Michael Foster Jr. is the 2022 NBA Draft's Hidden Gem
Every draft, multiple prospects slip through the cracks and are overshadowed by others viewed as "less riskier" picks. Michael Foster Jr. has legitimate talent and shouldn't be slept on.
Temple University, my alma mater, was founded by Russell Conwell on the ideals behind his famous speech that is still recited to prospective students each year.
Acres of Diamonds.
The premise behind the speech is that there are diamonds, or gems, to be found everywhere we are—even in our own backyards.
Metaphorically, the “backyard” in the NBA Draft is the second round. Even though a prospect isn’t selected in the first round, that doesn’t mean their career is over or that it can’t properly begin.
Every year there are steals taken in the second round who not only contribute for a short time but also have longer and more meaningful careers than expected.
Some of those “steals” in previous drafts were more polished, like Draymond Green was out of Michigan State. Others weren’t as obvious for a variety of reasons but still were incredible talents like Manu Ginobli, Carlos Boozer, and Dennis Rodman, among others.
I’m not here to say Michael Foster Jr. is the next player in line for a Hall-of-Fame level output or career. Far from it.
At his best, Foster is a project on both ends of the floor who will likely need more time at the end of an NBA bench and in the G-League to learn and absorb what it means to excel at the next level.
But the raw talent, particularly on offense, is undeniable. And in terms of taking home run swings with a second-round pick, I’d venture to say Foster might be one of the riskiest guaranteed contracts a team could offer in that draft range.
As I’ve written previously with Bryce McGowens, however, I’m not opposed to gambling if there’s a real diamond to be found in the rough.
This is why Foster, to me, is this draft’s true “hidden gem” and should be taken seriously as a massive sleeper in the 2022 class.
Michael Foster Jr. was one of the prospects I got to scout up close this cycle when I visited Delaware to see the G-League Ignite team take on the 76ers’ affiliate Blue Coats.
From the moment I stepped into the facility to watch him warm up and go through his pre-game routine, all the way through the end of the game, I knew I was watching a potentially special talent. From practicing post moves to working on two dribble pull-ups and step-backs off a jab, Foster looked the part of someone who should have the attention of scouts such as myself.
I had done plenty of homework on the Ignite squad already, and even though there are three prospects who will be taken much higher in the draft this year in Jaden Hardy, Dyson Daniels, and MarJon Beauchamp, Foster shouldn’t be far behind.
The comparison that I’ve maintained for months isn’t the sexiest name to bring into the conversation. But it’s a bar of consistency that Foster can meet with his talent, and should he surpass this comp could lead him down a starter’s path and more in the NBA.
JaMychal Green is that player comparison, given the similarity behind their physical tools as well as their style of play.
While Foster is a bulkier forward, both are 6’8” and have similar length. Foster is a quicker leaper off the floor, something I’ll touch on a few times throughout, but both are offensive-minded forwards at that size who are comfortable operating outside-in.
Green had some of his best years with the Memphis Grizzlies when he won a starting job because he greatly improved his three-point shot. Now a career 36.6% shooter from distance, Green is a stretch big capable of offering spacing on offense while also helping to clean the glass on both ends of the floor, not sacrificing size for shooting.
Foster can bring the exact same value to an NBA team, as he has the stroke to improve on a similar trajectory.
Going back to college, Green was virtually a non-shooter. He had started to attempt threes more regularly in his junior and senior years, but it took multiple years of developing that shot in the developmental league before Green was ready to unleash it in the NBA.
Foster will be 19 on draft night and is already further along in terms of comfort level and incorporating long two’s and threes into his shot diet. While he only shot 1.3 attempts per game from beyond the arc, he made them at a near 28% clip, and the mechanics check out.
Factor in that he was more than capable of knocking shots down from around the elbow/nail area, and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest the NBA three-ball is a part of his bright future (not to mention he also shot 78.5% from the free-throw line).
And with the type of damage he can do as a roll man and dunker spot finisher around the basket on offense, fine-tuning that shot to be more efficient turns him into one of the more complete scorers at his position in the draft class, let alone amongst his projected second-round peers.
While Foster is more comfortable as a face-up big man than sealing and catching on the low block, he’s shown not only the touch on runners and hooks but also the footwork to separate and get a good look in the post. His power gives him an edge to establish position and create contact, but it’s the finesses that Foster plays with as well that makes some of what he can do differently.
Rarely do forwards at his size offer both power and finesse in different areas. Generally, players with Foster’s physical tools are bruisers that feast on finishing plays and going through the opposing defense. Meanwhile, there are guys with more slender builds that live on turning, facing, and either shooting over or finding ways to utilize footwork to go around or up-and-under.
