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2015-16 Thunder player grades: Can Josh Huestis' potential turn into reality?

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Josh Huestis has worked hard to get to this point in his NBA career, but is he ready to become a rotation player for OKC?

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Full Name: Josh Huestis

Nickname: "Cowboy"

Contract Status: Owed $992,900 for second season, years 3, and 4 team option

Interesting Fact: The legendary Bill Walton once said, "Josh Huestis is the kind of guy I want to grow up to be."

Player History

Josh Huestis was born near Houston, Texas, to Poncho Hodges (a basketball player who found success in European leagues) and Sutton Lindsey. For financial reasons, Lindsey (who already had a son) decided to put Josh up for adoption. Bonnie Huestis and her husband, Gary Walsh, adopted Josh as an infant, moving him up to Montana. Josh was brought up knowing both his adopted and his birth parents.

Josh always knew he wanted to be a basketball player. In 6th grade, he wrote a list of goals: start for the local high school, win a state title, play Division I basketball, and play in the NBA. Until this past season, only the final goal remained.

Despite natural athleticism and a great frame, it is incredibly difficult for basketball players from Montana to find success. There simply isn't the same exposure to scouts from top colleges. Despite this, and perhaps because of this, and because of his adoptive parents' insistence that he work hard at whatever he chose to do, Huestis developed an unfailing work ethic. For example, in high school, he was known for calling his coach during the evenings to ask for the gym to be opened. Unfortunately for Huestis, only local colleges showed interest in recruiting him.

Josh's big break came during the summer prior to his senior season. His birth father, now living in Los Angeles, convinced his adoptive parents to allow Josh to spend the summer playing in a Southern California AAU circuit. Josh described it as both "the best decision" and "the toughest summer" of his life. It was Josh's play during that summer that first peaked the interest of Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins.

For Huestis, college was never just about basketball. Although that was his dream, he limited his college search to top academic schools. He chose Stanford over Harvard for two main reasons: locale, and a basketball scholarship (something not offered by Ivy League schools). He majored in and completed his degree in psychology.

While in high school, like many taller players, Huestis spent most of his time playing in the post. However, at only 6 feet 7 inches, he was forced to make the switch to small forward upon arriving at Stanford. He spent almost every night in the Stanford gym improving his perimeter skills.

During his freshman season, the work still hadn't paid off. Josh averaged only 2.3 points and 2.0 rebounds off the bench, with only 7 blocks for the season. His season high of 11 points came against USC.

In his second season, however, his numbers started to manifest the improvements he was making. While he only started 5 games in that NIT championship season, he was named a PAC-12 all-defense honorable mention. He also averaged 5.3 points and 4.8 rebounds while shooting 44% from the field.

During his junior year, he was one of just two Stanford players to start in all 34 games. He averaged 10.5 points and 9.0 rebounds, shooting 46% from the field and 34% from three (a marked improvement from his 20% as a freshman). During this season, he blocked 71 shots, good for the fourth-best all-time mark at Stanford. He also recorded 111 offensive rebounds, the largest number for a Stanford player in 20 years. He set career single-game highs of 22 points, 14 rebounds, and 10 blocks this season. He was selected to the PAC-12 defensive team.

His senior season, Josh again started every game for Stanford. He averaged 11.2 points and 8.2 rebounds on 45% shooting. His most remarkable feat, however, was setting the Stanford record for career blocks with a season total of 69 and a career total of 190. Huestis sealed the deal with his strong senior year with his defensive performance during the NCAA tournament, holding future number one pick Andrew Wiggins to four points on 1-6 shooting (after he averaged 28 points per game the previous 4 games).

Upon his graduation from Stanford, Huestis' future seemed uncertain. His NBA prospects were weak, with projections having him as a late second-round pick at best. But Huestis had been in Thunder assistant-GM Troy Weaver's sights for two and a half years and, in a controversial move that made waves around the league, Sam Presti selected Josh using the 29th pick of the draft in the first domestic draft-and-stash ever. Huestis agreed to hold off signing a contract until his second season in return for a guaranteed deal. Instead of spending his first season as an NBA rookie, he spent it with the Thunder's D-League affiliate.

His first season in the D-League showed mixed results. He wasn't drafted to be high-usage player, but ended up in that role with the Blue. During that first season, he averaged 6.1 three points attempts per game (more than J.J. Redick, one of the best shooters in the league), but shot 31.6%. At times, it seemed as if he had been instructed to shoot any time he had an opening (in one game, he shot 10 threes in just the first half).

Here are some highlights from his first season with the Blue.

Preseason Expectations

I would say that the expectations for Huestis this season were low, but I'm not sure that there really were any at all. He wasn't expected to be a rotation player, but would rather spend the year mostly in the D-League. At best, he would appear in garbage time, giving fans a look at a potential reserve for future seasons.

Regular Season Grade: N/A

I don't believe it's fair to give a grade based on only 55 minutes. I'd rather focus on the few things we did see from Josh.

For much of the regular season, fans (including myself) wanted to see Huestis appear in Kyle Singler's place. With Singler being entirely ineffective on both ends of the floor, the athleticism of Huestis could offer was intriguing. However, almost the entire season passed before Thunder fans got a chance to watch the rookie in action. On March 24th, against the Utah Jazz, Huestis saw 5 minutes of garbage time action scoring 3 points on 1-1 shooting from deep. He would appear in 4 more games, scoring a total of 14 points on 5-12 shooting, 4-6 from deep, and 0-4 from the FT stripe. Additionally, he pulled down 10 rebounds.

Post Season Grade: N/A

Huestis appeared in two playoff games for the Thunder for a total of 10 minutes. His first action came at the end of the blowout win over the Dallas Mavericks in which he pulled in 1 rebound and shot 0-2 from the floor. His other action also came against Dallas, this time in game 3. He recorded 3 points on 1-1 shooting from deep.

Future Expectations

It's hard to know what to expect for Josh Huestis in the future. When he came into the league, many fans expected him to be gone quickly. However, with very little NBA action to go on, fans still don't know what kind of player he could be.

However, Huestis remains an intriguing prospect. His athleticism and length make him a natural defender, and his smooth shooting stroke shows potential, if not results. Based on this, here are some things I would like to see from Josh:

  • Become Durant's primary backup off the bench. This is probably a reach, but I'd like to see him take over this role from Singler. It will be contingent on him developing something on offense (either a cutting offense or an outside shot), but it isn't outside of reason. Assuming Kevin Durant re-signs, these minutes will be limited, but I'd love a chance to see him get a chance to carve out a niche.
  • See time as a small-ball PF. This is perhaps where Huestis has the most potential. He has the length and athleticism to slide to the 4 spot, giving OKC the ability to switch everything. He could become a solid stretch 4 off the bench if his development takes a solid step forward.
  • Take advantage of opportunities. If he ends up playing in the D-League again, Huestis needs to show progress. Improving his handling skills, shooting ability, and facilitating would be a solid step towards gaining a regular NBA role.

Perhaps for now, though, his greatest skill is his ability to look dashing in a suit on the bench. And if that is his role next season, I expect him to excel in it.