When the Celtics selected Semi Ojeleye in the second round of the 2017 draft, they envisioned him as a tough, defensive-minded wing who could stretch the floor with good 3-point shooting.
Ojeleye made 42.4 percent of his 3-pointers as a senior at Southern Methodist, and there was reason to believe that skill would translate at the next level. But his first two seasons Ojeleye mostly struggled from beyond the arc in limited opportunities, making 68 of 214 shots (31.8 percent).
So last summer he refined his form a bit. He found from film study that the trajectory of his jumpers had become more of a line drive than a smooth float, perhaps due to the longer distance of the NBA line.
“Mechanically, I’ve been just trying to get my hand under the ball so I can get more arc,” Ojeleye said. “And the higher the shot, the better the chance it has of going in. I’m just believing in the work.”
The returns this season have been promising. Ojeleye is connecting on a career-best 37.6 percent of his 3-pointers. His true breakout came in Wednesday’s win over the Cavaliers, when he made 5 of 8 shots from beyond the arc to help Boston escape with a 6-point win.
“I think getting the ball up higher can be a vague term,” Celtics assistant coach Scott Morrison said. “But it’s been important making sure his feet are set, getting his elbow set, and this isn’t necessarily a technical thing, but with his shot selection, making sure you have time with all that stuff and that you’re not rushing your shot. I think he’s doing a better job of that this year. And when the shot’s not there, put the ball on the floor and make a play for your teammates.”
For Ojeleye, it has been a challenge to maintain a consistent shooting rhythm when opportunities are inconsistent. With Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward both out the last two games, Ojeleye played a total of 64 minutes. But Hayward is expected to return on Sunday, and Brown could follow a few days after, and Ojeleye will just have to remain prepared regardless of the circumstance.
“The work I put in doesn’t change, regardless of whether I’m playing or not,” Ojeleye said. “I know whenever my opportunity comes I’ve put in the work. You’re just working on reps and then during the game you let it fly, and it should translate.”
Break time for Tatum
After Jayson Tatum topped the 38-minute mark in three consecutive games, coach Brad Stevens was determined to lighten his load a bit Friday against Utah. He sat him for a nine-minute stint in the second quarter, and his 32 minutes, 58 seconds, were his fewest since a 21-point win over the 76ers on Feb. 1.
Unlike most of the other Celtics who have dealt with bumps and bruises this year, Tatum has avoided them. But Stevens said he will look for opportunities for preventive maintenance so Tatum can truly be ramped up in the postseason. Tatum, for one, accepted the approach on Friday night.
“That makes sense,” he said. “It’s a long season. Playoffs are most important. So, it makes sense.”
The Celtics and the NBA continue to monitor the coronavirus outbreak, and there have been discussions about various safety measures, such as games without any fans in attendance or closing locker rooms to the media. As of Saturday evening, no substantial changes had been made. The Celtics have added more hand sanitizer around their training facility.
On Friday, point guard Kemba Walker was asked what it would be like to play in a real NBA game in a mostly empty arena.
“That would be terrible,” he said. “That would be boring. They might as well cancel the whole game before that. That would suck. But at the end of the day, it is getting serious. I don’t know. It would be very weird though for sure.”