The Los Angeles D-Fenders were competitive with the Delaware 87ers for three quarters, but were outscored 37-25 down the stretch of the fourth quarter and lost 113-95. D-Fenders scorer, and former Los Angeles Lakers call-up, Vander Blue led the way for Los Angeles, pumping in 28 points on 9-24 shooting while going 10-10 from the free-throw line. The 6'4 Blue also managed to grab 7 boards and 2 steals, and at age 23 with presumably a bit of upside potentially left to mine, would actually be an option worth looking at for a team that needs end of the bench guard help.
That team is not the Lakers, however, who already boast a possibly too crowded back-court. With Blue a peripheral consideration, the main D-Fenders prospect of note for the parent team is 21-year old center Robert Upshaw. The undrafted center's play continued on it's recent upward trajectory, with Upshaw scoring a career high 12 points on 5-11 shooting with 8 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 block while tying his previous high of 25 minutes against the 87ers, and continues to look more polished with each passing game.
The D-Fenders made posting up Upshaw more of a point of emphasis on offense on Tuesday night:
On the above possession, Upshaw did get pushed off of his spot while collecting the entry pass, but was able to pause, size up his defender, and then get right into his chest to create space for a feathery jumper.
Later in the game, Upshaw used his size to back down Christian Wood before spinning into a nice little jump hook. He missed the shot, but the move looked polished and practiced, rather than the mechanical looking moves seen from most young big men.
Another miss, but Upshaw easily used his superior size to get good position for a good shot, and the defensive attention he took up allowed teammate Justin Hawkins to sky in for a tip dunk.
1-3 on post-up examples may not look great, and Upshaw is definitely not perfect yet. But his process was good, and he was also able to utilize the threat his size presents to get open shots for his teammates:
Upshaw transitions seamlessly from a pick-and-roll into post-up, and then passes out of the double team to create a wide-open three-pointer for Josh Magette. A little quicker read of this help defense would have been ideal, but it was still pretty solid for an undrafted 21-year old.
The D-Fenders did not just use pick-and-rolls to create opportunities for Upshaw to seal his man. They also looked to get the 250 pound 7-footer rolling downhill towards the rim, where he was able to finish this lob pass when the 87ers did not communicate who was supposed to help on the roll man:
However, Upshaw will have to work on finishing when defenses do cover him adequately, as he looked out of of control on this attempt:
Upshaw was also put in motion on well-timed dives into the middle of the defense:
Or by getting him to drive the ball in himself, in this case using his length and a quick second jump to clean up his own miss:
On the defensive side of the ball Upshaw was also a mixed bag. He has been foul prone in the D-League (4 on the night in 25 minutes) but on this drive did a good job keeping his arms straight up as a rim deterrent without fouling a guard going right into his body:
He also forced a shot clock violation at the end of the third quarter when the specter of his shot blocking presence scared Gary Talton into kicking out with one second left on the shot clock, which was not enough time for Jordan McRae to get his shot off:
He also recovered quickly to help on this cutter, forcing a bobbled pass and a turnover:
But as with offense, Upshaw was not flawless on defense either (if he was, the Lakers or some other team would have called him up already).
Upshaw will have to commit to contesting shots like that a little better, although he at least cut off the basket first to force a mid-range attempt.
It will take more than a handful of strong games for the D-Fenders for Upshaw to get a call-up from the Lakers or one of the NBA's other 29 teams, but after struggling out of the gate, Upshaw has recovered nicely and looks to be carving out a role for himself with the D-Fenders. If he continues to improve with each game as he has recently, the D-Fenders' roster will not be where Upshaw spends the rest of the season, and he is a player worth watching as NBA teams gain the ability to offer 10-day contracts beginning January 5th.
All stats per dleague.nba.com