Is Robert Upshaw the Lakers’ Next Hassan Whiteside?


By now we all know about Los Angeles Laker stud D’Angelo Russell and rebel Larry Nance Jr., but the rookie that could prove to have a tremendous impact on the team is the undrafted big man out of the University of Washington, Robert Upshaw.

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After embracing the future and taking Russell with the second overall pick, rumors began to swirl about the Lakers having an inside track on snagging a big man through free agency.

Hindsight being 20-20, that was not the case. That said, could the solution to the Lakers problems have arrived gift wrapped, Hassan Whiteside style?

Looking at Upshaw’s stats and tape while at Washington, it’s scary to begin to imagine his NBA potential.

Through 19 games, Upshaw averaged 10.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, and a staggering 4.5 blocks a game.  He shot nearly 60 percent in only 24.9 minutes a game all while coming off the bench.

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At the 2015 NBA Draft Combine, Upshaw came in standing 7′, 260 lbs with a combine-high 7′ 5.5″ wingspan.

To get a better grasp of this, Jahlil Okafor measured 6′ 11″, 270 lbs with a 7′ 5″ wingspan and Karl-Anthony Towns 6′ 11″, 250 lbs with a 7′ 3″ wingspan.

Furthermore, DraftExpress ranked Upshaw as the fifth best college center of 2015, trailing only Towns, Okafor, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Myles Turner. All of those men were lottery picks in the draft.

So how did the physically imposing big man manage to go undrafted?

It is only by diving into his past that one can begin to see the various caution signs and flashing hazard lights to accompany them. Though dominant on the court, Upshaw’s struggles stemmed from immaturity and off-court issues.

In his past two seasons, Upshaw was dismissed from two teams — Frenso State University after 20 games and Washington after 19– for what seemed to be drug and alcohol related instances.

Upshaw spoke about his troubles at Frenso State in an interview with the Seattle Times.

"I just got tired of being talked about and not in good way . . . I’m tired of being average. I put my average ways behind me and now I’m striving to be great. . I’m a completely different person . . . I’ve matured. I’ve become a lot more coachable. I have the trust of my teammates and my coaches to do the right things. I’m just a completely different player"

The troubled center revealed that he’d been released by the Huskies two weeks later. In a May Pre-Draft interview, Upshaw said similar things, but as proven time and time again, talk is cheap.

On top of his off-court difficulties, Upshaw was also flagged at the combine for a minor heart issue. Even with all those red flags, DraftExpress had him pegged to go 19th overall at one point. He slipped to 45th overall in their last mock draft.

If you look at the Lakers’ youth initiative, Upshaw seems tailor-made for this role.

The Lakers feature prominent offensive options one through four — Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Anthony Brown, Julius Randle — but the one thing they lack  is a defensive anchor on the other side of the floor, something Upshaw could immediately provide.

Dec 22, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies center Robert Upshaw (24) blocks a shot against the Tulane Green Wave during the first half at Alaska Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

All of the Lakers’ draft picks seem to specialize in at least one category, and Upshaw is no exception.

Implementing NBA 2K signature skills, Russell would possess the dimer trait, Nance Jr. highlight film, Brown corner specialist, and as the No. 1 shot blocker in the NCAA, Upshaw would undoubtedly possess the eraser trait.

Through 19 games, Upshaw’s 4.5 blocks per game were almost a whole block a game better than his closest competitor, LSU’s Jordan Mickey with 3.65 blocks.

While the Lakers have since brought in Roy Hibbert to defend the paint, Upshaw does similar things for nearly $15 million less. Additionally, Hibbert is in the final year of his contract, so signing Upshaw would be a low risk, high reward acquisition.

Earlier in the offseason, Lake Show Life (LSL) discussed how Upshaw could benefit from playing behind Hibbert, but this could all be in jeopardy considering his contract has yet to be finalized.

In recent weeks, the Lakers have signed forward Jonathan Holmes and guard Michael Frazier, meaning they are one player over the league limit of 15.

Furthermore, rumors of the Lakers’ apparent interest in Metta World Peace compounds this issue even more. As LSL has referenced before, the fate of Robert Sacre and Ryan Kelly are yet to be determined, but it is likely that they will be on the move.

Through some analysis, it’s pretty apparent that Upshaw’s motor is similar to that of Andrew Bynum and Hibbert, in that they are often disengaged — jogging back on defense, missing block outs, and sulking after missed shots — but when they are playing hard, they can alter the course of any game.

Having said that, the Lakers should, without question, make it a priority to lock up Upshaw before someone else does. The Lakers let one get away with Whiteside, and it’s unlikely they make the same mistake twice.

Upshaw stands alongside the youth movement of Russell, Clarkson and Randle. Hopefully, Upshaw begins his redemption tour with the Lakers once the regular season rolls around.

It’s not often that you get a third chance at life, and while Upshaw’s Laker dream seems to be hanging on by a thread, LSL can’t help but cheer for him and wish him the best of luck.

What are your thoughts on the Upshaw situation? Let us know in the comments below.

Next: Rookie Poll Released, Mixed Opinions on D'Angelo Russell

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