Semi Ojeleye has been the subject of much scrutiny among Milwaukee Bucks fans as of late. His signing, first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, came on the heels of the heartbreaking news of PJ Tucker’s move to the Miami Heat after ostensibly questionable choices by team ownership.
And instead of welcoming the 26-year-old as the team’s latest signing, pundits immediately made him out to be Tucker’s cheap replacement.
Free agent F Semi Ojeleye has agreed to a one-year deal with the Milwaukee Bucks, his agent Sean Kennedy of @excelbasketball tells ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) August 3, 2021
How valid are the comparisons really, and what does the Bucks’ new acquisition bring to the table?
Here’s a quick look at what Milwaukee Bucks fans can expect from the 37th pick in the 2017 NBA draft this season.
He can defend—just not the way Tucker can
In the wake of Ojeleye’s signing, fans immediately drew comparisons to his predecessor in PJ Tucker. The similarities are clear: they’re strong, stout forwards who can (on paper) switch on the perimeter and in the paint. Bucks fans know him well for his job at shutting down Giannis in the 2018 playoffs. The 240 lb Ojeleye is also an inch taller than Tucker while being just as, if not more muscular than his predecessor. On the defensive end, the season he put in for Boston was at the very least promising.
Semi was touted as the Boston Celtics’ next 3-and-D role player, but to wildly mixed results as evidenced by his limited minutes during his Boston tenure. Although he has the physical tools to be a defensive pest on paper, they haven’t translated on the basketball court just yet.
Most recently, he posted a 107.8 defensive rating in 17.0 minutes per game in his 56 games for the Celtics last season. That was actually third among Celtics players who posted at least 10 minutes per game. Per PBP Stats, the Boston Celtics also had a better defensive rating (109.91 points per 100) in the 950 minutes Ojeleye played this season versus the 2526 they played without him (114.02).
Unfortunately, this isn’t saying much, as Boston was a middle-of-the-pack defensive team for most of the year and finished with a 13th-ranked 111.8 defensive rating.
It’s tough to imagine Ojeleye bringing the same defensive impact to this Bucks team. Tucker carved out an important role with his defensive toughness and patented dog mentality night in and night out and was routinely tasked with guarding the opposition’s best scorer in the playoffs. Ojeleye, who hasn’t solidified his place in the league just yet, will have a lot to prove.
Ojeleye might be the better scorer
Unfortunately, his problem is not on the defensive side of the ball.
On paper, Ojeleye sports the potential to be a better offensive player. After all, Tucker only put up 3.7 points and 3.9 rebounds per game on .388/.322/.750 splits with the Bucks. In contrast, Semi posted norms of 4.6 points and 2.6 boards per game on .403/.367/.750 efficiency.
However, his offensive potential hasn’t translated outside of individual statistics. The Celtics actually scored more as a team (115.64 points per 100 possessions) with Ojeleye off the floor versus when he played (110.69). They also had a higher net rating with Semi on the bench (+1.62) than on the floor (+0.78) according to PBP Stats.
The reason for this is that Ojeleye’s statistics have not eclipsed league average numbers so far, even if they are higher than Tucker’s. According to NBA.com shooting data, Ojeleye shot 14/37 (37.8%) on left corner threes but 13/39 (33.3%) from the right corner. As a result, opposing defenses are less likely to respect his shooting and closeout to him on the perimeter.
His versatility is the biggest concern as 71.5% of his shot attempts were three-pointers. Shot creation and off-ball offense seem to be nonexistent for him, as evidenced by his 179 jump shot attempts versus 33 layups and six dunks for the season. Ball-handling is also not one of Ojeleye’s strengths, which leaves floor-spacing and rim-running as his prime assets to an offensive system.
Although Semi looks like a better scorer on production alone, it’s clear he has a ways to go to reach the level of Tucker as an offensive threat, even if he did put up better numbers last year.
Semi Ojeleye helped lead us to a 120-106 victory over the Raptors, with his career-high performance of 24 points. pic.twitter.com/UOCEYpjg3J
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) February 12, 2021
‘Energy and effort’ leave much to be desired
With a team already sporting Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, though, scoring shouldn’t be the main facet of his role on the Bucks. If Ojeleye is to be a replacement of sorts for Tucker, he will have to impact games elsewhere, both as a defender and as an energy player.
