With Limited Options, Kel’el Ware Would Help Pelicans Protect The Rim

Rim protection continued to be a weakness for New Orleans last season. Opposing offenses hit 65.1% of their shots at the rim against New Orleans, good for the sixth-worst basket defense in the league. Acquiring a shot blocker will be a priority this summer and could come from their first-round pick. If Indiana’s Kel’el Ware falls to 21, selecting him and betting on his three-and-D upside would be a no-brainer decision.

With a projectable jumper and elite defensive tools, Ware’s upside is tantalizing. He sports star shot-blocking potential, measuring a hair under 7’0 in socks with a huge 7’4.5 wingspan and 9’4.5 standing reach. His vertical explosion is his most prized athletic gift, instantly leaping off of the floor for big blocks and contests.

Paint Protector With Potential

Ware thrives as a paint protector, parking at the rim and deterring defenders from shooting in the first place. He’s most comfortable as a drop defender in pick and roll, relying on his size and frame. Changing directions can be a challenge for Ware given his stiff, high hips, making him exploitable on the perimeter.

Though Ware’s defensive ceiling is lofty, his inconsistent motor and feel lower the floor. Too often Ware zones out on the defensive end, declining to contest or slide down in pick and roll. He’s so dominant physically yet applies those tools selectively. Ware’s processor can be sluggish, though his positioning and feel made progress in his second college season.

Offensive Upside

On the offensive end, Ware was an interior force for Indiana. Shooting an elite 74.1% at the rim with 63 dunks, Ware dominated college defenses as a lob finisher, rebounder, and interior scorer. Ware’s bag of tricks down low is deep, destroying with soft footwork on hooks, turnarounds, and moves to the basket.

He’s a limited playmaker, struggling to process the floor quickly. Double teams can fluster Ware and the passing slows down on the move, but Ware’s feel issues aren’t uncommon for players his age. Ware’s three-point shooting is the major source of his offensive upside, as he shot a scorching 42.5% from deep this season. 

The volume is low at 2.4 threes per 100 possession, but some of that may be a result of scheme; Ware took 6.0 3pa/100 at Oregon last season. Ware isn’t a fantastic free-throw shooter at just 66% over his career, but his touch in the mid-range (43.7%) is stellar. He’s a willing catch-and-shoot option, suggesting real spacing upside.

If Ware reaches his ceiling, his impact could look like that of Brook Lopez; dominating the paint on defense while spacing the floor reliably. That’s a skeleton key player for this Pelicans team who desperately needs more paint protection. Ware would bring that while allowing them to maintain good spacing around Zion Williamson.

Ware’s floor is low if his motor becomes problematic in the NBA. But the ceiling is well worth the risk for the Pelicans in the late first round. Ware’s talent is undeniable and the fit in New Orleans is perfect. 

Analysis by Ben Pfeifer

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