#10 / Forward-Center / Indiana Pacers
It was fitting that the Pacers’ return to the postseason would coincide with the return of Jeff Foster as a relevant part of the Indiana rotation. Foster, who pulled alongside Rik Smits as the second longest tenured Pacer in franchise history this season also reached numerous milestones by playing 15,000 minutes across 700 games, all while grabbing his 2,000th offensive rebound and 3,000th defensive, all of which led up to 5,000 total rebounds.
It was a rather refreshing step following a gloomy couple of seasons where bad back issues and various injuries either kept Foster out of the lineup, or completely ineffective when he was in the game. The Jeff Foster prior to 2010-11 was not the Jeff Foster Pacers fans had come to find endearing, and it became more frustrating as numerous contenders seemed to coyly take interest in the big man’s services, each injury seeming to make his value fall that much further.
After short work in the 2009-10 season which led to season ending back surgery, Foster was in high spirits to start the season, even though it didn’t start until over halfway through November due to various lineup decisions and played just sparingly over the next month before finally gaining consistent playing time in the stead of Josh McRoberts, looking for some positives against the backdrop of Roy Hibbert’s frustrating winter play.
Unfortunately, Foster’s play in extended minutes appeared to cause Indiana some issues, considering his lack of offensive force in the second unit that couldn’t score, Indiana went a woeful 4-16 in games Foster played in under O’Brien, leading some fans to wonder what kind of value Foster held for the team. But his individual play was far more in line with the Foster of old, not the old Foster, imposing his will on the offensive glass, helping of course, that he saw a lot of misses.
Following O’Brien’s dismissal, Foster was one of the key components in the Indiana Pacers new "smash mouth" identity. After all, the lone stalwart from Indiana’s Eastern Conference Championship in 2000 knew what physicality meant, and as he played the enforcer to a second unit that routinely saved a sinking ship, not doing so without gaining some dismay from opposing fans.
The veteran was visibly frustrated following the flogging Indiana took at the hands of the 65-loss Timberwolves, making very clear he was none too pleased with the sudden turn The Fighting Vogels had taken. But as has always been the case with Foster, complaints were left off the court and he simply did what needed to be done to get Indiana back into the postseason.
When there, he did everything he was known for, grabbing 7 offensive boards in the team’s Game 4 victory. Many Bulls fans were left upset at the physical Foster, feeling compelled enough to shower the big man in lavish boos following a hit on the future MVP Derrick Rose. Foster responded by simply continuing to give the young Bulls all they could handle, making Rose and co. earn everything when they entered the paint, playing the heel, a thug, and dirty player.
But Pacers fans know all too well, you only hate Jeff Foster because he’s not on your team.
So how did Jeff impress?
Foster had his best season since 2008, a big step up from his recent play that justifiably left many doubting the future of the aging center. While Foster is often misunderstood around the league, it was clear there was a huge step off that was followed up by a stellar 2010-11 campaign. Really, Foster did everything he has done his entire career to success.
He also returned as a force on the offensive glass. It’s not widely known that he’s one of the game’s all time offensive glass cleaners, but despite his limited role, Foster averaged a staggering 6.2 ORB per 36 minutes, blowing his career high in ORB% out of the water, pulling down 19.1% of offensive boards, the highest of his career, and still far higher than even his two league leading seasons.
How did Foster disappoint?
Foster’s biggest disappointment may have been when he was caught red handed wearing UGG boots, but that speaks volumes to just how good his play on the court was. Sure, it could be mentioned that he is perhaps the dirtiest player the league has ever seen, though such a claim would imply any fan of the blue and gold regrets anything he does on the floor, which simply isn’t true.
But on the court, the downfalls of Jeff were mostly on consistency and usage. While he did turn 34, playing like a spry 34-year-old, but still required the team to pull him out of games from time to time to get him a recharge. While this in and of itself isn’t a problem, for Indiana, who spent extensive time trying to remain in the playoff picture, Foster’s play was almost a necessity. What he brought was unlike what any player on the team could bring.
His usage within the team’s second unit during the first half of the season was also not a good fit. It’s impossible to fault Jeff Foster for not having an offensive game, but Indiana’s struggling second unit needed scoring, and Foster simply couldn’t provide that. Why was he playing when he played? Why was he playing in place of Josh McRoberts, who at least showed an offensive touch from time to time? Fortunately, that ship was righted over the second half of the season.
So what’s next for Jeff?
Of all the celebrated cap space Indiana is gaining heading into this summer, one of the only players fans didn’t look at as a necessary farewell was Foster, who has said he wants to be in Indiana for as long as they’ll have him. There may be concerns as far as monetary issues go, but a shallow frontcourt that will soon be without Solomon Jones and possibly McRoberts, coupled with Foster’s best season in a few years should make it tough for the front office to be quick to move away from Jeff.
While the team can, and should expect to improve themselves up front over the summer, a familiar face in Foster would likely still be an upgrade over many warm bodies Indiana could stock up on. While his role may change, Pacers fans shouldn’t be looking to say goodbye to Jeff just yet. As he can still perform, the call should be entirely up to him whether he wants to come back, not so much whether the team wants him.