One of the preseason's most talked about Los Angeles Lakers players was undoubtedly undrafted seven-footer Robert Upshaw. The former lottery prospect who's predraft medical red flag (later found to be a benign heart condition) and much rumored off the court issues combined to push him out of the draft entirely was one of the players dedicated fans were keeping a close eye on. Upshaw's eye-popping college statistics of 10.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 4.5 blocks in his final NCAA season at Washington left many clinging to the hope he could be exactly the right type of high upside player that could grow alongside the Lakers' young core of Julius Randle, D'Angelo Russell, and Jordan Clarkson if he was able to keep his act together.
Upshaw struggled in summer league and the preseason as he tried to get himself into NBA level shape, leading to the Lakers front office deciding to cut him from the team's final 15-man roster and hope he could develop with their D-League affiliate franchise, the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
Upshaw has looked mostly pedestrian with the D-Fenders as he struggles to stay out of foul trouble (averaging 3 personal fouls in just 15.4 minutes per game) while also facing problems at times with the high pace of the D-League. The rookie center has averaged 5.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks in his 12 games so far for the D-Fenders.
On Saturday night in the D-Fenders' 105-101 loss against the Texas Legends, Upshaw had one of his best outings of the season with a near double-double of 11 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks. More encouragingly, Upshaw was able to play 25 minutes (a season high) and only committed 2 fouls.
One of the areas the Lakers have struggled most this season is getting their big men to roll to the rim, and Upshaw showed good instincts, mobility, and the ability to catch and finish out of that set on this play for the D-Fenders:
That play is nice, but it's not to say Upshaw is quite ready to help the Lakers in the win-loss column. The big man still needs to work on the aforementioned conditioning and fouling issues, but tonight was a step in the right direction for him.
If Upshaw can continue trending upward, then it would make sense for a Lakers team with nothing but lottery odds to play for to call him up to the parent team to get some reps against NBA players in practice and games towards the end of the season, if some other team does not do so first.