Ware-Abouts: What To Make of Kel'el Ware
FEATURING: Oregon's Freshman Big Man, Kel'el Ware | INCLUDING: Comparisons to Kel'el's situation in Oregon
Within recent draft classes, there have been some questionable commitments to universities. The way that they have been evaluated in those situations has been less than ideal. Does their decision-making weigh that into their evaluations, with kind of a tough love mentality? Should the data be thrown out when the fit between team and player is an obvious travesty? Is there more nuance? The answer to those questions will vary from evaluator to evaluator, but the marriage between team and player feels like it is more at the forefront of prospect evaluation than ever before.
We’ve seen recent examples of poor fit and insufficient playing time from prospects but, more and more, it does not stop them from entering their names in the draft. Despite not being utilized to their strengths or realizing their preseason expectations, certain players have been taken in the first round based on their high school film. The evaluations based on what they could look like in a better situation, or simply where they were graded coming into the year, have offered NBA front offices a sense of security when it comes to drafting some of the more mysterious players in prior classes.
Kel’el Ware is one of the players in the current class that will likely fall into this category of player. The fit hasn’t been as ideal as many would have hoped. The role likely isn’t what was pitched to Ware when he was being recruited to Oregon as a top prospect in the class. The depth at his position has proven to be a challenge for him in terms of finding a consistent role. The roster composition doesn’t accentuate Ware’s perceived strengths. With that, Ware’s evaluation should be handled differently. Part of the evaluation process is looking at what has, or has not, worked for others. Taking a look at some previously drafted players in comparison to Ware may help in how we scout him. In the interest of time, we’ll only compare Ware and his situation to two draft picks that were taken in the first round last cycle: Jalen Duren and Peyton Watson.
Ware and Duren
When evaluating Kel’el Ware, we really need to look at the advanced numbers versus the raw counting stats. Ware plays just over 19 minutes per game, and he has only started four of Oregon’s 20 games played. In comparison, Duren did start all 29 games that he played at Memphis, but he only logged 25.3 minutes per game. Regardless of his preseason projections (he was #5 in the 2022 Draft Class IPOs), his coach, Penny Hardaway, used him in a deep center rotation that impacted his minutes. Duren also didn’t play with the caliber of point guard that he would likely have in the NBA; he didn’t have someone that could get him the ball in ideal spots on the floor. This hampered how he was evaluated by some.
By the time the season ended, Duren was 11th in terms of $DRFT rankings. The difference in being graded as the fifth and 11th best player in a draft class is significant, as Duren would eventually be taken late in the lottery with the 13th pick. The point: his situation and roster composition impacted his draft stock. The raw numbers didn’t point to a lottery-level talent, but he did a great job of controlling his opportunities. When he was on the floor, he impacted the game in ways that weren’t dependent upon anything outside of himself. Fit, teammates, role—none of those things took away from his explosive finishing, rebounding, shot-blocking, and intriguing passing flashes. These moments—the ones that are in the control of the player—are the ones that we need to dissect the most. To establish a baseline as to the type of season Duren had, we’ll take a look at some of his advanced numbers.
Minutes Percentage- 55.5
Offensive Rating- 109.5
Usage Percentage- 23.0
Effective Field Goal Percentage- 59.7
True Shooting Percentage- 60.8
Offensive Rebounding Percentage- 14.0
Defensive Rebounding Percentage- 21.5
Assist Percentage- 10.5
Turnover Percentage- 21.6
Block Percentage- 9.9
Steal Percentage- 1.8
Two Point Percentage- 60.0
Three Point Percentage- 0.0 (0/1)
There is a lot to unpack there. The key takeaways: despite the limited role (as indicated by minutes percentage), Duren was very effective in his scoring opportunities, he rebounded at a very respectable rate, he displayed an aptitude for passing, he was a capable rim deterrent, he put incredible pressure on the rim, and he could convert on difficult, self-created post looks.
Duren is already proving to be more valuable to the Detroit Pistons than where he was selected, as he is ranked ninth on Nathan Grubel’s most recent Rookie Rankings.
