As his name continued to tumble down the 2012 NBA Draft board, Perry Jones III saw the Thunder selecting at No. 28 and looked right past a young team loaded at his position.
“It was a surprise to me because I didn't think I'd be here in a million years,” Jones told the OKC media days after he was selected with that first-round pick. “Actually on draft night, when the pick came up for them, I was thinking to myself, ‘Well, they don't need me, so they're definitely not going to pick me.' ”
At the time, many lauded it as a steal, a successful young team, coming off a Finals appearance, snaring another lottery-type talent to add to its stocked collection.
But as Jones prepares to enter Year 2, the buzz around his potential has quieted. And, still stuck behind a frontcourt logjam of Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison, Jones has become somewhat of a forgotten man.
Will he ever crack the rotation? Does the Thunder even expect or need him to?
“Perry is in a tough position,” coach Scott Brooks said. “This is not a league where everybody shares minutes. It's a league where you have to be patient if you aren't getting minutes and if you get minutes, you have to continue to earn those minutes. We won a lot of games, and there are a lot of guys ahead of him.”
But regardless of how deep he's buried on the depth chart, Jones' rare physical tools will always make him intriguing.
At a legit 6-foot-11, he's taller than the Thunder's entire starting lineup and a handful of NBA centers, listed as the tallest small forward in the league, tied with Washington's Jan Vesely.
He has ball-handling skills and a respectable perimeter game, with a semi-reliable jumper that can stretch out to 3-point range.
“He's one of the most athletic guys in the league,” Kevin Durant said.
But the problem is, in his limited appearances, Jones just hasn't done enough to stand out.
He's been OK at times, like a 14-point, nine-rebound performance in the last game of his rookie season, when he got an opportunity with the stars sitting.
But in other showings, including the first two preseason games this year, Jones has been a bit too invisible for a player with his skills, combining for 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting but, more importantly, making few attention-grabbing plays during his 41 total minutes.
Plus, his development has been stunted a bit each of the past two offseasons.
Summer league is a time when plenty of young players gain experience, gather confidence and begin to make a name for themselves.
But in two years, Jones has only played two summer league games, spraining his ankle during the event his rookie season and missing it entirely this past year, after undergoing an oral surgery that forced him out.
“I was mad, not going to lie, I really wanted to play,” Jones said. “I had been working hard in here. And I felt good going into summer league, but unfortunately things happen.”
Overall, Jones categorized his first year as frustrating, saying that “for any player, any rookie, who was a star in college and you come to the NBA and don't play, I mean, just your will to want to play, it's tough.”
But working with and having to defend Kevin Durant, he also called it productive. And at only 22, he still has a long career in front of him, with opportunities likely to await down the road, whether it's in Oklahoma City or elsewhere.
“I'm very confident I can (become a rotation player in this league),” Jones said. “My rookie season was tough. Hopefully this year is better, hopefully I continue to progress. But I am in high spirit and I am confident in myself.”