Josh Huestis is perhaps the most frustrating enigma of the 2016-17 Oklahoma City Thunder. The hype behind Huestis is very small heading into this season, and it’s likely that most NBA teams don’t think much of him. But to understand where we’re at with Huestis now, we’ve got to dive a bit into the past.
In the 2014 NBA Draft, the Thunder were given the misfortune of dealing with the #29 draft pick. No NBA team desires a pick at the end of the first round. Any player drafted in the first round must be given a guaranteed contract. The same isn’t true of players drafted in the second round. So end of first rounders, whom are less likely to become NBA players and more likely to become contract dead weight, are generally seen as undesirable. If anything, teams will opt to use the pick on a draft and stash player. Or, if you’re a team with a large payroll, you may relish the opportunity for a cheap, young player.
But the Thunder, and Sam Presti in particular, have always been a bit unconventional with their picks. And Presti opted to pick Josh Huestis, a four year player out of Stanford. It was an unusual pick. Huestis wasn’t even on some draft boards.
Why did the Thunder go with Huestis? Size. Let’s compare Huestis to Roberson, using the physical measurements available at draftexpress.com. Roberson is an apt comparison because he plays the same positions, and is known as defensively dominant.
Huestis is 6’5” with a 7’1” wingspan. Roberson is an inch taller at 6’6”, yet has a smaller wingspan at 6’11”. Advantage Huestis.
Now, let’s compare hand size. Unfortunately, I can’t find a measurement of Huestis’ hand width online. So I did the next best thing and compared Huestis’ NBA 2K16 hand rating to that of Andre Roberson. Roberson’s hands are 86, while Huestis’ hands are 60. 2K is never a perfect measure of things, but the ‘ol eye test tells me that Huestis’ hands aren’t remarkably big. So advantage Roberson.
On to the “No-Step Vertical”. This is basically just a standing leap. Huestis did it twice, registering a 31.5 and a 32.0. Roberson did id once, registering a 30.0. Amongst NBA players, these are elite numbers. Amare Stoudemire, Blake Griffin, and Jimmy Butler all registered 32” No-Step Verticals on their respective draft-day workouts.
Next is the “Maximum Vert”. This is how far you can reach while stepping into the jump. Roberson registered a 36.5. But Huestis has a 38.5. This is towards the higher end of NBA players (DeMar DeRozan also got a 38.5), but Max Vert is generally a less measured statistic.
Now, it’s on to the bench press. This test measures how many times each player can lift a 180 pound weight. It’s worth noting that most NFL linemen would blow NBA player’s scores away. If you play in the NBA, unless you’re the size of Wilt Chamberlain, your objective isn’t to get as strong as possible. In most cases, that extra weight can actually hinder you. However, if you’re too weak for your position, you’ll end up bouncing around. Roberson, a long and skinny guy, lifted it 10 times. But Huestis, significantly more stout, lifted the bar nearly twice as many times with 19 reps. Other 19 rep guys include Michael Beasley, Channing Frye, and Willie Cauley-Stein.
Agility is next, and the lower the score the better. Basically, it’s a measure of one’s quickness. Obviously one needs to be able to shoot in the NBA for agility to be truly effective. Nevertheless, Huestis clocks in at 11.37. Andre Roberson is nearly identical, at 11.36. Given that Huestis is bigger than Roberson, this is only a good thing. The numbers aren’t remarkable, as high end scores tend to be under 11 seconds. But they’re certainly acceptable for wings.
Lastly, let’s take a look at the sprint rating. This is max speed. Roberson has a 3.34, which is definitely upper-tier. But Huestis did even better, clocking in at 3.19. This is the area of guys like Zach LaVine, Devin Harris, and Thaddeus Young.
So, looking at it all collectively, we come to the conclusion that Huestis registered superior ratings in tests of height, wingspan, standing jump, moving jump, strength, quickness, and max speed. The only category in which Roberson is measurably better is hands.
Of course, all of this analysis ignores the most important aspect of each player: their brain. Mental preparation and past experience are extremely important. Andre Roberson’s Dad was a professional basketball player, at one point playing alongside Dirk Nowitzki in Germany. On top of that, Roberson’s Mother and siblings have all been NCAA Division I athletes. With that kind of experience in his household, it’s no wonder that Roberson was ready to play defense from Day 1.
Josh Huestis has a much more complicated backstory, which I recommend reading over at NewsOK. But Huestis grew up in Montana. Despite playing on Montana’s highest level (AA), the level of competition there is nothing compared to what Huestis had to face at Stanford. And then, obviously, moving from Stanford to the NBA is another step. So you’re asking Huestis to ascend a lot of levels of basketball in a short amount of time. Roberson, playing in Texas, no doubt was exposed to higher competition at a much earlier age. So, just in terms of the mental aspect of the game, Roberson seems to have an advantage coming in.
But by the same token, it’s easier to see why it’s taken Huestis so long to get into the Thunder’s rotation. Huestis, quite frankly, is a project in his mid-20s. It’s kind of rare to think of a prospect being so old. Usually, teams like to grab players at younger ages, and see their potential begin to shine in their early 20s. But Huestis simply had a later development curve.
However, there is something to be said for Huestis’ emotional maturity as well. Huestis is a four year Stanford grad. Stanford is famous for being notoriously difficult academically. So the fact that Huestis was able to get a Stanford degree told the Thunder that this guy was really committed. After that, learning Billy Donovan’s playbook must be a piece of cake. Furthermore, because Huestis has shown himself willing to take on commitment, the Thunder can trust him to not need playing time right away.
With the physical and mental aspects in place for Huestis, what’s to stop him from figuring out how to be a lockdown defensive player? Having a defensive wing off the bench would be incredible.
The biggest development in Huestis this Pre-Season has been his mid-range shot. It’s not the most efficient shot to take, but it’s one that Huestis is now willing to take. Most impressive is the fact that Huestis appears to be just as effective off the dribble as he is off the catch. On the Thunder, off-the-dribble scoring is desperately needed. But Huestis shots are of the face-up variety, he appears to have no back to the basket game as of yet.
Defensively Huestis seems to be most effective as a help defender in the post. There’s a couple of blocks on big guys that I’ve seen Huestis rotate over for. But Huestis doesn’t seem to have much lateral quickness. I’ve seen the corner turned on him one or two times.
Ultimately, Huestis viability on offense is going to come down to whether defenders respect his shot. I’m not holding my breath in this area. But I do believe that Huestis can be a serious weapon on defense. If another team has a Jamal Crawford-like sixth man lighting the Thunder up, we can send Huestis to shut him down. On other nights, Huestis can contribute to the Thunder’s interior defense, rebounding, and steals. In an ideal world, anyway.
At the end of the day, if Huestis doesn’t develop, it’s nothing ventured, nothing gained. But early returns are promising. 47% from the floor and 33% from three in the pre-season.
What do you think of Huestis’ upcoming season? Drop a comment and let us know!
(Special thanks to Grumble2Much for the original Roberson physical comparison idea.)