Kel’el Ware was the eighth-ranked player in the 2022 ESPN 100 and decided to take his talents to Eugene to play for Dana Altman and the Oregon Ducks. On paper, it seemed like a great fit for the 7-foot big man. Altman is as detail oriented as they come and has proven that he can get a lot out of players on both ends of the floor. But things didn’t go as planned. As a freshman, Ware played only 15.8 minutes per game. He never found his footing and seemingly had a rocky relationship with Altman. Ware ultimately decided to transfer to Indiana University, where he averaged 15.9 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game as a sophomore. Now, the big man is back where he belongs, as he’s one of the top NBA prospects in the world at the center position and firmly in the lottery conversation. And overall, he’s one of the better upside bets in the 2024 NBA Draft.

At the moment, Ware does a lot of things that NBA teams ask of starting centers. And that starts with his ability to block shots. Not only did he block 1.9 shots per game last year, but he also had a block rate of 6.5. That was a top-30 mark amongst high-major players last season. He’s a pogo stick of an athlete and has good length and timing. That’s something that should make him an asset rather quickly.

Ware just needs to put on a little muscle and get coached up a little on his court awareness. Not only can Ware struggle a little with bigger back-to-the-basket bigs, but he also falls asleep more than you want in a guy anchoring a defense. Cutters found some success behind the back line of Indiana’s defense last year. But both of those things are fixable. Ware will be working with world-class trainers to get his body right. And NBA coaches should be able to get him to cut down on some of his miscues.

Ware also does a really good job of just gobbling up rebounds. According to Bart Torvik, he had a 26.1 defensive rebound rate last year. That was good for 30th in the nation, not just high-major programs. An underrated part of defense is simply keeping the opposing offense from getting second-chance opportunities. Ware is already pretty reliable in that regard. But he’ll continue to get better as he gets stronger. Bigger centers were able to outmuscle him for boards. But that eventually should be less of a problem.

When you add in the fact that Ware is also a good play finisher, it’s just hard not to see the 20-year-old as a rim-running center, at the very least. He just needs to be a little more purposeful in setting screens. Centers that can block shots, rebound the basketball and serve as effective targets for pick-and-roll ball handlers have a place in NBA rotations. But then there’s all the other stuff that Ware might be able to do. And that’s what could make him one of the steals of this draft, and a very valuable starting center down the line.

There’s really not many centers in the NBA that are matchup-proof defensively, but Ware just might get there. Last year, Ware did a pretty good job of stepping out on guards and making things hard for them on switches. If he can do that at the next level, Ware will be hard to take off the floor. It all kind of goes back to his motor, which was what made him hard for Altman to trust at Oregon. For the better part of his sophomore season, Ware was locked in. But if he can eliminate the games in which he’s just a little disinterested, he’s going to be tremendous defensively — as long as he puts on some weight, as mentioned earlier.

Ware has also shown glimpses of being a good shooter. And if the jumper is legit, there’s no reason he can’t be a long-term starter. And a high-level one, at that. Last year, Ware shot 42.5% from 3, but he only did so on 1.3 attempts per game. Indiana head coach Mike Woodson really wanted the Hoosiers to play inside-out, and he didn’t want Ware shooting too many shots. Ware’s 63.4% shooting from the free throw line probably didn’t help his case for taking more triples. But Ware’s shooting form isn’t terrible, and he clearly believes in his ability to shoot. After all, he took 1.6 threes per game in limited minutes at Oregon. He would undoubtedly like to shoot more, and that’s half the battle. So, if he keeps working at it, it isn’t hard to envision him eventually being a floor-spacing big. And that’s especially true considering his touch inside the paint. That’s always a good indicator of long-term shooting success.

All in all, a lot of comparisons have been thrown around for Ware. Depending on where you look, you might see analysts that bring up guys like Myles Turner and Brook Lopez. Ware has a lot of work to do as a shooter before turning into either one of them. But the fact that he even has that type of potential, while also possessing a floor as a playable rim-running center, says a lot about him as a prospect. That said, this is a player that should be highly coveted for any team in need of a big man. And if Ware ends up with the type of head coach that can get him to consistently buy in, he’ll ultimately stand out as one of the winners in a draft class that might not possess too many of those.