Toward the end of last year’s first round, the Thunder surprised most of the basketball world, selecting a lesser-known defensive specialist from the Pac-12 about 30 picks before he was projected to go.
On Thursday night, Sam Presti went back to that same blueprint.
In 2013, it was Andre Roberson. This time around, it was Stanford’s Josh Huestis, a lanky 6-foot-7 forward whose biggest strength is perimeter defense.
“I thought Josh Huestis was going to get drafted, but I thought it was going to be in the second round,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said, before complimenting the pick. “Talk about a specialist. Josh Huestis is an excellent defender.”
As an example, Bilas highlighted one of Huestis’ best defensive performances, which came last March in the NCAA Tournament. Squared up against Andrew Wiggins and Kansas, Huestis shut down the NBA’s most recent No. 1 pick, holding Wiggins to 1-of-6 shooting and only four points in the Stanford win.
“When talking about Andrew Wiggins and how he struggled against Stanford,” Bilas said. “Part of it was the 2-3 zone Johnny Dawkins threw at Kansas, and the other part was Josh Huestis totally shut him down.”
Originally from Montana, Huestis was a four-year player at Stanford, contributing right from the beginning.
Last season, he averaged 11.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. His 7-foot-1 wingspan, massive for a perimeter player, is what makes him intriguing as a defensive prospect. One NBA.com draft profile, ironically, compared him to Thabo Sefolosha.
“A really good athlete and can rebound,” Bilas said. “This is one of those picks where Oklahoma City looks really smart in this because they got a guy that can come in and play a specific role for them because he can really defend.”
On the surface, this looks similar to the Roberson pick from a season ago, which makes it a bit strange. But Huestis does seem more developed as a shooter.
He’s not great in that area, but somewhat capable. Huestis made 52 of his 154 (33.8 percent) threes the past two seasons.
“He can make open shots,” Bilas said. “I’m not calling him an offensive player, but he makes open threes. He can play. He can really defend. He can really guard.”
Because he was a late first round pick, Huestis comes in on a guaranteed contract next season, a surprising factor of this surprising pick. It was assumed the Thunder would either trade out or use one of its first round picks on a draft-and-stash player to avoid locking up roster spots.
But along with Mitch McGary, Huestis gives the Thunder 12 guys on guaranteed deals. The roster max is 15. Free agency begins July 1.