In the current state of the world, filling open positions is difficult. But, is there a point when you can admit defeat and move on from a failed experiment or bad fit? Enter the Milwaukee Bucks and Semi Ojeleye.
Full disclosure, from the day one, I was not a fan of the move. Even at the one year, veteran minimum salary price tag. However, coming off an NBA Championship season you tend to give a General Manager the benefit of the doubt.
Coming from a talented team like Boston, was he just buried on the roster and needed a chance? His stat line did leave a lot to be desired, even coming off of a season where he set multiple career high marks. Highs including games started (15), minutes per game (17.0), effective field goal percentage (.534), offensive (1.7) and defensive (2.1) rebounds per game and also points per game (4.6), according to Basketball Reference. However, he was signed to help replace the hole that PJ Tucker left, when he departed for Miami.
Semi by the Numbers
Looking at his defensive rating for this season according to NBA.com, it stands at 109.4. That means per 100 possessions, he allows approximately 109 points. When compared to players that have played in a minimum of 14 games (the total Semi has played this season), he compares to the likes of Grant Williams of Boston, Jerami Grant of Detroit and Robin Lopez of Orlando. He falls slightly worse than Pascal Siakam of Toronto who is at 109.2 and two spots higher on the list. The only Bucks worse in defensive rating are Thanasis Antetokounmpo and Sandro Mamukelashvili.
The litmus test for this pickup was trying to replace the defense of PJ Tucker. Not the greatest defender in the league, but gritty, tough and throws you off your game and makes you work for everything. Again according to NBA.com, last season, PJ’s defensive rating was 118.7. That rating is abysmal compared to the 109.4 Ojeleye is putting up this season. And even worse compared to Semi’s 107 rating in 2020-21. Tucker was so poorly rated last season, he was 421st on a list of 466 players with a 14 game minimum. Comparative players: Karl Anthony-Towns in Minnesota and Torrey Craig in Milwaukee/Phoenix. His saving grace, however, was how he stepped up in the playoffs to guard some of the best players the league has to offer.
Even with limited minutes this season due to injury, Ojeleye still doesn’t pass the eye test for me. Perhaps I am noticing him more on the offensive side, missing shots.
Torrey Craig is a recent example of a player that was “given up on” early. When traded to the Suns, he had only played in 18 of the Bucks 40 games. While almost half of a season is a long time, playing in less than half and not producing did not help. His offense was abysmal, shooting 39% while only playing 11.2 minutes per game and averaging only 2.5 points per game. He would end the season 159th in offensive rating, on the compiled list of 466, and tied with Tucker in defensive rating as stated previously.
Compare those numbers to Ojeleye, 3.2 points per game in 18.2 minutes per game on 22.2% shooting as of this writing. That is in 14 games, if he plays in the next 5 games on the schedule he will match the 40 games that Craig was on the roster last season. However he will have played in one more game. I don’t see the possibility of him drastically improving his shooting percentage, but it should go up. As should his points per game.
The precedent is there for an “early” departure, but who would replace him?
Free agent options are drastically limited. Point proven with teams bringing back players that haven’t played in the league for years (Greg Monroe). So what about internal options? For size and position, the likes of Thanasis and Mamukelashvili are playing less minutes and could fit the Power Forward position. Mamu is young and Thanasis is all over the place. If I had to choose, Mamu would be the direction I would go.
In 17 games and 11.2 minutes per game, Mamu’s points per game are .3 higher and his Player Impact Estimate is drastically higher at 7.6 vs Ojeleye’s 2.2. I would believe his rebounding statistics would improve to around Ojeleye’s current level given the extra 7.5 minutes per game. His defense would definitely need to improve to make it a viable option as well. He currently sits 356th of 384 players with a defensive rating of 113.2. That rating isn’t far behind the likes of Torrey Craig and Christian Wood of Houston. The Christian Wood and the Bucks situation is still a sore subject.
Realistically, I would like to see a trade for another big man. Someone like Myles Turner for long term control, or for expiring contract and length on a bad team Mo Bamba.
Due to the current state of the NBA, finding long term help on the Free Agency market will almost be impossible. Who knows what the trading block will look like come February. With the financial restrictions the Bucks have, my dreams may have to wait until the offseason, when Semi is no longer on the roster and it won’t matter any more.