Robert Upshaw is the wild card of the 2015 NBA Draft. It isn't even close; he's the guy that all GM's are enamored with but afraid to take because at any moment, he could revert back to his bad ways and deal with the same issues that cost him his scholarships at Fresno State and also at the University of Washington. Upshaw was kicked off the Washington team in January and basically went AWOL, but NBA teams already had him on their radars and he was invited to the pre-draft camps. He's done interviews with a handful of teams, one of them being the Celtics, and he's been open and honest about what went down in his college days. He says that he has a young family to take care of and he's grown up.
It's obviously a good thing that Upshaw recognizes his issues and is dealing with them, but as we have seen in the past, many athletes with major off the field issues tend to struggle to fly straight in the pros. As we've discussed in previous Draft Previews, the Celtics are desperately in need of a center that can protect the inside and be able to at least finish offensively. In the times that Upshaw has been on the floor, he put up historic numbers block numbers and showed uncanny timing on his blocks at Washington. Some teams think he may slip to 28 and that's where Boston might take him, but why wait and roll the dice? There is a good chance that Upshaw is selected at 16.
Upshaw is from Fresno, California, attending San Joaquin Memorial High School from 2008-2012. Upshaw played 28 varsity games, averaging 18.1 points, 11.9 rebounds, 4.5 blocks, 1.3 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. Upshaw wasn't an unknown commodity; he was recruited by Arizona, Arizona State, Georgetown, Kansas State, Louisville, Maryland, Oklahoma State, Tennessee, Texas, UCLA, UNLV, USC, Utah, Washington, and Fresno State. Surprisingly, considering some of the huge programs on that list, Upshaw chose to stay home and attend Fresno State University. Even Fresno State was surprised that he picked them. The Bulldogs thought they had struck gold, not realizing they had landed a talented but troubled player.
Fresno State didn't waste any time waiting to get Upshaw acclimated; he played in 22 games, averaging 16.4 minutes, 4.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks. He was expected to do more, but he had a nagging injury and he never really got comfortable with the Bulldogs. Upshaw was suspended for six games as a freshman for breaking different team rules, and then he picked up his third strike heading into his sophomore year. The result of the third strike was a dismissal from Fresno State University. The Bulldogs had no choice but to move on, no matter how talented Upshaw is.
It didn't take long for Upshaw to find a new school as he signed with the University of Washington. The new Huskie couldn't play in 2013-14, but he was back on the floor in 2014-15 and he looked like an absolute steal for Washington. 19 games into the season, Upshaw was averaging 10.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, and an insane 4.5 blocks per game, but that is when the wheels came off, again. Upshaw once again violated team rules and Washington did the same thing Fresno State did- they booted him from the program. Two teams, three years, two sad ends to promising situations for a player that just can't seem to avoid trouble.
Upshaw is not only a true 7 footer; he also has a 7'4 wingspan and weighs 260 pounds. He's basically a beast with excellent agility. He runs the floor well and he makes the game look easy at times. Defensively, Upshaw sometimes gets sealed off in the post, but his physical abilities allow him to overcome some of his fundamental problems and he still finds a way to block shots. Assuming Upshaw is serious about being coachable in the NBA, he could become a nightmare for guys trying to go inside.
Upshaw has a lot of work to do on his offensive game, particularly his post moves. Centers need to be able to post up and work, so he needs to sharpen his post skills. He's a great finisher, so he will add an element on offense and not be a total liability. He's a strong rebounder that should average double digits when he starts to get serious playing time.
So the question is this- if you are Danny Ainge and you have a chance to select Upshaw, do you take the gamble? Can the Celtics gamble one of their many first round picks on a player with red flags? The answer is yes, because Ainge isn't working with a lottery pick. If this was a top five pick, no way would they even think about gambling, but at 16 or 28? It makes sense to think talent over everything else. Celtic fans, you may get to see the true center you want, but if it is Upshaw, don't run out and buy his jersey right away.