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2024 NBA Draft Profiles: Kel’el Ware

Can the 7’0″ Indiana big man be the answer to the center question plaguing the Grizzlies?
By Rusty Whitten - June 4, 2024, 8:00 am - 1 comments

The player: Kel’el Ware

The school: Indiana University

The position: Center

The comp: If Jarrett Allen got a hair cut and came with a significant pay cut.

In what might be the most obvious statement ever made on the internet, the Grizzlies need help at the center position.

With Steven Adams vacating the low block, the need for rebounding, rim protection, and a general paint presence has never been more glaring than it was down the stretch of the 2023-24 season. Consistently being out-rebounded night in and night out got very tiresome in what was an overall tough season to watch anyway.

With the Grizzlies needing that help and the payroll only getting higher, could a team friendly draft pick help fill that need? If you ask me, I think so.

While everyone is high on Donovan Clingan, and rightfully so given his career at UCONN and all the hype coming out of his pre-draft workouts, there could be another answer out there not named Zach Edey. Clingan in all likelihood will be long gone by the time Memphis picks at 9th overall, and we have no business hedging the farm to move up into the top 3-4 picks. Edey would be a force due to his sheer size but the Grizzlies do not need another concrete shoe wearing player, I’m looking at you Jake LaRavia, to work around.

A smarter move would be to sit tight at 9th overall or, if the right package is presented, move back later in the first round.

Insert Kel’el Ware.

After a stellar high school career (averaging a triple double), but a slow start at Oregon, the 7’0″ Arkansas native really found his stride at Indiana this year. Ware has always been incredibly athletic – blessed with a 7’4″ wingspan, elite vertical game, and full court speed – Ware could be the answer for the center position for years to come in Memphis. You pair that with a cheap rookie contract and the price could be right for the home team.

After an up and down freshman year at Oregon, Ware found himself in the transfer portal and looking for a second chance to improve his NBA stock. Landing in the Big Ten, a conference known for producing NBA big men, Ware did get that chance at Indiana with coach Mike Woodson. Taking advantage of his new life in Bloomington, Ware was named to the Big Ten’s All Defensive team as well as selected to the Second Team All Big Ten and improved his points per game by 10 points. The big man’s natural athleticism, production, and style of play could fit along side another athletic former Big Ten post player we all know and love in Memphis.


At 7′ and 242 pounds, Kel’el Ware is a bit thin for an NBA center but in his 2 years of college he has already put on 30 pounds, showing his ability to pack on muscle while maintaining elite athleticism, vertical game, and floor shrinking ability on the defensive side. Can his frame still be developed with an NBA strength program?

Survey says yes based on recent growth spurt. Ware’s vertical game was put on display during his sophomore campaign, giving potential for more highlight reel dunks on Beale Street.

At times Ware can be stiff in the hips and quicker players can get him off balance in space, but his length makes up for a lack of defensive footwork at times. Ware is light footed, but strength in his legs and core helped him average just under 10 rebounds per game last year. He is an incredible athlete with rim running ability as he can fly down the court on fast breaks.

A sub 11 second time in the lane agility test shows he can truly move around the court at an elite level. His laid back demeanor will help him on a team with other primary scoring options, but will that turn into low-energy and lethargy on the court? Nothing but upside in his physical attributes as long as he continues to develop into the best version of himself.

So who is Kel’el Ware as a player?


Pairing him with a former DPOY would help lessen the learning curve moving up to the NBA and Jaren would be a perfect mentor. However, on tape the defensive skillset is already there. Rebounding became a strength during his sophomore campaign at Indiana, where he averaged almost 10 boards per game, and would be an immediate needle mover for the Grizzlies in the paint.

With 15 double doubles, including a 17 rebound night back in January, Ware shows a knack for cleaning the glass. Blocking 1.9 shots per game last year warranted his selection to the All-Defensive Big Ten team and would only improve learning from one the NBA’s elite paint defender.

Jaren, who at times struggled with defensive position early in his career, can help bring Ware along in his development on the defensive end. Maybe some trips with Jaren and BC to Cabo are just what he needs to continue his upward trajectory!

Ware struggled against Zach Edey a bit in the 2 games they faced last year, surrendering 26 and 33 points respectively, granted in the latter he got in early foul trouble, so big bodies can give him problems. Ware only averaged 2.0 fouls per game but can get a bit reactionary on defense, leading to bad positioning on closeouts and open lanes for driving shooters.

He slides well laterally but his footwork can be a little rigid at times which limits his ability to defend guards and smaller forwards. In post defense, while shot blocking is a strength for him, his physicality leaves room for improvement – see above stats against known goon Edey.

