Celtics

Semi Ojeleye working hard to improve offensive game

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Semi Ojeleye working hard to improve offensive game

LAS VEGAS – Semi Ojeleye is aware that most of the time when he’s on the floor, there’s likely to be at least two or three players who shoot the ball better than he does.

But that doesn’t mean he can’t at least be an offensive threat, which has been a focus of his throughout most of Summer League play.

Ojeleye acknowledged that improving his shooting mechanics has indeed been at the top of his need-to-improve list.

And while the three Summer League games Boston (2-1) has played are indeed a small sample size, it’s clear that Ojeleye is showing clear signs of being a better player offensively now than he was this past season.

In Boston's three Summer League games, Ojeleye has averaged 10.7 points while shooting 43 percent from the field along with 3.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists.

“I’m just trying to be more of a threat on offense,” Ojeleye told NBC Sports Boston. “I realize that’s one thing I can do to take a step forward going into next season. Just attacking more, making good decisions.”

Even when he’s not scoring, Ojeleye wants to at least be considered a threat.

One of the first things he has done has been to work on improving his mechanics.

Prior to Summer League, Ojeleye said he spent time working with Los Angeles-based NBA basketball skills coach Drew Hanlen, who has worked on improving the shooting of some of the league’s top players.

Among his lengthy list of NBA clients are Washington’s Bradley Beal, Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, Zach LaVine of the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland’s Jordan Clarkson.

Ojeleye's biggest problem last season was that he shot the ball rather flat, so getting more lift on his shot has been a point of emphasis.

In addition to working with Hanlen (something Ojeleye said he did before Summer League and will reunite with Hanlen afterwards), Ojeleye said he has also spent time working with Celtics assistant coach Scott Morrison.

Morrison said a key emphasis when it comes to Ojeleye’s improved shooting has been him making sure he gets his elbow under the ball more.

“He’s better, but he needs to keep working on it,” Morrison said. “I was happy with his shooting when he came back (for Summer League).”

In addition to better mechanics on his shot, Ojeleye has also looked to beat players off the dribble more and finish at the rim.

“He’s trying to push himself, do some things that he didn’t necessarily do in the regular season,” Morrison said. “Doing more stuff out of pick and rolls and making reads off his drive is something he’s worked on.”

And that work, Ojeleye believes, will pay off in having an even better season than he had as a rookie.

“It’s all about staying ready,” he said. “All season, you never really knew when your opportunity would come but you still had to stay ready, and that’s what I tried to do. I try to approach every day to get better, do what I have to do from sun-up to sun-down to be better. So, when the opportunity came (last season) I tried to maximize it. Same thing this offseason; just try to maximize opportunities from sun-up to sun-down.”

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Celtics players and coaches see Kyrie Irving evolving as a leader

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Celtics players and coaches see Kyrie Irving evolving as a leader

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The question elicited an immediate and emphatic, “Yes” response from Boston Celtics big man Al Horford. Then he repeated it three more times as if to really hammer it home.

Kyrie Irving had just pulled back the curtain a tiny bit and explained his desire to evolve as a leaders with the Celtics this season. So Horford, sage veteran on the roster, was asked if he had noticed any changes in Irving’s leadership this season.

And that elicited the four “yes” salvo.

"He’s really been there for us,” said Horford. "He’s really taking guys under his wing — very vocal, encouraging when he needs to be. He’s really embracing that role.”

From the outside, it’s always appeared that Irving is a quiet leader, the sort of player that others look up to both because of his obvious skill but also all that he’s accomplished in his young basketball career.

So it was interesting to not only hear Irving detail his desire to be a more vocal leader, which included him reaching out to some trusted advisors for guidance on how to best lead, but also to hear a teammate like Horford affirm just how much Irving has already evolved in the role.

"It’s an everyday job. It’s part of kind of the next step of evolution for me in my career, of just learning what that means for me and what type of leader I want to be,” said Irving. "I’ve reached out to a few people, just asked questions, learning more about how to kind of manage being in a group like this. 

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"That doesn’t just go for your teammate, it goes to how you communicate with the coaches, how you communicate with the organization, and just really getting across just being great and just being successful, without anybody feeling personal about you saying something honestly or feeling like you would add something to the team. It’s all communication and once you get past that aspect of it then you’re fine.”

Of course, Irving wasn’t going to pull back the curtain too far. Pressed on who he had reached out to, he — in very Kyrie fashion — wouldn’t reveal any identities.

"I will never tell you guys. Never tell you guys,” he said. "I like having a mystical wisdom feel, older board of people I like to go to.”

But he did reveal what they taught him.

"Patience. Patience. Patience,” said Irving. "Even for myself, I think at this point in my career it’s not necessarily about my skills or my talent, it’s more about how do I echo greatness to our group every single day and figure out what that looks like for us. That’s been the biggest challenge for me, is just being patient on that end. Really learning my teammates, I think I’ve learned my teammates in the past, but I think knowing them every single day and having fun coming to work is one of the most important things I can do for the rest of my career.”

