The SMU Mustangs ended the 2018 season with a loss in the American Conference to the No.1 ranked Cincinnati Bearcats. After finishing the season just 17-16, post season play eluded the Mustangs — both the NCAA Tournament and the N.I.T did not invite SMU to compete. Injuries and scholarship reductions caused the Mustang talent to be thin all year. Two devastating injuries in particular were Shake Milton suffering a fracture in his hand and Jarrey Foster tearing his ACL in his left knee. The injuries ended both players’ seasons, and seemingly — as was announced March 26 and March 30 – their collegiate careers.
Both Mustang standouts declared for the NBA draft. Milton, whose declaration was first reported by 247sports reporter and SMU grad Billy Embody, called it “fake news.” However, Embody stands by his sources. Foster first told ESPN of his intentions to pursue his NBA dream, and has left the option to return to college by not hiring an agent, which would be considered foregoing his amateur status.
“To stay in the draft, I would have to be confident that I will be drafted in a spot that I am in a good situation,” Foster said to ESPN about him not hiring representation. “If I can get into the second round, that would be ideal. I’m looking for a team that can work with me with what I’m going through, providing me with a protocol to help me out and get as strong as possible. I’m looking for the right situation, a team that will take care of me, put their time into me.”
Foster was once thought of as a first-round pick. ESPN’s mock draft released in December had the SMU Junior Mustang going in the mid 20’s. However, in their latest mock draft released on March 20, he was left off of the list of 60 players that were projected to have their name called on June 21. Many, even Foster himself, thought he was in the midst of a breakout season.
“I knew I was ready for the draft when my work ethic changed over this past year.” Foster said. “I’ve always believed that I could play in the NBA.”
Experts agree with Foster. Bruce Frasier, an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors, said he’s noticed Foster’s NBA potential.
“I think he can be an elite defender. He defended Deandre Ayton against Arizona and Mohamed Bamba during a preseason scrimmage…” Frasier said. “He switches onto guards with little problem. Physical and competitive with quick feet and a 7-foot wingspan. I see him finding a role.”
Frasier wouldn’t go as far to say that Foster reminds him of his star power forward Draymond Green, but admitted the skills sets are similar.
“I think Draymond does more from a playmaking standpoint, but what he does best is on the other side of the floor. I could see (Foster) doing a lot of what Draymond does defensively.”
While the injury remains a concern, Foster’s draft stock is being hindered because of a lack of proficiency in one area that is being revolutionized in the NBA more than ever today — the 3-point shot. While hitting 37.4% for his career at SMU (only off 174 attempts), his shooting ability wained as his career progressed, averaging just 32.3% this season. Foster was shy of the shot as well, averaging four 3-point attempts per 40 minutes. With the 3-point line moving further back in the NBA, the need to improve marksmanship from the perimeter will be pertinent for Foster. However, even though the line is further back, that doesn’t stop NBA franchises from (heavily) utilizing the shot.
This season, 10 teams are on pace to take an average more than 30 3-pointers per game. Most of those teams are among the elite. The Golden State Warriors, The Houston Rockets, The Boston Celtics and The Cleveland Cavaliers are all on pace to break the NBA record for team 3 point field goal attempts in a season. Who was the previous holder of the record? The 2016 Houston Rockets — who averaged a ludicrous 40 attempts per game. How about the team before that? The 2015 Golden State Warriors — who averaged 30 attempts from deep per game. The NBA is on notice, and many teams have morphed their offensive mentality to adapt to deep range shooting. Minnesota owns the league low attempts from downtown — and even they hoist over 20 per game. That’s a big change from just even 10 years ago, when only six teams eclipsed that number.
Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni reiterated the growth of 3-point shot usage by saying that he wants even more.
“We could average 50 this year.” D’Antoni told The Wall Street Journal before the start of this season. No NBA team had attempted 50 3-pointers in a game before 2017. D’Antoni wants his team to average that number.
On the other side of the court, the NBA is also adjusting to this barrage of deep shooting. Big men with defensive versatility and the ability to switch on screens is at a premium, like Draymond Green.
“In a league filled with elite point guard play and an abundance of shooting, NBA scouts are yearning for big wings and combo forwards.” said Jamal Adams, an assistant coach of the Jordan Brand All-American game. Adams worked with NBA talent Jahlil Okafor, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Myles Turner and Emmanuel Mudiay — who was originally committed to SMU. “Many teams are pivoting to quicker paced and more spread out offenses, asking 6-foot-6 to 6-foot-8 perimeter players to slide up to the small-ball power forward spot in hopes of a boost in offensive and defensive versatility.”
Foster definitely fits the mold of the prototypical modern NBA player. He is considered by doctors to be ahead of schedule on his rehab, as he is already running on a zero gravity treadmill. His development could be very interesting to watch. Without foregoing amateur status, Foster still can return to NCAA basketball. If Foster signs with an agent, he will forgo his remaining season of college eligibility. The deadline to return to school is May 30, ten days after the NBA Draft combine ends. He hopes to return to full basketball activity by August.
“A lot of my time will be working on the distance of the 3 point line in the NBA.” Foster said of his attempts to try to adjust to the modern NBA. “But I believe hard work and dedication to improve skills is the main ingredient to getting better at any aspect of the game…While I add more to my game. The future is bright. Whether it’s my senior year at SMU or my rookie season in the NBA.”