The fact Foster has film of him putting all of those skills together should pop to more scouting departments and draft folk alike. I’ve watched enough of the tape to where I’m intrigued enough with the offensive package to consider taking him in the first round if the developmental situation would be right.
And that’s the key phrase, even with the natural talent Foster possesses.
I wouldn’t consider Foster a selfish scorer in the most negative sense, but he can absolutely display tunnel vision at times or settle far too often for pull-up jumpers when he has the space to attack the basket. His handle is lacking, and even catching passes downhill, his hands can look like they’re made of stone.
These are all minuses that can impact his effectiveness on a possession-to-possession basis. The good news is that with continued work and study to understand the flow of an NBA offense better, the system in which the team and its players are most comfortable operating, and how he fits into everything, Foster can make improvements in some of those areas.
Recognizing when he has the opportunity to drive, as well as understanding when he needs to be ready to catch and finish, are two things that could make him a more efficient scorer inside the arc than his overall percentage of 44.9% suggests.
Coming into the league, Foster can get put-backs on the offensive glass, finish lobs in transition, score out of the dunker spot, and offer spacing both on quick catches at the elbows or from behind the arc in pick-and-pop scenarios.
Better timing cutting opportunities, continued efficiency on threes, and improvements to awareness in passing situations off short rolls could make him a unique and intimidating weapon on that end. And given the film I’ve studied, I’m not ruling out much that he couldn’t do in time on offense.
The defensive end is where Michael Foster’s projection gets a little murkier in similar ways to Green.
While both have the size to handle both power forwards and centers depending on the lineup, neither should be the last line of defense against true size and can fall victim on the block.
Foster projects to add value by helping from the weak side as he did for Ignite, using his insane leaping ability off two feet to rise and swat shots into the stands. Foster averaged 2.0 blocks per game despite not being the most traditional rim protector in a sense.
He’s not a deterrent, as guys can drive directly at him and go into his body. Nor is he a primary rim protector and a team’s last line of defense. He offers value on the offensive end as a “small-ball center,” but in reality, that term should be reserved for those who are positionless on the defensive end and can operate out of hyper switchable schemes.
I’m honestly not quite sure how to properly project Foster on defense outside of the help and shot-blocking he can offer around the basket. Bring Foster out to defend in space, and his lack of awareness can really come back to bite him.
When I scouted him in person, there were multiple times the Blue Coats ran early offense to screen and get Foster’s man open on the perimeter for easy jumpers. Foster wouldn’t recognize these situations in time, make a poor read, and be left with not nearly enough time to close out and contest the shot properly.
Unless he could get back in transition and have the sole responsibility to contest at the rim, breakdowns like these happened more often than his coaches would like.
Drop coverage in pick-and-roll isn’t the worst responsibility for him defensively, as he can cover ground in front of him and with his length and verticality, he can challenge around the basket. Foster would just need to gain better timing on when and how to defend without fouling in those situations.
If his coach can scheme for him to cover a corner shooter who isn’t necessarily a threat to attack a hard closeout and make a defense pay should they not help Foster in that situation, that would be the best role for him on that end. Having the ability to rotate and help protect the rim off-ball movement is again what he’s best suited to do, but the projection isn’t easy after that.
Foster is caught in between two positions defensively and while he gives great effort, particularly getting back in transition to block shots on runouts, some of the coverage and IQ aspects of the game still give him trouble game-to-game.
At the end of the day, we’re talking about a player who I grade as a late second-round. There are obvious strengths for Foster to refine and grow into which could give him plenty of playing time and a starting role down the road.
But some of the weaknesses, particularly on defense, could also “play him off the floor” and cap his minute total depending on the matchup.
What I still believe in though are the physical tools he has that can’t be taught. Reading the floor, learning how to make better decisions passing, playing more cohesive team defense, etc. are all things that can be taught in the NBA to exceptional athletes for their position.
Having the foundation to shoot at an above-average level, the motor to run the floor and make plays, and the willingness to be coached are traits that aren’t always the easiest to bring out and teach apart from the obvious athletic gifts.
To me, I would much rather take a swing on someone who averaged 14.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG, and 2.0 BPG off of raw talent than a player in that same range with not nearly as high of a ceiling. Foster was the ninth-ranked player in the 2021 ESPN Top 100 for a reason. He’s still relatively young in his basketball playing days and has much more to be taught as he continues to develop.
I’ve shouted out Foster multiple times as my “hidden gem” in this draft class, and I’m sticking to it. Even if Green is the outcome I get for Foster, that’s still a productive bench player who will stick in the league for a long time.
If he hits even better than that, then Foster would turn out to have been worth much more than a mid-to-late second-round pick.
Acres of Diamonds are all around us, and Foster is one of many hiding in plain sight in the 2022 draft class.
Nice piece Nathan, aside from my namesake Daniels, I haven’t paid much attention to other Ignite players, thanks!