Semi Ojeleye was dubbed one of best value picks of the draft when he was taken in the second round by the Celtics. With a body that belongs in Gold’s Gym and a sweet-looking jumper, it’s still quite puzzling how he slipped that far.
Nonetheless, the acquisition of Ojeleye has a chance to be a critical transaction for the Celtics. That seems weird to say for a team that has acquired stars such as Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward while employing Al Horford on the roster, and ultimately, it could prove to be an exaggeration. However, as presently constructed, the Celtics biggest questions as a team are defense, rebounding, and shooting. Though the roster has players that may be able to fill those holes, there’s still questions regarding how well they can actually do it.
After the Celtics lost out on the Andrew Bogut, the questions about who will play reserve mins at the 5 are still looming large. Despite reports that the Celtics are leaning towards starting Horford at the 5, Stevens has traditionally liked to start games big, and that would make Baynes the most logical starting partner.
The Celtics have also been reluctant over the years to add dinosaur bigs to their roster who can’t do much besides rebounding or being clogs in the paint. With those type of qualifications, the free agent market is even more scarce and the need for a current Celtic to step up grows by the day. Enter Semi Ojeleye.
How does Semi get on the floor?
Ball. You. Man.
The bedrock of any good defender relies on his ability to know where those three things are at all times. Semi Ojeleye was proved to be one of college’s best defenders. Whether he was defending wings or bigs, Ojeleye is one of the most technically sound defenders you’ll find. Despite his size he’s able to move quickly laterally and he’s awesome at using his size to keep bigger opponents from establishing deep post possession against him.
Ojeleye’s play on the defensive end as already caught the eye of coach Brad Stevens, “I think what he’s doing translates, his flexibility defensively is going to be enormous. I think that he will compete to be one of our better defenders right out the gate.”
That’s big praise coming from the man who will be directly responsible for how much we’ll see Ojeleye play. It's also intriguing that this praise came after a game against the Lakers in which he was tasked with defending 7’1 center Ivica Zubac. The matchup was interesting because it showcased how Ojeleye’s massive strength combined with his shooting touch could prove to be his calling card to get on the court, but also a key x-factor for a team that could use one in its frontcourt. The ingredient is simple: Ojeleye keeps bigger post players out of paint with strength, then on the other end keeps them away from the rim by hovering at the three point line and draining the open looks.
Combine that with his ability to move his feet when hedging or ICE’ing PnR’s and you have yourself a potential two-way stud that would give coaches who let their post-scoring bigs run second units a lot of trouble.
But there are some limitations
Despite Ojeleye’s Draymond Green-esque style of play on the defensive end, offensively he’ll be mostly a non-factor. At SMU, he was a willing passer, which is a positive, but he’s not a playmaker and things got a little hectic whenever he tried to create anything on his own.
Despite his size, Ojeleye is still only about 6’7 and without any real offensive moves doing anything except shooting three’s and attacking closeouts will not be advised. Also, though his defense in the summer league was great against bigs, those are nowhere near the level of centers he’ll face on second units. His play against the likes of Greg Monroe, Al Jefferson, Jahlil Okafor, etc. will be a big factor in determining whether he’s a situational defender who won’t play every night or a key rotation guy capable of playing more than Aron Baynes.
So what should we expect?
It’s important to keep Ojeleye’s evaluation in the context of what he’s being asked to do, which is to play defense and hit spot-up shots. Anything outside of that is probably asking a bit too much for him at this stage of his development. With the amount of creators this Celtics team now has, the need for guys to do much outside of their roles has dwindled. If Ojeleye can play the role as a guy who moves like a wing, defends bigs, and can shoot, he’ll give Boston something not many teams have. That’s more than enough for a guy who was taken in the second round.