Semi Ojeleye looks like the brainchild of an overzealous NBA2K MyPlayer. Biceps? 100. Triceps? 100. Thickness? 100. Even his full name is thick: Jesusemilore Talodabijesu Ojeleye. Coming out of SMU, Ojeleye looked like your typical 3&D guy. After transferring from Duke, he was the 2017 American Athletic Conference’s Player of the Year, averaging 19 points per game and hitting 42.4% from behind the arc. A projected first round pick last summer, Ojeleye slipped into the second round, the Celtics nabbed him at #37, and he became a reliable contributor in his rookie season.
Don’t look at Semi’s stats to measure his value. Even in his most active stretch to close the season when he averaged 23.2 minutes per game, he was only averaging 4.3 points and 3.4 rebounds. At the beginning of the year when his minutes were spotty and inconsistent, his three-point shooting was the same. He hovered under the Mendoza line of 33%, but when his number was called in March and April, he caught fire from behind the arc and hit 45.8% of his 1.6 3FGA’s.
However, Ojeleye’s calling card was his defensive versatility. He doesn’t have the pesky on-ball sticktoitiveness of Avery Bradley or the unpredictable gambling mentality of Marcus Smart. Ojeleye is more like a concrete highway barrier on a hyperboard, swiftly and solidly guiding traffic away from the paint with his quick feet and upper Body By Jake. In the playoffs, his ability to slide down to the 4 and cover superstars like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ben Simmons, and LeBron James gave Brad Stevens the freedom to move Horford to the 5 and the Celtics to play small.
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.
For now, he’s a specialist and a good one at that. 66.4% of Ojeleye’s shot attempts were threes and while he seemed to have broken through that confidence barrier by the end of the year, he’ll have to prove it again next season. It’ll be tough to crack the lineup, but don’t think that Ojeleye won’t be ready. By the Eastern Conference Finals, his minutes dwindled down into the single digits as Marcus Morris took on the bulk of the responsibility of defending LeBron, but that relief pitcher role could fall solely on Semi’s broad shoulders in his sophomore season. Sorry, not “broad shoulders.” I meant THICK JACKED FRAME.