Nate Sestina, a 6-foot-9 power forward from Emporium, Pennsylvania, will be joining Kentucky as a graduate transfer in the upcoming season. The former member of the Bucknell Bison is following in the footsteps of Reid Travis, who transferred from Stanford to play out his final year with the Wildcats.
Many have heard about Sestina and have at least a vague notion of what he can do for Kentucky, but his commitment has been overshadowed by questions of whether or not sophomore forward E.J. Montgomery would stay in the NBA draft or return to Kentucky, and most recently by talks of whether or not Virginia Tech graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. will commit to the Cats.
Seeing as Sestina’s game is a bit of a mystery, here is a breakdown of his performance at Bucknell, who his style of play is most comparable to, and how compatible his game is with John Calipari’s system.
He’s a shooter
If you’ve heard anything about Nate Sestina’s game, you’ve probably heard that he’s a shooter, and it’s true. Sestina not only has good shooting percentages—53.6% from the field and 80.8% from the free throw line as a senior while splashing 41 of 108 three-pointers on the year—but he has the shooting form to go along with it.
He’s no Steph Curry, but his jump shot has good elevation, a high release point and a great follow through on his jumper. He also has the range to make threes even with the NCAA extending the length of the three-point arc.
However, while he is certainly a dangerous shooter for a big man…
He’s more than just a stretch big
Yes, he can shoot the ball. No, that’s not all he can do. Sestina may not have great physical length, but he’s got other tools that he can use. At 6-foot-9 and 245 pounds, he’s no pushover in the paint, having averaged 8.5 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game in his final year at Bucknell.
Sestina can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim, and he is also a willing passer, often looking to kick to open teammates when the defense collapses on him.
With his back to the basket, he has shown some post moves, including a solid hook shot in his arsenal.
Compared to where Reid Travis was at the end of his time at Stanford, Sestina is leaner, allowing him to rely more on agility and footwork to get by bigger defenders while using raw strength as a last resort.
He doesn’t have as much experience against premier competition as Travis had when he enrolled at UK, but he shouldn’t be intimidated by it because…
He has an edge to his game
You could see him flexing his muscles on a couple of and-1 finishes above. It may rub some people the wrong way, but Sestina’s got some swagger to his game. He’s not afraid of the big moment, as he posted 7 points and 6 rebounds coming off the bench his junior year against North Carolina.
Sestina plays with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, just as Tyler Herro did last season. He can get fired up after a big dunk, an and-1 or just knocking down a three-pointer. In any case, he should give the Cats (and BBN) an emotional boost whenever he gets going.
Pro comparisons: Robert Horry and Boris Diaw
To be clear, Sestina is not on the NBA level right now, but in an interview on “Hey Kentucky!” he said that part of the reason he joined the Cats was to improve his professional profile. He has skills and a playing style similar to that of Diaw and Horry, in that both could score with their backs to the basket, but their bread and butter was spreading the floor by facing up or shooting off the catch.
Sestina is about the same height and weight as both players, and while he is not as refined as a ball handler and passer, all are offensive minded bigs who provide more than just shooting. Neither Horry nor Diaw wowed with their athleticism and Sestina won’t either, but he can use his body and skills to make plays.
Again, Sestina is not on the level of these two (they did have very long, successful pro careers) but he can bring a watered-down version of their game.
How he fits in Cal’s system: floor spacer (and instant-offense big)
If Kerry Blackshear Jr. decides to attend UK, Sestina will likely be resigned to a bench role. Against top-level competition, Sestina’s defensive ability is a concern, so if he comes off the bench, he’ll be expected to provide an offensive injection when he steps on the court.
If Blackshear elects to enroll elsewhere, Sestina has a legitimate chance to start beside either E.J. Montgomery or Nick Richards. In this scenario, he can stretch the defense to give them room to operate down low, while relying on their rim protection to compensate for his defensive and physical shortcomings.
When Sestina gets going, he’s tough to stop. He went off for 32 points against Holy Cross on 11-11 shooting from the field and 9-10 shooting from the free throw line. While that kind of performance for UK would certainly be welcome, Sestina isn’t expected to be a primary scoring option for the Cats.
Both Horry and Diaw had solid NBA careers as role players who deferred to primary scorers around them (both rarely reached double-figure scoring averages in a season) while keeping defenses honest with their shooting. Both ended up winning championships while filling this role, and Big Blue Nation is hopeful that Sestina will do the same for UK.
So get excited BBN. Nate already is.