Thunder Gets Diligent Worker in Huestis

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@thunder-nba.com

In November of 2011, Thunder Assistant General Manager Troy Weaver was in Madison Square Garden watching the Syracuse Orangemen take on the Stanford Cardinal. Weaver has known Johnny Dawkins, Stanford’s head coach, since back when the two of them lived in the Washington, DC area, and Dawkins was singing the praises of the young players on his roster. During the game though, Weaver couldn’t take his eyes off of just one of them, Stanford’s number 24, Josh Huestis.

Two-and-a-half years later, the rangy, quick, athletic forward is a member of the Thunder. As the second of the team’s first round picks in the 2014 NBA Draft, Huestis will be brought into the fold to bolster a strong group of wing players. His calling card right now is his defense, which he put on display during his four year career at Stanford.

Most notably, Huestis helped Stanford hold then-Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins to just four points on 1-for-6 shooting in the Cardinal’s second-round upset of the Jayhawks in the 2014 NCAA tournament. To Thunder General Manager Sam Presti, however, it was the consistency in effort, intensity, focus and execution throughout Huestis’ four-year career that helped the Thunder determine that he was the right man to bring into the organization.

“We never look at just one game or two games,” Presti said. “We’re looking at the body of work. Obviously in those high pressure games and spotlight games, you’re watching them. It’s also really valuable to see players in situations where maybe the whole world is not watching and recognizing their ability to stay locked in and to fulfill their assignments when they’re not playing against the best, top tier player.”

“Josh is a guy that from the time we started watching him, we were really impressed not only with his athleticism and versatility, but he has a tremendous poise and focus to him that allows him to play the game at a very, very high level while applying his athleticism, his length and his size,” Presti said.

During his senior year at Stanford, the 6-foot-7, 230-pound Huestis defended multiple positions en route to be named to the Pac-12 Defensive team, and averaged 11.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.9 blocks in 35.2 minutes per contest. Over his four-year career, Huestis managed to set the school record for career blocked shots, despite primarily defending guards and forwards. The prevailing feeling that most prominently emerged amongst the Thunder brass over the years was an admiration of Huestis’ ability to harness his athletic gifts into the team concept, using his basketball IQ to impact the game with his positioning, timing and selflessness.  

“This guy just plays the right way,” Weaver said. “You can just see it. In the games, if they’re up 20 or down 20, he continues to play the right way. He has incredible concentration during the game.”

“My eyes kept gravitating towards 24 because of the way he played,” Weaver explained. “You could just see the character that he has on the floor, the concentration and the kind of teammate he is. I just thought that stood out and continued to stand out. That’s the kind of guy we want to bring to the team and to the organization. If you really watch him, it’s obvious what kind of player this guy is.”

Presti said that Huestis is one of the very best athletes who has walked through the doors of the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center. That’s quite a statement considering the players the team currently has on the roster, particularly the likes of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson, Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb.

Even in the brief time since his collegiate season ended, Huestis said he has made strides in his offensive game. In the NBA, his ability to knock down open shots, particularly corner three-pointers, could be an added boost to his team’s offensive arsenal. Where Huestis will hang his hat, however, is on the defensive end. Just from his introductory press conference, it is clear that the Thunder’s new wing is clean cut, precise and detail-oriented.

As he works with his team at Summer League next week and either with the Thunder or Tulsa 66ers in the 2014-15 season, Huestis will be relied upon to be a blue-collar worker who can make an impact on defense and as a complementary piece in the Thunder’s offense.

“I’m a believer in the saying that defense wins championships,” Huestis said. “Defense isn’t something that everybody wants to do all the time because it is hard. You have to make a conscious effort to go out there and do it.”

“I just want to be somebody that can come in and just help a team win, do all the little things, defend multiple positions, knock down open shots and do all the dirty work,” Huestis said.