Semi Ojeleye’s contract with the Boston Celtics had a deadline of July 15th to become fully guaranteed. Predictably, the day came and went with nary a whisper and Ojeleye is now fully guaranteed at $1,378,242 for 2018-19.
The contract for Ojeleye was previously guaranteed for $901,965 for 2018-19. This healthy guarantee, combined with the promise he showed as a rookie made it a no-brainer for the Celtics to let the deadline pass without waiving Ojeleye.
Ojeleye was drafted by Boston with the seventh pick in the second round (37th overall) of the 2017 NBA Draft. He then signed a four year contract that was fully guaranteed for his rookie season in 2017-18 and partially guaranteed for 2018-19. The final two years of the contract, 2019-20 and 2020-21, are both fully non-guaranteed. Each season becomes fully guaranteed on 7/1 of that year, 7/1/19 and 7/1/20. The final season, 2020-21, also includes a team option.
Should Ojeleye outplay this contract and Boston wants a little more control of his second contract, they could decline the team option for 2020-21. This would make Ojeleye a restricted free agent and give the Celtics the opportunity to match any offer sheet he might sign. This is the tactic the Denver Nuggets used with Nikola Jokic this summer.
Due to injuries to several key players, Ojeleye played more than anyone could have expected in his rookie season. He ultimately appeared in 73 games and averaged just under 16 minutes per contest. Ojeleye’s role was truly that of a “3 & D” player, as he took just 188 total field goal attempts on the season, with 125 of those coming from behind the arc. He shot 32 percent on three-pointers, improving as the season went along.
Ojeleye appeared in 17 of Boston’s 19 playoff games, but struggled mightily offensively. Continuing his regular season approach, 22 of his 33 field goal attempts were three-pointers. In a downturn from the regular season, he hit just six of those triples, a clip of 27.3 percent.
Despite the offensive struggles, as he adjusted to the NBA, Ojeleye was able to make an impact defensively. He regularly guarded 2-5, using his thick, muscular frame against bigger players and his quickness and low hip-bend versus smaller players. When Giannis Antetokounmpo got going in the Celtics first round series against the Milwaukee Bucks, Brad Stevens turned to Ojeleye to slow him down. This built on the reputation Ojeleye had built as someone Stevens could go to as a stopper off the bench. He then transitioned to being a secondary defender against Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid against the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round. Ojeleye was also called upon to defend LeBron James on a regular basis in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Boston’s original plan for Ojeleye involved him seeing some time in the NBAGL with the Maine Red Claws. Those intentions were quickly scuttled following Gordon Hayward’s injury on opening night and Marcus Morris’ recovery from a knee injury early last season. Initially Ojeleye was used as depth along the wing, eventually transitioning to playing more of a reserve big role behind Al Horford, Aron Baynes and Daniel Theis. When Theis was ruled out for the season following a knee injury, and Greg Monroe was largely ineffective following his buyout season signing, Ojeleye slid into the the third big role.
A bigger than expected role, combined with his strong defensive showing, have earned Ojeleye a spot on the Celtics roster this season. As for how much he’ll play this year, that largely depends on the overall health of the roster. After an up-and-down NBA Summer League, Ojeleye will look towards a strong training camp and preseason to find a regular role with Boston.