However, his fundamentals are strong, he understands positioning well, and can get big when boxing out for rebounds. With a 36 inch vertical and above average length, Ware would make true Robin to Jaren’s Batman in the front court for Memphis with the right development. Ware could balance out Jaren’s lack of rebounding and learn from one of the NBA’s best shot blockers. Kel’el has a lot of room for growth but the intangibles are there for him to be a solid NBA defender.


Ware made an incredible jump after transferring to Indiana, increasing his points per game from 6.6 at Oregon to 15.9 at Indiana. Kel’el shot 42% from 3 in his sophomore year, granted only taking 40 shots, but that accuracy is impressive from a 7 footer. He proved effective in catch and shoot situations, scoring in the paint, and creating his own shots off a wide variety of post moves.

A strong hook shot, touch on a turn around fadeaway, and rim attacking ability are but a small example of what Ware brings in his offensive game. Ware’s biggest addition to a team is put backs at the rim, paint scoring, and rim runs – exactly what Memphis was missing last year. His offensive game seems to align well with what the Grizzlies need to get over the hump in the Western Conference.

Kel’el finished last season as a 74.1% rim finisher, averaging more than 2 dunks per game, again showing his best offense is close to the rim. I don’t see him as a lane clogger however as he does have long range ability and can be involved in pick and roll offensive schemes. Ware moves well for his size and seems to understand floor spacing on the offensive end.

Ware has potential to be an effective NBA scorer but will likely not be “the man” on any team. Paired along side great scorer he could be a great option for a drive and kick or fit well on lob heavy team – i.e. Memphis.

Ware doesn’t have elite passing skills yet, his court vision is good for his size and he can help facilitate some. An offense will likely never be ran through Ware, but he can help move the ball and find the open shooter when the defense collapses on him or in run out situations.

Indiana fans and connoisseurs of Big Ten basketball often criticized Ware’s lack of offensive assertiveness and willingness to take over in games. He frustrated the Hoosier nation with inconsistencies on offense.

For example, sandwiched between a 27 point night (on 11-12 shooting from the field) against Wisconsin and a 26 point game against Minnesota, was a 9 point dud where he only took 8 shots and fouled out early. Consistency will have to improve to compete for a job at the next level but what if he was an option and not the option on a team with 3 or 4 guys who can already get you 20+ per night?

Paired along side some random guys I will just throw out there – like maybe Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, and Jaren Jackson, Jr – could Ware be a clean up guy at the rim while providing rebounding and putback points? Again just spitballing here, but could being a lob or kick out option for a driving guard like Morant make Ware a serviceable NBA big? Is there a place on a team looking for offensive tap-out rebounds to shooters like Desmond Bane?

Memphis doesn’t need a center who is required to score 20 a night in order to get a win, sure nights will come where that will be necessary at times, but Ware could blend into a well established core team and be a compliment.

Bottom Line

Kel’el Ware has all the tools and physical attributes of an NBA contributor. His athletic, full court style of play can help a team win on both ends of the court. Rim protection, paint scoring, and rebounding will highlight what he brings to teams early in his career. Ware can really shrink the floor and cover a lot of ground on defense due to his natural athletic abilities.

Can he continue his growth defensively into a premier rim defender for an NBA franchise? The potential is absolutely there and again he only averaged 2.0 fouls per game in college, showing good defensive awareness. However when he did foul, he was often in closeout and catch-and-drive situations. He can play a bit reactive on the defensive end, but again a mentor like Jaren can help him tap further into that potential.

Question marks around his leadership, assertiveness on the offensive end, and light frame will linger until he has time to develop in the NBA. Playing on a team where he doesn’t have to be the main scoring option seems to be the best fit for him at this time. Could that be Memphis?

The Grizzlies currently sit at 11th in total cap space in the NBA. With Ja, Jaren, Desmond, and Marcus at a $20 million plus cap hit, a cheap option at center could be the play. With the average 1st year salary for the 9th overall pick being in the neighborhood of $4.6 million, that seems like good math to a team needing to fill a void in the front court.

Kevin O’Connor has Memphis selecting Ware at that 9th pick in his latest Mock Draft and while most mock’s have him going later, if he is your guy go get him! Could you trade back and get him even cheaper? Probably. However, Kleiman has shown a propensity to go get his guy when he has his mind made up – I won’t mention the wing he moved up to get, but y’all know who I mean – and if it is Ware in this draft I don’t think he will hesitate.

If Clingan is gone, and with realistic expectations I think Kel’el Ware could be a solid pick at the 9th overall spot for Memphis, addressing a much maligned need in the front court. Ware has all the potential to be the rim protecting, rebounding force Memphis has missed in the absence of Steven Adams. Ware has a lot of growth left to do, both physically and in his skill set, but in the right situation could be a solid contributor early on.


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  1. You make a good case. Love the idea of the athletic big man vs. an Edey. The question for me is can he replace the offensive rebounding that Adams provided. That was so huge for our 2nd chance points.