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Center| 7’0 | 260 | Washington
Projected: Late 1st round
Best Case: Dikembe Mutombo
Most Likely: Hassan Whiteside
Worst Case: Patrick O’Bryant
Disclaimer: Bob Upshaw is my pet prospect for 2015. I think he can be a defensive monster in the NBA just as he was for the Huskies last season. He got by on raw size in college and is such a large human being that he might just be able to do the same in the league. His 7’5.5 wingspan is a top 10 mark leaguewide. His 9’5 standing reach is top 5. He has mits like Kawhi Leonard’s. There simply aren’t many people better built to play basketball.
All that will count for naught if Upshaw doesn’t reverse his worrying trend of being kicked off every team that gives him a shot. Secrecy around his misdeeds at both Fresno and Washington have lead to much rumour-mongering, with the most popular being that he shared similar predilections to Marshall Henderson, the poster boy for collegiate misbehaviour. If Upshaw doesn’t conquer his demons or stop surrounding himself with the wrong people or whatever it was that lead to his double dismissals, he’ll never see the court long enough to put those absurd physical tools to use.
That would be something of a tragedy, because what he did when he got court time for Washington was fantastic to watch. Much as Rudy Gobert announced himself this season as a paint-patrolling whirling dervish of blocked shots, prompting a myriad of awkward floaters over his outstretched albatross arms, Upshaw was an absolute terror floating in the middle of the Huskies zone. I saw him block opposing centers in the post, track driving ball-handlers and deny them, swat second attempts and even turned away the odd dunk attempt…and that was just in the video included below. Upshaw’s block percentage this past year is bested by only one other underclassman in recent memory – Whiteside in his single season at Marhsall. So long as rim protection is the key to an effective NBA defense, Upshaw will have a niche within which to thrive.
Offensively, Upshaw is more of a long-term prospect. He’ll hit the offensive boards, finish easy lobs and cuts while making his share of hook shots over his right shoulder from the left block. His pre-draft workouts show some progress on counter moves in the post and more arc on his previously pancake flat free throws but as with all improvement, whether it will translate at the highest level is anyone’s guess. A trademark of the lumbering, rim-protecting big men that still find success in the NBA is strong screening and Upshaw has plenty of room for growth in this area, given that his frame is ideal for that kind of work. Even if he never becomes much of a threat after setting those screens, it’s a skill that creates disarray for opposing defenses and so is an easy path to offensive usefulness for Upshaw, even during his poorest of outings.
So, should Olshey take a punt? I think the potential for egg on face is more than compensated for by the tantalising prospect of what Upshaw could be, but the Blazers brain-trust probably disagrees. Olshey was involved in the selection and development of DeAndre Jordan, so he knows more than most how this type of project can accelerate a team’s progression. Nevertheless, picking Upshaw would represent a clear break from the procession of choir boy types brought in during this era and if the front office is confident of retaining RoLo then center isn’t a particular position of need. I would like to cast my mind forward to a future of Upshaw freeing an in-prime Lillard to launch away with strong, semi-legal picks. Or covering the paint to allow an aging Lamarcus to extend his effectiveness. I understand this to be a rose-tinted fiction right now, but it’s one I believe is worth striving to turn into reality.