Indiana’s Kel’el Ware has the athleticism and shooting potential to be a steal for the Knicks at the end of the first round.

Kel’el Ware, a 20-year-old native of North Little Rock, AR, spent two years of his college career at two different schools. He enrolled at Oregon his freshman year, where he served as the backup center, putting up 6.6 points and 4.1 rebounds per game in limited action. Ware chose to be a Duck over offers from his hometown University of Arkansas, among other schools. Ware even turned down a two-year/$900k deal from the newly formed Overtime Elite. Unfortunately, Ware didn’t get a ton of run under Dana Altman and decided to transfer after a disappointing 2022-23 campaign in Eugene.

The seven-footer would become an Indiana Hoosier and drastically improve his game, with his numbers jumping up to 15.9 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. Ware also showed off an ability to stretch the floor and shoot from the outside, knocking down 42.5% of his 4o three-point attempts. Although a small sample size, his ability to shoot at that size makes NBA coaches salivate thinking of how they can build on his natural talent.

After a bounce-back season as a sophomore, Ware decided to put his hat in the ring for the NBA Draft as one of the higher-upside prospects we have in 2024. The combination of athleticism, size and strength make him a potential steal in the later half of the first round.

Strengths

As mentioned previously, Kel’el Ware has proven he has the ability to shoot the three and has displayed great fluidity on his jump shot, even the turnaround. So many college centers are plodding, back-to-the-basket giants but Ware is smooth and could potentially be a three-level scorer at the next level. Ware also has great hands to go along with his 7-foot-0, 230-pound frame, allowing him to be a great rebounder and shot blocker. Despite his height, Ware is also well-built and not too slender like many frontcourt prospects, giving him the ability to bang around down low in the Association without getting injured or pushed around.

His drastic improvement from his freshman to sophomore year also shows a tremendous upside that a lot of college players don’t have. The fact that he recently just turned 20 makes him a younger prospect with more prime years in his future.

Weaknesses

Watching Ware play, you don’t see a guy who is very vocal or emotional on the floor. He is more of a laid-back type of player, lacking visible intensity. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but there are questions if he has the drive to reach his ceiling, as he looks to be going through the motions sometimes rather than attacking the game. The main reason why he fell out of favor at Oregon was due to his lack of urgency to get better and work hard. This all could just be a product of him being a bit immature and isn’t a fatal flaw but definitely something to keep an eye on if you’re an NBA GM.

Consistency and ability to defend are also somewhat of a concern for Ware, who didn’t display great defensive instincts while guarding face-to-face. Ware has the physical talent and just needs to learn the game more, so it might take him a little while to get going in the NBA and reach his full potential, especially defensively. But at a young age, there will be patience exercised with him.

Fit with Knicks

The New York Knicks could be in the market for a big as Isaiah Hartenstein enters free agency and Mitchell Robinson faces durability questions that could lead to a trade. If I-Hart departs, the frontcourt rotation will be very thin. Ware could solve a big issue, bringing in a combo of size and shooting, something the Knicks could use. There’s a reason why the Knicks have been linked to stretch four, the Utah Jazz’s Lauri Markkanen.

Danny Ainge’s asking price for Markkanen will likely be astronomical and if the Knicks want to invest in a cheaper stretch four, Ware is their guy. Surrounding Ware with some vets to show him the ropes will be essential, as it doesn’t make sense to leave him on an island in the frontcourt, but could develop into a key piece for the ‘Bockers in the coming years.

Also, how many coaches do a better job of getting the best out of their players like Tom Thibodeau? If Ware becomes lackadaisical or needs a nice kick in the pants to really reach his full potential, Thibs will gladly light a fire under him and make sure he is giving everything he has. Hard coaching might be best for Ware considering the questions surrounding him.

With Kel’el Ware expected to be available at the 24th or 25th overall selection, this union could be just as good for Ware personally as it is for the Knicks, assuming he can fully tap into his immense talent.

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