Taking his situation into context, it was apparent that he was making a sizable impact on the Memphis Tigers and would become more impactful in a more modernized offense. With that being said, how can we compare him to Ware?
Ware’s stats (as of January 22nd) in the same fields are as follows:
Minutes Percentage- 47.5
Offensive Rating- 107.6
Usage Percentage- 20.8
Effective Field Goal Percentage- 49.2
True Shooting Percentage- 53.2
Offensive Rebounding Percentage- 7.0
Defensive Rebounding Percentage- 18.3
Assist Percentage- 7.5
Turnover Percentage- 13.6
Block Percentage- 8.6
Steal Percentage- 1.1
Two Point Percentage- 50.6
Three Point Percentage- 30.8 (12/39)
There are some notable differences in how Ware’s numbers stack up to Duren’s. Now, there is additional context to take into consideration here. Duren was (and is) much more of an around-the-basket prospect, with a physique that was NBA-ready from day one. Ware, on the other hand, is believed to be more of a finesse big with the capability to stretch out the defense. Duren was more of a focal point for Memphis, with a more consistent role despite having similar minutes and usage percentages.
With that being said, Ware doesn’t seem to have the same level of consistency that Duren displayed in areas that are under his control. The finishing numbers aren’t as impressive, the rebounding isn’t as dominant, and the pressure he puts on the defense isn’t at the same level. Ware does display a knack for turning shots away, and he has shown himself to be a capable ball mover. We’ll take a look at these areas in the film dive later in the article.
Ware and Watson
Peyton Watson was also a highly regarded prospect when he committed to UCLA. RSCI recognized him as the 8th-best prospect in his 2021 class. No Ceilings IPOs show Watson as the 10th highest prospect in how the consensus viewed him. He would go on to play 32 games for the Bruins (starting none), playing 12.7 minutes per game—not exactly the role and playing time many envisioned for him. Similar to Ware, Watson had to deal with the depth around him. Regarded as a player that could play a multitude of positions, UCLA played Jaime Jaquez Jr., Johnny Juzang, Jules Bernard, Tyger Campbell, Cody Riley, Jaylen Clark, Myles Johnson, and David Singleton in more significant roles than the younger Watson. With the exception of Jaylen Clark (a sophomore at the time), all of those players were either juniors or seniors.
UCLA’s prestigious history and routinely high expectations would ultimately outweigh the importance of the development of Watson’s game. His stock would plummet because of it. By the time the final $DRFT rankings were finalized, Watson would be viewed as the 44th prospect in his class—with some outlets assessing him to be outside their Top 60. Ultimately, Watson’s preseason stock and high school film would be enough be him to sneak into the first round as he was taken 30th overall.
Unlike the aforementioned Jalen Duren, Watson’s film was less encouraging. His defensive instincts were shown in flashes. He showed some promising passing prowess in the limited opportunities he was able to create. He rebounded decently, but nothing spectacular. His shooting and overall efficiency were extremely concerning. Overall, Watson’s time at UCLA was a nightmare to have to evaluate—let alone for him to play. His numbers reflect that entirely:
Minutes Percentage- Unavailable
Offensive Rating- 85.6
Usage Percentage- 20.8
Effective Field Goal Percentage- 35.2
True Shooting Percentage- 39.4
Offensive Rebounding Percentage- 8.1
Defensive Rebounding Percentage- 18.7
Assist Percentage- 11.0
Turnover Percentage- 18.4
Block Percentage- 5.5
Steal Percentage- 2.8
Two Point Percentage- 35.6
Three Point Percentage- 22.6 (7/31)
Truly a brutal season. When comparing Ware’s situation to Watson’s, Ware is utilized more often than Watson ever was—in terms of minutes and role. Despite his own concerns, Ware is also showing to be a more efficient player. Ware is averaging 6.0 field goal attempts per game compared to the 3.7 Watson averaged at UCLA. Keeping context in mind, Watson was used more exclusively as a perimeter-oriented player. While we compared Ware to Duren to share how team fit can complicate things, the Ware-to-Watson comparison highlights the way usage and role can impact players.
