Player Review: Jeff Foster
Stats: 6.4 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.7 apg
Stats/36: 9.5 ppg, 12.8 rpg, 2.5 apg
How did he surprise?
In his post-mortem on the season, Jim O'Brien lamented the lack of consistency from his team. As a unit, the level of play varied from night-to-night throughout much of the season. After writing several player reviews, it's safe to say the team's inconsistent play is easily explained by the many individual parts of the team playing inconsistently on their own.
One thing you can state clearly about Jeff Foster, though, is that he was consistent all year. Foster backs up the hard-hat, workman-like image he's developed by indeed bringing that type of effort to every game. The only variance in Foster's game this year was his role from game to game.
Depending on injuries and matchups, Foster could be counted on for 35 minutes or 10 to 15. Foster is rarely the biggest big on the court, yet he's made a career of pursuing the ball and now taps into his veteran savvy to keep Pacer possessions alive. He's made the volleyball-rebound into an art form and regardless of the total minutes played, you could rely on Foster to bat out at least a couple of offensive rebounds while on the court.
Another surprising positive from ol' number ten this year was his shooting acumen. I've lamented the number of missed bunnies Foster has blown over the years, but this year that was rarely a problem. But, equally surprising was Foster's ability to knock down the 15-18 footer he was often given by the opposition. JOB encourages shooting good, open shots and Foster had no problem taking him up on the offer.
Foster also proved valuable in JOB's system thanks to his passing ability, keeping the ball moving in the half court. Toward the end of the year, Jeff and Mike Dunleavy gave team's fits running the pick and roll in the half court. A nice bounce pass from Dun would find Foster in stride as he rolled to the goal for and easy layup. Good times.
How did he disappoint?
At the outset of the season, when everyone was relatively healthy and the team was playing pretty well, Foster was not heavily involved in the playing rotation. During a stretch in December he rarely played over 20 minutes and seemed like an afterthought. To me, this revealed JOB was looking for something from his bigs that Foster couldn't deliver. As events of the season unfolded, Foster's role increased and his game continually improved within JOB's system. As I mentioned above, knocking down the open jumpers along with his passing ability increased JOB's confidence in Foster and by the end of the year he was a key cog in the Pacers improved play. So, as you can tell, any disappointment with Foster this season is not really with Foster but with JOB's use of Foster early in the season.
This may sound strange, but I view Foster as a championship caliber role player. No, he's not carrying a team, but there's no doubt he could make big contributions to a team fighting for the ultimate prize. Heading into the last year of his contract, Foster is valuable to the Pacers but could also intrigue plenty of teams around the league looking to tweak a championship-contending team.
If the Pacers intend to break up the roster and rebuild, Foster may be a player they could use to move some of their more unsavory pieces in an effort to find cap space, picks or promising players. If Foster is moved, I hope he finds a situation where he can contribute to a championship run and win over the affections of fans from another franchise, just like he did with the Pacers.
I'm selfish, though, so I'd prefer Foster remain part of the solution for the Pacers. It might not be easy to keep Foster if the Pacers want to put their money elsewhere, but this guy has been through so many ups and downs with the Pacers and the events surrounding various teammates over the years that it would be fitting to see him close out his Pacers career like it started - on a quality team.
Through all the craziness of the past few years, you could always count on Foster to give his level best. He never complained publicly or made demands regardless of the situation. He just kept grinding and developing his game, doing whatever he could to help the team. Hopefully, Pacer fans will enjoy what Jeff has to offer for the remainder of his career, since in my mind, he's become Mr. Pacer.