Irving admitted that it was Boston’s early season struggles that left him searching for advice. As he noted, “Most of the time, you won’t ask for help when everything looks like it’s kind of going to be fine.” So as the Celtics searched for answers amid a maddening 10-10 start to the season, it was Irving who embarked on his own quest to figure out how he could get everyone back on the same page.

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In the NBA, it’s often a team’s best player that is looked to as the leader of a group, but that’s not always a responsibility that a player desires. Irving seems to recognize that he has no choice. Even in a locker room where Marcus Smart can be a vocal presence and Horford can offer veteran guidance, it’s ultimately Irving that the players look to when things go awry.

"I think it’s a little unfair to have that responsibility but the ones that are meant for it are willing to accept it and figure out how they learn best leading a group and just being the best player,” said Irving. "It’s easy to go out and score 27 points, go get it and nothing else really matters and you’re just caring about yourself. 

"When you have to care about a whole entire group, really depend on just learning who you’re playing with every single day, who is coaching you, that relationship, that’s far more important to me now that it is just being able to be the young guy fourth year in the league, fifth year or whatever, trying to get a bunch of points and assists and be in the top standings. As long as we’re winning and we’re up in the top of the teams and my teammates are feeling good, I’m happy.”

Maybe it was only natural that Irving needed a year to find the comfort to express his voice in Boston. Celtics coach Brad Stevens often implores all of his players to be leaders but clearly there’s a new comfort level for Irving in Year 2 that allowed him to embrace the leadership role a bit more.

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“He’s always been good about [leadership],” said Stevens. "I think the other thing is that, when he first came in, I thought he did a great job of just kinda fitting in and making sure that everybody, 1 through 15, knows that he’s invested in them. And that’s all you can do from a leadership standpoint. It starts with being authentic, it starts with investing in people. Then you have a chance to go from there and he’s done all that stuff.”

Echoed Horford: "I think that last season this was new for him. He was getting to know our guys, he was getting to know what we were about. And yeah, he wasn’t as engaged as he is now. Like, now it’s night and day. He was still trying to lead us and things like that but it’s way different and it’s for the better of the group.”

The Celtics have won six straight, they are clawing their way back towards the top of the Eastern Conference, and they’re playing some of their most inspired ball during a stretch of games against lesser competition.

Irving has been sensational all season but his ability to keep the team united amid the early season struggles might be his biggest accomplishment. These young Celtics needs a leader who is comfortable expressing his opinions and guiding younger players. And it’s so very important that it comes from Irving given his elite status in the league.

For the Celtics to truly be great, they needed Irving to evolve as a leader. And he seems to be doing all he can to embrace and evolve in that role.

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Celtics shutting down Horford (knee) for a few games

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Celtics shutting down Horford (knee) for a few games

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Boston Celtics are shutting down big man Al Horford for a few games with a goal of strengthening a bothersome left knee that’s limited his availability recently.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Horford is dealing with patellofemoral pain syndrome and the team is hoping to give him some extended rest in hopes of strengthening the knee and preventing the issue from lingering deep into the season.

"Al’s going to be out probably a few games, just to kinda get this thing feeling a lot better,” Stevens said Wednesday morning at the team’s shootaround on the campus of Georgetown University. “He’s going to be out a little bit but not too long, and just to strengthen and get feeling a lot better. A little bit similar to [Marcus] Morris last year and make sure that he feels great instead of going back and forth like this.”

Horford admitted to seeing the bigger picture in downshifting now in hopes of having him upright when the games matter most later in the year.

“This is something that I don't think any of us want it to linger or continue, and I think that, as much as I want to be on the floor, I do see the big picture,” said Horford. "So this is the time to do it.”

What will he doing during the downtime?

"Just a lot of, besides the soft tissue, a lot of strength work and just really diving into that,” said Horford. “Obviously, we've got a great staff, and that's like the first step until I start getting on the court and doing more things.”

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The good bit of injury news for the Celtics is that Kyrie Irving said his shoulder is fine and he will be back in the starting lineup against the Wizards after sitting out Monday’s win over the Pelicans.

“Feel good,” said Irving. "Just to give it a day of rest. … I think we have a few days off coming off this three-game span that we have, but it’s not too often you get a day to just rest, so, I’ll take it.”

Irving said he had no further imaging on his shoulder and simply took the time to rest after tweaking the AC joint in his right shoulder last week against the Knicks.

A six-game winning streak might have made it easier to give the likes of Irving and Horford rest, but the Celtics are getting chomped on by the injury bug at the moment. Neither Gordon Hayward (illness) nor Guerschon Yabusele (ankle) made the trip to DC, while Aron Baynes (ankle) was going to go through shootaround Wednesday to gauge if he could return to action.

If Baynes is out, the Celtics are mighty shorthanded up front and will continue to lean heavy on Daniel Theis and Robert Williams.

"Well we don’t have a lot of depth at the 5 if Baynes can’t play,” said Stevens. "Baynes is going through our workout and we’ll see. But I’d say that he’s, at the very best, questionable. We do not have a lot of depth there but we have two good players in Daniel and Rob that can fill minutes. Obviously having three guys out at that position is pretty unique.”

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