Comparing proven outcomes can be a large part of an analyst’s draft philosophy, but the film should be the foundation. That’s what we’ll look at next, with the emphasis being on areas of the game that are more difficult to discount—areas of the game that are within Ware’s control.
Ware has some very interesting tools that could help him become a contributor on the offensive side of the ball. What makes Kel’el such a tough evaluation is that, while the tools can be interesting, the production isn’t where it needs to be. We’ve touched on the efficiency numbers, but now we’ll take a look at why the numbers fall where they do.
To start, Ware is not where he should be—in terms of physicality. Though reported at 7 feet tall, he is also listed at 210 pounds. That is not where an NBA team is going to want him to be. When discussing Brandon Miller, I’ve mentioned he can only get so much stronger while we watch him this season. The odds are he’s probably not going to improve that much in that area during the season. The same philosophy applies here to Ware. When watching him, you wish that he could be more physical—but that is only going to come later. It’s also worth stating that it isn’t a guarantee that he will. I’ll add, I typically apply a “they will get stronger” mindset to the class as a whole (depending on age and class) to keep all things even between prospects.
Be that as it may, the struggles he does have when things get physical is glaring. The majority of the concerns that exist in his game come back to strength.
This possession encapsulates so many possessions we’ve seen from Ware this season. On this play, Will Richardson (#0) has the ball on the perimeter with Villanova’s big man, Eric Dixon (#43) on him. Obviously, this is taking place after a switch. Ware has position and a size advantage on Chris Arcidiacono (#4). Ware has a +7 inch height advantage, with Arcidiacono weighing in at 196 pounds—about 14 pounds less than Ware. Ware gets the ball, takes a dribble, and gets into a jump hook. Easy bucket.
There are a couple of things I want to point out here: 1) Kel’el has the matchup he wants and makes the shot. 2) He makes the shot.
However, this play represents something we see often with Ware. Even with the ideal matchup, he doesn’t pursue the basket with a ton of aggression. All too often when Ware is challenged in the paint, he puts up a shot while moving away from the rim. There haven’t been many times that you’ll see Kel’el look to get to a shot while continuing toward the hoop.
This clip is more indicative of the types of possessions Ware would look to have against a traditional matchup. Again, Richardson starts with the ball here—this time from the top of the key. As he drives to the rim, UCLA’s defense walls him off. Richardson picks up his dribble and makes a good pass to Kel’el on the block. Ware, defended by Kenneth Nwuba (#14), takes a dribble to get into rhythm and faces up. Nwuba is shorter (6’9”) but heavier (255 pounds). Our guy tries to get into an up-and-under—looking to move Nwuba off of his spot. It does not happen. After this unsuccessful attempt, Nwuba has Ware on his heels, which forces a bad shot that misses short.
This is where improving in strength could make him more of a problem for defenders. As it stands, Ware spends about 48% of his time at the rim (per Synergy). That only ranks in the 48th percentile among all college players. When you get into the different types of play finishes Ware has put up this season, these numbers really speak to what is shown when he is challenged physically.
In layup opportunities, Kel’el is in the 73rd percentile (Very Good). When it comes to dunks, he grades out in the 15th percentile (Poor). What we’re dealing with here is a very combustible mixture of ingredients that have resulted in an unstable interior game for the young big man.
But Ware does have the tools to provide some semblance of a presence on the interior.
In his recent game against California, Ware displayed how he can use his cutting ability and length to finish around the rim. Take a look at how this clip starts. Ware is running a DHO—something that will likely be asked of him in the NBA. Keeshawn Barthelemy (#3) cuts off Kel’el’s side, but the handoff isn’t there. Ware keeps the ball, causing Will Richardson to rotate from the top of the key. Richardson takes the rock and is screened by our guy. Berthelemy’s man, Dejuan Clayton (#33), opts to leave his assignment and assist in stopping Richardson’s drive to the rim. Ware’s man, Lars Thiemann (#21), steps away from him to challenge Richardson, too. This leaves Kel’el open to cut to the rim and show off his ridiculous lob radius.
