Summer League is like a glass bottom boat. While you’re cruising over the ocean floor, you get a passing glimpse of sea life and then, it’s quickly gone. For the next two weeks in Las Vegas, we’ll get a small window into what newly minted rookies can bring to the teams that drafted them and maybe more importantly, how sophomores with a season already under their belt have improved on and added to their games.
For all intents and purposes, Semi Ojeleye was a specialist last season. He was a 3&D stopper at the highest level, often covering the opposing team’s best player. In the playoffs, that included assignments like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ben Simmons, and LeBron James. On offense, Ojeleye averaged less than three shots a game with nearly two-thirds of his field goal attempts coming from behind the arc (32.0 3FG%).
But that was last year. Entering his sophomore season, Ojeleye will look to expand his game in order to take a bigger role in the rotation. He’s only a year removed from leading a very talented SMU in scoring at 19 points per game. Brad Stevens used him primarily as a defensive stopper, but Ojeleye can score. Here’s DraftExpress’ Mike Schmidt’s overview of Ojeleye heading into last year’s draft:
Used strictly at the four in SMU’s offense, Ojeleye has time and space to get to his jumper off the catch, can shoot off the dribble if run off the line, is nimble enough to attack opposing fours off the bounce with a tough combination of power and quickness, and is dangerous operating in mid-post spots while flashing crisp footwork for a 235-pounder.
We saw glimpses of that offensive versatility from the glass bottom boat of Summer League. In the Celtics’ first game in Vegas, Semi scored 16 points, hitting 2-of-7 from 3 and more impressively, taking it to the rack and completely two and-1’s around the rim.
When asked about how he wants to refine his game this summer and at Summer League, Ojeleye said, “definitely knocking down open shots, just gotta do a better job being consistent with that. And then offensively, I think making more plays. Last year, I kinda just focused on defense and offensively, I let guys do what they needed to do, but when it comes to me, just being assertive, making a quick decision, whether it’s moving or driving or shooting.”
Sure, it’s a small sample size--in Summer League no less--but let’s not forget how a strong showing in Vegas can signal not just a player’s development, but a growing role the following year. We’ve seen similar leaps before. Last July, Jaylen Brown unveiled an improved handle and jump shot and that later translated into a breakout season as a starter. Two years ago, Terry Rozier lit up the City of Lights and averaged 21 points on 62% shooting. Stevens doubled his minutes in Year 2 and by Year 3, Rozier was starring as a starter in the playoffs.
The template for Ojeleye could be similar to former Celtic, Jae Crowder. In our Exit Interviews series, I wrote:
At Media Day, Ojeleye talked about how Jae Crowder was a player comp he used during the draft process and later studied tape when has drafted by Boston. For Ojeleye to make an impact next season in a very crowded front court of talented wings, he’ll have to make similar improvement as Crowder did in his first (full) and second seasons in Boston. Not only did Crowder become a consistent shooter, but he expanded his game on the offensive end. Before being packaged with Isaiah Thomas and sent to Cleveland, Crowder became an intriguing trade asset because he had started to incorporate more dribble drives which in turn opened up his playmaking opportunities.
Let’s not jump too far ahead, but the ripple effect of an improved Ojeleye could have a ripple effect on the back end of the roster. Ojeleye has two more non-guaranteed years left on his rookie deal and a team option in 2020-2021. All years hover around $1.5M per. With Marcus Morris in the final season of his contract, Ojeleye could conceivably pass Morris in the rotation, making Morris expendable at the deadline. We’re not there yet, but so far, the odds are favorable that Ojeleye will parlay his Vegas run into a bigger role next fall.