his contract is cheap and he’s essentially on the final guaranteed year of his deal), the Thunder really do need someone to step up from the wing position. If Huestis stays as the 15th man for the entire season, then it may very well be a sign that the Thunder are struggling mightily from the wing position. The Thunder don’t expect anyone on the roster to replicate what Kevin Durant brought to the them, but they also don’t want the worst offensive wing platoon in the league.Percentage that he will be traded sometime this season:
15%. Huestis has value as a young “low-risk, high reward” type prospect. His contract is inexpensive, which may be more valuable to the Thunder than anything they may receive from a trade involving him.Huestis’ Season Preview:
I think Huestis will rise from 15th to about 9th or 10th in the rankings by season’s end, eventually supplanting Singler as the team’s back-up 3. As mentioned above, he has the tools to be a prototypical 3 and D wing in the NBA. But I think the position in which he has the most potential is as a small-ball 4. He’s athletic enough and long enough to battle inside for rebounds and blocks. And with the way the NBA is “shrinking,” Huestis may well find his niche as a small-ball 4. This is a make or break season for Huestis. Either he’s an NBA player or he’s not. Simple as that. In the end, though, I think he goes out, plays consistently, and earns his spot in the rotation as a solid role player.