This play reinforces some of the numbers Synergy has on Ware. On cutting play types, he grades out in the 84th percentile (Excellent). Unfortunately, he spends just under 15% of his offensive possessions cutting to the rim. While this play shows his lob finishing ability, Kel’el has “only” converted 17 of his 23 dunk attempts. Most advanced analytics assessments would grade his 73.9% dunk finishing numbers as a concerning percentage.
One last interior finishing clip. Oregon is looking to quickly finish on this play, as the ball is pushed to Brennan Rigsby (#4) on the right wing. Rigsby sells a ball fake to the right and drives to the paint. As he approaches the block, Rigsby floats up a shot that bounces off the back iron. Kel’el Ware times this miss beautifully. As the ball is making contact with the rim, Ware snakes around Mael Hamon-Crespin (#12), and he leaps to slam the ball with one hand.
His offensive rebounding percentage isn’t super high at 6.9%, but Synergy grades him out in the 87th percentile on offensive rebounds that resulted in putbacks. So while the opportunities aren’t where we’d want to see them necessarily, he has done a good job of finishing the ones that are there.
This is the area of the game that has many scouts and analysts hopeful. The fact that Ware is attempting these shots is vital to him making them (obviously), but also to grow in his confidence in taking them. Kel’el posing a threat from distance is going to make him very attractive to NBA front offices. The thing about his shooting, however, is that it is a work in progress.
We peeked at the 30.8% shooting percentage from deep, but Ware is also shooting a 71.7% free-throw percentage. These numbers are in a peculiar spot, as they aren’t where they should be. They are, however, close enough to have people believing in his shooting. Kel’el spends about 12% of his time operating as a spot-up big, but only grades out in the 15th percentile (Below Average) in that play type. On catch-and-shoot possessions, he is in the 28th percentile (Below Average). When peeling the onion back further, Ware is in the 35th percentile (Average) when guarded in catch-and-shoot possessions, and in the 25th percentile (Below Average) when unguarded.
Those numbers are concerning, as he operates as a catch-and-shoot player for 89.4% of his time on the court. This context should make his efficiency numbers make more sense. He’s not strong enough, yet, to be effective in the paint, and his shooting hasn’t been a significant threat. But what does the film show? Is there enough there that—when you squint—you can see the type of player he could become?
This is the type of clip that believers in Ware’s future will point to as an example of the type of weapon he can be as a shooter. On this possession against UConn, the ball is inbounded to Brady Parris (#24). What happens next is very simple. Parris dribbles up the floor and finds Kel’el Ware all alone on the perimeter. Clearly, UConn’s Adama Sanogo (#21) isn’t ready for this shot from Ware, as he is nowhere close to being in position. Ware rises in one fluid motion for a pretty three-pointer. Only six seconds pass before Oregon is back on defense.
In 20 games played, Kel’el has only hoisted 39 attempts from deep on the season. To put this into context, Liberty’s Darius McGhee has shot 204 three-pointers on the season. The point here is that Ware isn’t getting the most amount of burn to have a respectable volume of three-pointers. In fact, Ware only has five games on the season in which he shot three or more shots from deep. On the other side of that coin, Kel’el only has four games in which he has made multiple three-pointers.
Ware’s stroke potential isn’t just a factor from long range; he has looked to weaponize his jumper from the mid-range as well. Ware’s matchup against Arizona’s frontcourt was looked to as a real test regarding how he could look against potential NBA-level big men. On this play, Ware is being covered by Oumar Ballo (#11). Barthelemy has the ball well past the three-point line at the beginning of this clip. He attempts to get past Pelle Larsson (#3), but he has to get to a stepback to gain separation. As Berthelemy crosses to his right and drives the lane, Kel’el goes from the left short corner to the right. Ballo gives him the space to catch the ball and get into his shooting motion. Ware doesn’t take long at all to rise up and sink the middy.
