The Los Angeles Lakers made a low-risk, high-upside move when they locked up a commitment from undrafted big man Robert Upshaw immediately following the NBA Draft. He's said all of the right things since, and finally had an opportunity to show what he can bring on the court at Summer League. Upshaw played in limited minutes, but he didn't fail to show the kind of moldable talent that makes his ceiling seem so high.
There were dazzling moments, like the baseline turnaround and-one he hit over the top of Karl-Anthony Towns in the Lakers' opener. Upshaw came up with his fair share of blocks, bodied up the best young center prospects in Vegas and walked away looking like the kind of first-round talent he's been projected as.
Where he leveraged himself into the Lakers' plans during Summer League the most, though, was how he was the best pick-and-roll partner for D'Angelo Russell. Russell's finest moment of Summer League -- at least as a shooter -- came in a fourth-quarter stretch where he hit four jumpers out of the pick-and-roll against Utah. Upshaw set the first three of those screens.
Here's a closer look at that sequence between Russell and Upshaw, and a stray look at the same pick-and-roll dynamic earlier in the week against the 76ers:
Upshaw sets strong screens and is a huge frame for a defending guard to work around. There was actually a point where Russell used him like a fullback just to probe the defense from the perimeter:
D'Angelo is going to have to continue improving his ability to navigate pick-and-rolls, and finding a rhythm with a big man is going to play a huge role in this development. Right now it's not even clear if the Lakers have finalized their contract with Upshaw, which was reported to be a multi-year deal with only a partial guarantee. His place in the Lakers' rotation and plans is murky at best, but there's definitely a place for a big man with Robert's talent on their roster.
He's a big center who sets massive screens, presenting himself as the kind of pillar a young guard can grow with. Upshaw can create space away from the ball as well, increasing his value with the kind of off-ball execution the Lakers need from their offense:
He's also one of the few young Lakers' bigs that looks capable of rolling to the rim. Upshaw forced defenders to collapse from the perimeter when he dove to the rim. His willingness to be a boulder crashing into the paint is a tool that can open up an offense:
Forget about his potential as a defender and scorer, which are what really separate Upshaw as a top-tier talent. There's a place for a player who can set solid screens and move the way he does, even if that's all he could do well. Yes, the Lakers can use a guy who can do this for their offense:
Whether or not everything works out, Upshaw did proved he's worth a chance as a basketball player. The Lakers haven't had a big man who can physically clear out lanes like Upshaw, he fits well with Russell in the pick-and-roll, and he'll be ticking on the same timetable as the rest of the young core. If everything else checks out, it'd be shocking to see Robert slip out of the Lakers' hands.