Unfortunately, his hustle stats are nothing to write home about, which means his motor is generally suspect. Despite his physical abilities, he only averaged less than one deflection, loose ball recovered, screen assist, and charge drawn per 36 minutes while attempting just five putbacks on the season. He did, however, put up a decent 7.0 contested shots per 36 minutes.
There are few signs for optimism with Ojeleye. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Boston Celtics rebounded 27.9% of their misses when Ojeleye played the power forward position. He was good for the 78th percentile in that category.
In theory, these lapses should be fixable. But one would be right to wonder why a Brad Stevens-led coaching staff couldn’t have gotten more out of the athletic forward given all his physical tools.
More than just shooters, it’s hustle players like Pat Connaughton, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, and Donte DiVincenzo who tend to excel in head coach Mike Budenholzer’s system. Defense, size, and gang rebounding won the Milwaukee Bucks an NBA championship just weeks ago, after all.
The difference is that neither of the two aforecited guards have the physical wherewithal that Ojeleye does. If he’s able to consistently lock in as a hustle guy, he would be a fine addition to a Bucks team looking to defend its title.
The potential is there, but there’s work to be done
Per NBA.com/stats, Ojeleye’s best defensive season came in 2018-19 when he conceded just 100.2 points per 100 possessions in his 10.6 minutes per game. It’s a small sample size to be sure, but that defensive rating would have been sixth in the league among forwards who played at least ten minutes.
Though he only played small forward for 12% of his minutes, opposing teams scored 99.5 points per 100 possessions in those minutes. This statistic was good for the 98th percentile in the league, per Cleaning the Glass.
His offensive versatility is cause for concern, but the signs also point to good things later on. Per NBA Stats, Ojeleye is in the 10th percentile on cutting plays, the 21st percentile as the roll man, but also the 54th percentile in spot-ups and the 94th percentile in transition.
None of this is to say that Ojeleye is the next PJ Tucker nor that he’s a bad player. He’s still an incredibly raw prospect who the Celtics simply could not afford to wait on anymore as he just never strung together enough games to warrant more rotational minutes with the Celtics. But there are signs that point to him being a decent performer in the NBA later on.
This is only to say that the potential is there, and it would be premature for fans to write him off right away. Ojeleye has all the tools he needs to be a defensive force and a decent shooter and inside presence.
It’s all a matter of effort and consistency from here on out. Luckily, he’ll have an entire season to figure it out with the defending champions. A lot of things will have to go right for his Bucks tenure to be a positive one for both himself and the team.
Fit is there, but fans should temper expectations for Ojeleye
Today’s NBA values switchable 3&D wings, especially ones that come in team-friendly price tags. Ojeleye, who is just okay at both the 3 and the D, will be carrying the weight of expectations coming into his first year into the Bucks. Mike Budenholzer’s coaching staff is also not the best at developing young talent, and a lack of minutes may only be to Ojeleye’s detriment.
But what they do excel at, though, is getting players to commit to their roles. They particularly make the most of their defensive, floor-spacing wings; just take a look at the roles Pat Connaughton and PJ Tucker played in the NBA Finals.
All things considered, though, Ojeleye and what he brings to the table can absolutely fit what this team needs moving forward. Rediscovering his niche, getting his three-point percentage up, and defending with urgency and without fouling should be Semi’s points of focus this offseason. A 6-foot-6 athletic powerhouse like Ojeleye has no business attempting just six dunks in 56 games.
If Ojeleye is able to shine in his role as a defensive-minded floor-spacer, Bucks fans should have no problem moving forward from the 36-year-old Tucker. In the meantime, though, it wouldn’t be fair to expect him to fill the shoes of Tucker, who has played in the league for over a decade now. To label him a cheap mimicry of Tucker would be nothing short of unfair.
Follow me on Twitter at @BucksGotNext for more great content! Check out our merch page here and use promo code WISCO the get $1 off! To read more of our articles and keep up to date on the latest in Wisconsin sports, click here.