When Ware has the space to get into his shot naturally, it looks a lot cleaner—which should make a lot of sense. But, much like what we saw when pressure was applied around the rim, he has a tendency to force some bad shots when challenged after the catch.
Back to the Washington State matchup. This clip starts with Richardson catching the ball at the top of the key with 20 seconds left. Ware gets the ball on the block and is immediately met with Mouhamed Gueye (#35). Gueye is an ideal opponent to assess where Kel’el is physically. Gueye is listed at 6’11 and 210 pounds—very similar to our guy. Gueye lets Ware know instantly that backing him down is going to take a lot of work. Kel’el opts to take one power dribble, and square up into a fadeaway jumper with 15 seconds left on the clock. Again, unless it’s a lob finish, Ware consistently moves away from the basket while shooting when he’s challenged. The shot didn’t stand a chance, as he misses long and to the left.
What intrigues me about the Ware and Duren “tale of the tape” we looked at earlier isn’t how similar the numbers looked at large, but how Ware shows a little bit of some passing chops. In his just over 19 minutes he plays per game, Kel’el averages 0.7 assists per game. This has yielded an assist percentage of 7.5. Those aren’t sexy numbers but, in the instances he shows the ball movement on film, it’s flat-out tantalizing.
Staying with the WSU game, we see this possession begin with Will Richardson and N’Faly Dante (#1) running a little two-man action. Dante dives to the rim, which attracts significant attention from the defense. The Cougar defense collapses to deny him the ball. With his primary read taken away, Richardson opts to get the rock to Ware in the right corner. Look at how quickly Kel’el gathers the ball, faces to his teammate, and gets Dante the ball high so he can cash in the jump hook. From the time the ball got to Ware and found the hoop, only two seconds ticked off of the clock. Terrific find.
In this matchup against Villanova, Ware proved to be a nuisance against the Wildcats as he finished with 13 points (tied for his fourth-highest scoring performance on the season). Nova’s defense looked to take him out of the equation at this point in the second half. We begin with Richardson going against Arcidiacono. Will puts up a contested three, but Kel’el is able to corral the offensive rebound. Him gathering the board attracted so much attention from the defense that they left Lok Wur (#15) all alone to flash to the basket. Again, it only takes two seconds for the ball to be in Ware’s hands, then to a teammate’s, and then to the bottom of the net. Such a good find in a bit of a scramble.
Last passing clip we’ll look at here. This clip, against Oregon State, starts with Rivaldo Soares (#11) on the right wing with 14 seconds left on the shot clock. Will Richardson and Quincy Guerrier (#13) are attempting to run an action to get Richardson the ball. While that is occurring, Ware is working around the basket to get an open look. The Beavers front Ware to deny him the ball, so Soares kicks the ball to Wur in the right corner. Kel’el seals his defender, Tyler Bilodeau (#10), in front of him. The seal gives him a lot of room to go to work. Ware does get the ball, but the help rotates into position before he can face the bucket. Since the help sold out to keep Kel’el from getting a shot up, Guerrier is by himself on the opposite block. Ware gets the ball to him, and Guerrier finishes the play.
The other side of the ball can be equally as polarizing for Kel’el—and in a lot of similar ways. The length and mobility Kel’el possesses helps him to be an impactful shot blocker, while the strength concerns can challenge him significantly when he is met with an increased level of physicality.
In this clip, Jay Bilas—just kidding! In this matchup against UConn, Kel’el Ware is assigned to defend Donovan Clingan (#32), a rising freshman big man. UConn runs a great play to get Clingan the ball on the right block with decent spacing. Clingan gets the ball and is met by Kel’el. Donovan takes one dribble and gets into his shot, to which Ware sends in reverse. Kel’el takes advantage of his length and the fact that Clingan doesn’t really put in much work to move him off of his spot. When unchallenged, Kel’el’s length will be too much for any post player to get a clean attempt at a shot. That’s exactly what happened here.
