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Follow-up: What’s the next step for Semi Ojeleye?

As the Celtics pick up steam, Semi Ojeleye finds himself out of the rotation. How did that happen?

NBA: Preseason-Boston Celtics at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

In August, I wrote about Semi’s role on the team, or rather, what role he could have if he improves on some things. In short, I felt that the window for Ojeleye to solidify a role on the roster was about to close unless he could evolve into a Jae Crowder-type player with at least average scoring ability to add to his on-ball defense. With such great body control when finishing around the rim, I felt that there was still some room to expand his game on offense. Since then, his minutes have waned. In San Antonio yesterday, they may have vanished.

In three consecutive contests, Javonte Green has seen rotation minutes in place of Semi. Brad Stevens likes to go notoriously deep into his bench, so seeing the presumed 15th man get minutes shouldn’t surprise anyone. At the same time, losing minutes on a team that likes to play 10-plus players deep is a bad sign. Falling out of the Celtics’ rotation means falling to 11th or lower on the depth chart. How did Semi end up down there?

For one, the position he plays is already log-jammed out the door. The Jayward trio (Jays plus Hayward) have all hit the ground running to start the season, taking on a much greater role than last year. Hayward is playing eight more minutes per game, Brown is playing four more, and Tatum three more. The pool of “prove it” minutes dried up quicker than expected with Hayward and Tatum playing at All-Star levels for the first two weeks.

Even with Hayward breaking his hand against the San Antonio Spurs, Green closed out the first half while Semi had to wait until the end of the fourth quarter. In fact, Semi joined Carsen Edwards and Vincent Poirier as the only active players to not play before garbage time.

On the young season, Semi is shooting 25% from the floor and is 0-4 from three. Is this a problem? Think about it.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The correct answer is: No. Grant Williams is shooting 27% from the floor and hasn’t hit any threes in 12 attempts. Poor shooting won’t keep anyone out of Brad’s lineups, but a lack of defense and hustle will. Semi, once deemed the “Giannis stopper,” hasn’t rounded out as the lock-down defender we expected. And with so many players who can comfortably guard multiple positions, Semi’s ripped-bicep defense begins to look a little unspectacular. Being able to switch onto both guards and centers used to make you a unicorn. Now? It’s mandatory.

On the other side of the ball, Semi hasn’t developed an offensive identity. Is he a knock-down shooter from the corner? Is he a slasher? An off-the-dribble mid-range guy? I feel like I know more about Javonte Green’s portfolio in three games than I know about Semi in three years. Green like to slash first, pass second, and only shoot if it’s open.

In addition, Green lets offensive opportunities come to him, while Semi has gone hunting for the deeply cursed fade-away mid-range shot that plagued the team last year. So, is there a connection there? Does the lack of a defined role lead to inefficient shot attempts? I’m sure it does, especially if you can see your minutes slipping away. (To be fair, I said Semi could add a mid-range shot in my past article as a means of establishing himself. But that doesn’t mean I want him to force his offense and take tough shots.)

As Semi slumps, two more forwards have thrived. Just like when Gordon Hayward gets hurt, the Jays put the team on their back, almost as if they’ve done it before. That’s the NBA for you.

Sometimes it takes a few years for a player to define themselves in the league. Javonte Green is 26-years-old. But if Green’s path is any indication, Semi might have to do some soul searching before he can re-emerge as an NBA contributor.

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