With the Los Angeles Lakers losing their 46th game of the season on Sunday night and any hope of meaningful contests this season well out of reach, many have begun to examine what the future may hold for the team. Much of that speculation has focused on the ongoing development of D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Julius Randle with the Lakers, as well as college draft prospects like Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram that the team could look to select with it's top-three selection in the upcoming NBA draft should the team retain it.
However, the Lakers have a potential prospect right in their backyard (or more accurately, their practice facility) in big man Robert Upshaw. The undrafted seven footer was one of the team's final cuts in the preseason, and since his return from an extended bout with a viral illness, Upshaw has been impressive for the team's D-League affiliate, the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
In eight games since returning from his illness, Upshaw has averaged 9.4 points and 4.7 rebounds in just 15.3 minutes per game, averages that translate to 22.1 points and 11.1 rebounds per-36 minutes. While the big man still needs to cut down on his fouls (oh which he averages 2.1 per game, or 5 per-36 minutes), he has shown some good things since reintegrating back into the D-Fenders' lineup.
Upshaw set a new career high of 18 points on an efficient 9-11 shooting night on Sunday against the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, and he demonstrated an impressive array of finishes around the rim as well as an improving jumper in doing so. Upshaw also showed off his ability to dive to the rim in transition and after setting ball screens. More importantly, as anyone who has watched the Lakers this season can attest, Upshaw can catch passes and make a decisive move out of these sets. The rookie also blocked two shots and grabbed five rebounds in just 20 minutes of floor time. You can watch full highlights of the performance here:
Buyout season is in full swing in the NBA, and it would probably behoove the Lakers to look to either buy out Roy Hibbert or Brandon Bass, or cut Metta World Peace (highly unlikely given his role as a veteran mentor and Kobe Bryant's good friend) or Marcelo Huertas in order to make a roster spot for Upshaw.
Of those first two names, Hibbert would serve as the best candidate, given that he has not been able to help the Lakers much on the floor and his excision from the roster would serve the additional benefit of opening up more playing time for the much younger Tarik Black, whom the Lakers need to evaluate more so they can decide his value to them heading into free agency.
While Upshaw is not likely to contribute a ton to the Lakers this season, getting him under an NBA contract (and thus team control) would allow the front office to add another potential asset in their efforts to restock the team with talent going forward. Even if he doesn't pan out, it's unlikely that the Lakers would lose very much by parting with any of the four aforementioned veterans that are unlikely to stay with the team past this season anyway.
If Upshaw keeps playing like this, a team could very likely call him up before the end of the season. The Lakers should be proactive and make sure they don't lose a prospect for nothing.
All stats per stats.nbadleague.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.