Oklahoma City's Andre Roberson newsok

Oklahoma City’s Andre Roberson (left), seen here playing against the Los Angeles Lakers in a January 2018 game in Oklahoma City, will not play for the Thunder in Tulsa on Tuesday, but is nearly fully recovered from a knee injury that has cost him 20 months.

BRYAN TERRY/

The Oklahoman file

As Chris Paul now is the biggest star on the Oklahoma City Thunder roster, and as Steven Adams has been a fan favorite since his arrival six years ago, there should be a loud reaction when they are introduced to the BOK Center crowd.

The Thunder player for whom any ovation should be most heartfelt, though, is Andre Roberson — and he won’t even play on Tuesday.

The seventh-year guard won’t be involved when the Thunder faces the Dallas Mavericks in a 7 p.m., ESPN-televised NBA preseason opener at the BOK Center.

For other Thunder players — and especially veterans like Paul and new OKC forward Danilo Gallinari — a preseason game is an obligation exercise. For Roberson, however, getting minutes in Tulsa would have been personally significant.

For 20 months — since he sustained a terrible knee injury in Detroit in late January 2018 — he has been inactive.

Last week, Billy Donovan said OKC’s defensive specialist is practicing with “no restrictions,” but on Monday the Thunder coach reported that Roberson will be rested on Tuesday.

“It’s just good to see (Roberson) around,” Paul said, “because he’s such a positive guy.”

Since being drafted from Colorado in 2013, Roberson has made 269 starts for the Thunder. At 6-foot-7, he was among the NBA’s elite defenders until the knee injury.

During last week’s Thunder Media Day event, this was the most interesting question presented to Roberson: “Do you feel like you can get back to the same level defensively that you were before the injury?”

The Roberson response: “Yes, I definitely do. There are glimpses of it now. I’ve just got to get in game shape and drop a couple of (pounds). Outside of that, I’m good to go.”

For a Thunder team that no longer has a Russell Westbrook-Paul George identity, the return of a defensively effective Roberson would be a huge bonus.

Even while there currently are “no restrictions” on his participation, the Thunder will ease Roberson back into the rotation. The reasonable hope is that by Christmas, he is able to play 15-20 minutes per game of high-end defense.

“This last year and a half. Man. Lots of ups and downs,” said the 27-year-old Roberson, who reflected on the grinding, lonely process of rehabilitation. “It’s taught me a lot about myself and my body, (and) about the game in general.

“It has affected my life and taken me down certain paths. It’s been a great character-building. A teaching moment in my life that I can learn from.”

Bill Haisten 918-581-8397

bill.haisten@tulsaworld.com

Twitter: @billhaisten