(WTLC kicks off its annual player preview for the expected roster this upcoming season. We begin with Josh Huestis, and expect a player preview every day leading up to the beginning of the regular season)
To be drafted in the first round is complicit with opportunity; after all, first round picks get guaranteed contracts. Josh Huestis was never supposed to be picked in the first round, but by being open to punt his opportunity (and the NBA money it comes with) another year down the line, an Oklahoma City Thunder team that prized flexibility saw value.
Finally, it's time for Huestis to get his shine! That's how the transition over from the Oklahoma City Blue might feel, anyway. He'll be making seven figures this season, a nice little pay raise from his reported D-League salary of $25,000. It seems almost natural that with the extra money would come a little more responsibility.
To a point, that's true. Huestis is taking one of 15 spots on the Thunder roster now. When he steps on the court now, it's the real deal, playing time logged for a NBA contender. You know, just like how it was for Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones.
Okay, I'm mostly poking fun here, since Lamb and PJ3 will be the death of this website if they ever pan out successfully. With what we know about Huestis, there's no reason yet to think he'll hit the same snag in his growth. But it's a meaningful analog in other ways, because his opportunity with the Thunder might not be too different from theirs - the very same as that which, as CBS Sports' Ken Berger recently wrote, was viewed to have hurt Lamb's confidence by "executives familiar with Lamb's potential and limitations."
Even with Scott Brooks gone, there's going to be some pressure on the Thunder as a whole to make sure Huestis doesn't go the way of wasted first-round picks past. Maybe that's not entirely fair - sometimes prospects just don't figure it out, and I never loved Lamb or Jones as much as the rest of you guys - but if Huestis isn't producing results soon (by the end of this season? next season?), it won't take long for the backlash to come.
That's one side of Huestis' story this season. The other side is that of everyone else he'll have to fight for minutes. The Thunder didn't really even bring anyone in this summer, other than retaining some restricted free agents - even the Lamb and Jones trades were straight salary dumps.
Still, consider all these names: Kyle Singler, Dion Waiters, Anthony Morrow, D.J. Augustin, Andre Roberson and Cameron Payne. Heck, even Steve Novak does the one thing really well. There's a lot of competition for minutes at the back-up two and three spots which Huestis plays, and that's yet to mention Kevin Durant, who is Kevin Durant.
Huestis is a rookie, and I'm not sure what to expect from him. Scouting reports described him as a good defender, and he has the physical profile to defend a variety of scorers. In the D-League, he shot 37 percent from the field and 32 percent on three-pointers. From this half-assed research, he seems a lot like Andre Roberson, but can he shut down NBA stars like Roberson does? Probably more importantly, will he pick up on the offensive game that Roberson hasn't yet?
Two-way wings are valuable, and even the Thunder could use more of them. Morrow and Roberson are specialists, Waiters is a wildcard, Augustin and Payne are tiny, and even Singler who is the closest thing to a 3-and-D type had struggles after joining the team last season. Nobody's perfect in the NBA and if Huestis really deserves to play, there's going to be a role for him. As preseason continues, we'll get a better feel for that. He does have an opportunity, after all. He's on the roster now.
Just don't count on anything special to happen in Huestis' first year in the NBA. Technically, it's his second if you include last year, which might be another reason to expect things now, and things are always better if we can get them now. I guarantee that when Waiters chucks a back-flipping stepback jumper this year, I'll be wondering how Huestis can be any worse. But patience would be wise here. Huestis probably isn't ready yet, and this season, the deck is stacked against him.
Besides, we've got a quota to fill on great bench celebrators.