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Profiling the Prospects: Robert Upshaw

Robert Upshaw could be the Grizzlies pick come June.

Robert Upshaw is an incredibly talented, but troubled center out of Washington that could be the Grizzlies 25th pick in the upcoming NBA draft.

Upshaw showed up to the NBA Combine with some uncertainty surrounding him. He wowed in Chicago even though he declined to play 5-on-5. HIs measurements were off the charts. In shoes Upshaw measured in a 7'0" tall in shoes, a wingspan of 7'5.5", a standing reach of 9'5" and a hand size of 10" by 11". The last 3 of the 4 measurements were the first in his class.

Here's a nice play where uses his athleticism and reach to get two blocks:


The opposing point guard made a grave mistake by thinking he could float one over Upshaw. Instead it ends in Upshaw showing off his reach. The play doesn't end though. The opposing team is able to get the rebound. Upshaw doesn't give up and is able to recover and send another shot back. His second jumpability (did Jay Bilas copyright that? I hope not.) is impressive for someone so large. That could have easily been another bucket for the opposing team.

The Washington center pairs his astounding measurements with a nice leaping ability and spectacular timing that made him the premier shot blocker this last college basketball season. He averaged 4.5 blocks in only 19 games his last half season of college ball. The ability to protect the rim is highly valued in the NBA today and Upshaw does just that. Upshaw can meet drivers at the rim, come from the weakside and smack that anything back or get blocks from guarding you straight up. The most impressive part of his blocking ability is his ability to do it without fouling. Only averaging 2.1 fouls per game while averaging 4+ blocks is impressive. He's a shot blocking machine.

Here's a good play where Upshaw shows off his blocking ability:


The Washington defender doesn't do much to step in front of the driver because he knows Upshaw is behind him. The driver tries to put the much, much bigger Upshaw on a poster. Upshaw wasn't having any of that. He jumps straight up, locates the ball (which is extremely difficult to do in a short span of time) and swats it back without fouling. The driver had no chance from the moment he took his first step towards the basket. Upshaw saw what he was doing and shut it down. This could easily have ended in a foul on Upshaw, but he was able to block the shot due to him impressive timing and technique.

Upshaw's defensive capabilities go beyond his ability to block shots. He is a more than capable post defender. The size and strength he possess make him impossible to move back towards the basket. His long arms make it hard for opposing players to get shots off over him. This makes shots in the post much easier for him to block. Sometimes he doesn't get good enough position or is too late establishing himself and opponents get deep position. Otherwise, I think he can be a great post defender at the next level.

This is a play where shows off his defensive capabilities:

Here Upshaw has good defending position before the pass even comes to the man he's defending. The post man takes two dribbles, but can't back Upshaw down enough to get a good shot. He's forced to spin baseline and shoot over Upshaw's outstretched arms. The play ends in a block and a quick defensive rebound. This is Upshaw showing off all of his defensive tools in one gif! Strength, IQ, quick hands and long arms make a fun defender.

Upshaw isn't as skilled on offense as he is on defense (he'd be the number one pick if that were the case), but he has shown some potential there. He gets many of his points off of offensive rebounds where he's just taller than everyone else or alley oops where slips in good position for an easy pass. His post game is where he has shown the most potential. It's nothing like Jahlil Okafor, but under the right tutelage he could turn into something. The feathery touch he possesses gives him the potential to be a good post player. He shot well around the basket all season. It's just about getting to the basket sometimes. His footwork isn't consistent, but when he has good position he is able to get himself good shots.

Here's a possession where Upshaw is at his best offensively:

Here Upshaw has good position to back down the smaller defender right when he gets the ball. The whole right side of the court is cleared out so he can take advantage of this. Two dribbles, turn. pump fake and dunk. It's a text book move. The footwork he exhibits is perfect and the move he makes is quick. There is no hesitating. It helps that this is a mismatch, but the footwork is so nice this may have worked against someone bigger. If Upshaw can get his footwork down like this he's going to be going places.

Upshaw is incredibly talented, but there is a reason he is projected as a late first round pick. The seven footer has been kicked off of two college teams in three years. This is a significant red flag for a prospect. He's a top 15 talent, but he 's going to need mature players around him. If a team takes a chance on him and he can't stop getting in trouble it's a wasted draft pick. You can't be a championship caliber team in the NBA and waste draft picks, anymore. This is one reason the Grizzlies make sense for Upshaw. Veterans like Zach Randolph and Tony Allen may be able to keep the young center out of trouble. It's important for him to be surrounded with people that know where he's been and know how to keep him from going down a bad path.

The biggest on court problems surrounding Upshaw are his lack of foot speed and laziness on the defensive end. He may be an incredible shot blocker and smart one on one defender, but drag him away from the rim and he struggles mightily. When his man gets the ball away from the basket it's easy to blow by him or get enough separation for a jumper. Opposing teams found success when they ran the pick and roll against Upshaw. In a league that uses the pick and roll more than ever before big men have to be able to guard it. Upshaw gets lost too easily and sometimes isn't quick enough to recover and use his athleticism and length to make a play. He's the exact opposite kind of defensive player Marc Gasol is. Gasol is stellar in the pick and roll and one on one defender while struggling to protect the rim at times.

The Grizzlies defensive scheme requires so much helping off of drives so he could find success protecting the rim. The problem will be the way he covers the pick and roll. He's not going to be seeing much playing time because Coach Dave Joerger banishes rookies to Iowa or the end of the bench where they sit and sit and sit when they may be able to make a difference. But considering the way he covers the pick and roll and how slow he is he may not play at all his first season. So if the Grizzlies do pick him we might not see much of what Upshaw has to offer until 2016.

Picking Upshaw would fill a need (assuming Koufos opts out) for the Grizzlies and he would undoubtedly be the best player left on the board at 25 so I wouldn't be shocked to see him wearing Grizzly Bear Blue come October.

(Gifs made from videos here and here.)