This play shows a ton of defensive potential that Kel’el Ware brings to the table. Against Houston, Ware is lined up opposite freshman forward Jarace Walker (#25). Marcus Sasser (#0) gets the ball and finds Walker on the free-throw line. Walker faces up and looks to take Kel’el off the bounce. As Jarace drives to his left toward the basket, Ware uses his long gait to slide with Walker—giving up no separation. Jarace opts to rise up for a shot, vice getting into Ware. Kel’el sends the shot away, as Houston has to try again to get some points after the offensive rebound. Without Walker trying to get physical with Ware, Kel’el’s ball tracking, timing, and length proved to be too much for Jarace to get a clean look.
It’s plays like these that make Ware look like a real NBA player. His 8.6 block percentage looks to be a real indicator. He looks like he could be a difference-maker on the defensive end. Keep in mind that Ware only averages one foul per game—two fouls per 40 minutes—and it’s easy to imagine Kel’el becoming a rim deterrent.
But how does Ware look on defense when he is physically challenged?
Adama Sanogo is a matchup nightmare for a lot of collegiate big men. Although he’s smaller than Ware (reported at 6’9), Sanogo is listed at 240 pounds, so he has, at least, 30 pounds on Ware. While we can use that as an excuse, and while we know there is a high probability that Kel’el will get stronger, the NBA will be no less forgiving in nightly matchups than what Sanogo presents here.
UConn moves the ball all along the perimeter on this play, but the points come from the relentless hustle that Sanogo demonstrates all throughout the play. Sanogo sets a pindown screen for Joey Calcaterra (#3). Adama slips the screen and gets right into Kel’el. Calcaterra gets the ball at the top of the key and sees Sanogo seal Ware away from the rim. After a good entry pass, Sanogo gathers the ball off a hop and faces the rim for an under-the-rim finish. Ware cannot recover despite having the height and length advantage. His sphere of influence wasn’t enough to impact Sanogo’s shot. The physicality was too much to overcome.
It’s not “just” the Adama Sanogos of the world that have challenged Kel’el Ware physically, resulting in a bucket. We’re going back to the matchup against Mouhamed Gueye and Washington State. We see Gueye get the ball just inside the three-point line along the left wing. He faces Ware up, rips the ball to his left, and dribbles to the basket. Gueye seems completely unphased by Kel’el’s presence, as he feels him on his hip. Gueye picks up his dribble and uses his shoulder to get Ware off balance. That half-spin counter to his left creates the space needed to get the ball up without there being any chance that it gets blocked. Though not being a physically imposing big, Gueye is able to challenge Ware’s position and comes up victorious against very little resistance.
The Kel’el Ware evaluation isn’t the most fun. It’s frustrating because there is a good deal of talent and potential there. The lack of production has led to a decent bit of conjecture—more than what will normally take place when projecting how a prospect will fare at the next level. On offense, he isn’t efficient at shooting—which is what is supposed to make him a valuable prospect. The volume of threes he’s put up isn’t that high, which means one must buy his shooting form in order to take him with a high pick. There is no doubt that the lack of strength isn’t doing him any favors in terms of finishing or screening consistency. There is a high likelihood that the strength comes around, but there are examples (like Lucas Nogueira, former 16th overall pick) of big men not getting there physically.
The issues that are present defensively are largely due to Kel’el’s frame. While this issue exists, Ware can only put on so much strength in the time remaining this season. That will have to come at a later point. In the meantime, we have to assess the processing—how he sees the game and what his response looks like. We have to assess the things that he can control. There is a natural propensity to reject shots while fouling at a respectably low rate.
To wrap this up, there are a number of real concerns that have come to light during Ware’s time at Oregon. Sifting out role, fit, roster composition, and evaluating the areas of the game that are within his control, it’s hard for me to justify a Top 20 pick. There is going to be a good bit of faith put into his high school film for those that grade him within that range. And that has been something we’ve from players like the previously-mentioned Jalen Duren, along with a player like Ziaire Williams.
Something I could be more in agreeance with would be a late first round pick, similar to what happened with the aforementioned Peyton Watson. Whatever happens, let us hope that we can see Kel’el Ware string together some more consistent performances—so long as he is given the opportunity.