OKLAHOMA CITY — Josh Huestis is still waiting for his first real opportunity in the NBA, seeking a long-term marriage with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
After biding his time with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s developmental team, the past three seasons, when that marriage will culminate is still in question. Huestis’ off-the-court marriage isn’t, though. He and longtime girlfriend Haley Clarke will tie the knot this summer.
“I’m getting married this summer, which is, depends who you ask, it’s kind of big,” a laughing Huestis told reporters at his end-of-season interview on April 26.
He then took a serious tone as he returned to basketball talk: “But other than that, it’s just going to be work, getting ready for next season. Obviously, as soon as one season ends, it feels like there’s a lot of time until the next one begins, but, really, it’s kind of a blink-of-an-eye type of thing. So yeah, it’s just going to be: take a couple days here and then get back to it and get ready.”
Huestis, the former Great Falls CMR basketball star who guided the Rustlers to back-to-back Class AA state championships in 2009 and 2010, has spent most of his professional basketball career with the Blue since the Thunder selected him in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft. He’s only earned marginal NBA minutes the past two seasons.
After appearing in five games with the Thunder during the 2015-16 season, Huestis played in just two games this past season, playing seven minutes against the Chicago Bulls and 24 against the Denver Nuggets in the Thunder’s regular-season finale. Huestis scored a career-high seven points in both games. Against the Nuggets, he also added five rebounds, three blocks and two assists.
“I think the biggest thing is just continuing to develop as a perimeter player. That’s something that’s an ongoing process for me,” Huestis said at his media availability. “This is really only my, like, third year that I’ve really worked at becoming a perimeter player, so continuing to work on that and develop those skills and try to become as good of an all-around player as I can be: improve my shooting, that can always get better, ball-handling, defense, so I’m not trying to limit it to one or two things. Just trying to get as good as I can overall.”
Huestis has made huge strides in the developmental league and continues to flash his potential when he does get NBA minutes. In 32 games with the Blue this season, Huestis averaged 14.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. He made 38.5 percent of his 3-point attempts, up from 31.2 percent last year.
The perimeter scoring is part of Huestis’ continual evolution from power forward to small forward. He starred in the post for the Rustlers, averaging 12.8 rebounds and 4.8 blocks to go along with 17.3 points per game. He continued his career at Stanford University, and left the program as the Cardinal’s all-time leader in blocked shots and currently ranks eighth in career rebounds. In short, the 6-foot-7 Huestis has always been a big man on the basketball court.
“(Power forward and center) being the positions that I played most of my life, I have this kind of natural ability to be able to play them – really confident in that ability,” Huestis said. “I think, along with that, the definition of what a power forward is has changed a lot, too. I think it’s definitely becoming a more perimeter-oriented position, so just being able to work on those skills and apply them as a power forward I think will help me a lot.”
“Obviously guarding a power forward is much different than guarding a shooting guard or point guard,” Huestis added. “And the way that we play defense and the way the league is trending, you switch 1 (point guard) through 4 (power forward) pick-and-rolls a lot. Being somebody that not only can guard a 4, but be able to switch onto a point guard and be able to hold my own and get stops is really important.”
In a season where the Thunder were searching for their identity after the departure of former MVP Kevin Durant last offseason, many expected Huestis to get his opportunity to showcase his skills at the NBA level. Those opportunities never manifested, much to the disappointment of NBA analysts and, of course, Huestis’ fans back in Montana.
“It makes you feel good knowing that there’s people out there that believe in you and there’s people that have your back and want to see what you can do,” Huestis said of the support. “It’s extra motivation to keep working to get better, so that when my time does come I can go out there and show what I can do and be somebody that can help this team.”