Upshaw, a 21-year-old shot-blocking demon from Fresno, Calif., is more known for his juvenile transgressions off the court than his eye-popping production on the court.
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More explicitly, while the 7-foot behemoth is extremely talented, he was cut from two collegiate programs — specifically, Washington and Fresno State — over the past three years.
However, the Lakers brass gave Upshaw a second chance this offseason, after he was surprisingly undrafted in June, by reserving him a spot on the team’s Summer League squad. Although the California native failed to earn much playing time, seeing just 11.4 minutes per game in five contests, he showed just enough flashes for L.A. brass to him another opportunity.
The thing you notice immediately when watching Upshaw is undoubtedly his gargantuan physical stature and neverending length. Standing 7 feet in shoes, the former Huskie is blessed with a jaw-dropping 7’5.5″ wingspan and an intimidating 9’5″ standing reach.
Sure enough, Upshaw was an unadulterated elite rim protector at the college level, accumulating an insane 7 blocks per 40 minutes during his 19-game stint at Washington, which ranked No. 1 in the nation by a wide margin. He combines his otherworldly physical tools along with an unforeseen brand of quickness for a man his size.
In addition, he has terrific shot-blocking instincts and a timely second jump.
In fact, with Upshaw in the lineup last season, the Huskies only allowed opposing teams to shoot an anemic 39 percent from inside the arc. Without Upshaw patrolling the lane, conversely, that number skyrocketed to nearly 50 percent.
In addition to his rim protecting prowess, Upshaw is also a competent rebounder, snagging 13.4 rebounds per 40 minutes, which ranked fifth among NCAA players last season.
Offensively, he utilizes his length, strength, and sheer size effectively, and in conjunction, regularly exhibits his feathery touch around the basket. While the big man is still very much a work in progress when operating with his back to the basket, Upshaw is already a capable finisher, as he averaged nearly 18 points per 40 minutes last year on approximately 60 percent from the field.
Most encouragingly, he converted on roughly 75 percent of his attempts at the rim.
Upshaw, despite being an upper-echelon physical specimen, can be lumbering at times running the floor. Stamina is also an issue as he posted a rather worrisome 12.4 percent body fat percentage at the 2015 NBA Draft Combine.
The good news, though, perhaps a professional weight training regimen and diet can trim Upshaw down and make him more of a threat in rim-running/secondary break situations.
Either way, if he can’t get his off-court behavior in order, Upshaw will most likely blow this opportunity, as well. More specifically, the Lakers roster sits at 18 at the moment.
And even if he survives the final three cuts, he’ll probably spend the majority of next year with the Los Angeles’ D-League affiliate, the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
But, if everything breaks right for Upshaw, he can learn a lot from a guy like Roy Hibbert, an infamous plodder himself, who’s earned an extravagant living through his ability to protect the rim, stay vertical, and stay big. Upshaw, contrarily, has the mean streak in him that Hibbert lacks, which could potentially catapult him into a mainstay in the association.
As the Los Angeles Lakers recover from a franchise-worst 21-61 season last year, taking a flyer and winning the gamble on a polarizing project like Robert Upshaw may be the injection this once prestigious franchise needs in its plight to return back into NBA relevancy.
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