Will Semi Ojeleye Be an Ace-in-the-Hole or a Joker Against the Bucks
Semi Ojeleye (pronounced “SHEH-mee” “O-jih-LAY” in case Marv Albert is wondering) is the biggest wild card in a series of wild cards. Semi, who is built like something you would get when you maxed out the muscle meter in NBA2K’s Create-a-Player, is the rare player who has the size and speed to at least slow down probable NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Boston Celtics chances against the Milwaukee Bucks are going to come down to whether the Celtics can somewhat hinder the Greek Freak. Notice, at no point, am I saying “stop.” As the old adage goes, you cannot stop him, you can only hope to contain him. Semi Ojeleye happens to be the wild card the Celtics are hoping can do just that.
Ojeleye is a true wild card for this series. He could be the most important player in the series… or he could barely register any minutes. He played all of 28 seconds in the Celtics first-round sweep of the Indiana Pacers. And yet, against the Bucks, you are more than likely going to see Brad Stevens and the Celtics rely upon a guy who is averaging three points a game in his career. The reason is simple; Semi Ojeleye is the closest thing in the NBA to an Antetokounmpo stopper, especially in the playoffs.
Last year the Celtics beat the Bucks because they threw body after body at Antetokounmpo. Instead of those bodies getting smaller and less effective as you see with most benches, the Celtics essentially said, “we have a Hulk.” What makes Semi Ojeleye such a valuable counter against Antetokounmpo is his muscle combined with rare speed and agility. That combination is part of the reason Boston eliminated Milwaukee. That and Stevens’ willingness to simply use his resident muscle man as much as possible.
In fact, he guarded the Bucks’ point-center on 142 possessions–second most on the team behind Al Horford’s 161. On those 142 possessions, Ojeleye held Antetokounmpo to just 38 points on 51.5% shooting and nine assists while forcing a pair of turnovers. Ojeleye was a net negative in the series, but Stevens’ kept going back to him. Not only did Semi slow down Antetokounmpo most of the time he was guarding him, but the mere fact he was the primary defender on 142 occasions meant Al Horford could rest a little bit.
The most important factor for Ojeleye and the Celtics this series is the number six; the six fouls he can give while guarding Antetokounmpo. It is no easy task to slow down the Greek Freak, especially when he is getting more free throws than entire teams. But for Ojeleye and the Celtics to have any hope of defeating the Bucks, Semi is going to have to use that six fouls wisely. The main problem for the Celtics though is that Giannis is not the same player they faced last season and the Bucks are not the same team.
Last year the Bucks received great production from players like Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon. They have both steadily increased their level of play this season. Milwaukee took what was a very good team in 2018 and added to it this season. They took a flier on Pau Gasol in the offseason to help spread the floor for Antetokounmpo and that is exactly what happened. Not content with just being one of the best teams in the league, Milwaukee pulled the trigger at the trading deadline and brought in Nikola Mirotic. All those additions turned a very good team into a practical Eastern Conference juggernaut.
None of that would have been possible though if their star player did not personally try turning his body into the actual Juggernaut. One of the knocks on Antetokounmpo, before he came into the league, was that he was too skinny and players would be able to knock him off of his spot. His response was to get yoked as the younguns like to say. He has added 51 pounds of muscle since getting drafted and put in noticeable work this offseason.
All that is to say, he may have created his own Semi-Antidote. What do you do when one of the only guys that can legitimately guard you has a muscle and strength advantage over you? Add muscle. Normally that means you slow down. But this is the Greek Freak. He added all this muscle and has not lost a step (and may actually be even faster than last year).
So the Celtics have a problem. It stands just under 7-foot tall and now weighs 242 pounds of pure muscle. But does Boston have an answer with their 6’7 241-pound wing? The man with nicknames like “The Ox,” “The Man Made of Granite” and “Thor?” Last year, Semi Ojeleye was the wild card that turned into an ace-in-the-hole for Brad Stevens. This year could be a different story though; The Greek Freak might simply be too good at this point in his career. It may be that the only thing the Celtics can do at this point is to pray. I guess it is a good thing they have “Muscles Jesus” on their side.