Let’s talk about the elephant in the room.
I’m talking about Isaiah Stewart, the 19-year-old center the Pistons selected with the 16th overall pick in last month’s NBA Draft. There are questions about Stewart’s fit, not only in Detroit’s rebuild, but in the NBA in general as a more traditional big.
But, during this Troy Weaver Experience, I’m prepared to withhold the loud judgments and sit back and watch it play out a bit. That starts with trying to understand Stewart, both as a player and as a fit with this organization as it embarks on this much-needed rebuild.
Let’s start with the most common criticism: “DrAfTiNG cEnTeRs Is DuMb!”
You’re not wrong. My first thought was similar. However, the more I’ve looked at Stewart, the more I’ve come to find that he’s got the type of game that’ll keep him around for a long while. Now, whether that was worth drafting at No. 16 is another discussion.
But Stewart isn’t *just* a center. This isn’t some cement-footed big man who would have been a lot better off if it were 2000 than 2020.
Hey, I didn’t say Jahlil Okafor, you did.
When you look at Stewart’s numbers at Washington — 17 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.1 blocks on 57/25/77 shooting — you aren’t wowed. He’s a tad undersized at 6-foot-9, but makes up for it with a 7-foot-4 wingspan at a chiseled 250 pounds. His 5-of-20 showing from downtown during his lone college season was underwhelming, but his form isn’t bad and his 77% mark from the line shows the potential as a shooter.
We might see some of that this season, but I doubt Dwane Casey lets him launch too many from deep — unless he pulls out the same Jedi mind tricks that Andre Drummond did:
Casey: You can’t shoot threes, Isaiah, that’s not why you’re out there.
Stewart: You will let me shoot threes.
Casey: Go ahead, shoot more threes, son.
His bread and butter, though, comes down low.
Stewart was pretty much a one-man show at Washington. Sure, fellow Huskies freshman Jaden McDaniels was picked 28th by the Minnesota Timberwolves, but he isn’t very good.
Washington coach Mike Hopkins sold Stewart on an opportunity to be the focal point.
He played bully ball in the post, scoring 1.10 points per possession down there against single coverage, good for the 93rd percentile in college basketball according to Synergy Sports. In today’s NBA, I know you don’t want guys posting up every possession... but scoring efficiently at or near the rim is still very valuable.
Sometimes, folks get so caught up in the idea that everybody has to stretch the floor, that the best shot is always a 3-pointer. There are two sides of the coin.
The two most efficient areas are at the perimeter and at the basket. Fans are so hyper-focused on taking players that can do the former they can sometimes neglect the latter. The abilities to score effectively down low as well as getting to and converting at the free-throw line are still super important. They also happen to be things Stewart does very well.
Just think back to the Drummond days. Every time he ran down floor, whether in the halfcourt or on the break off a miss, he stopped and posted up two feet too far from the basket. He’d catch, dribble and throw up some awkward, off-balance shot.
Stewart doesn’t do that. He’s got a really good understanding of where he needs to be in order to be at his best. He’s not as vertically gifted as Drummond — in fact, he looks more like Zach Randolph offensively — but he’s able to score with the best of them down low.
Last season, Stewart went up against four players who are either in the NBA now or will be in 2021. Here’s what he did against them:
- Arizona’s Zeke Nnaji, drafted 22nd by the Nuggets (3 games): 18 points, 10 rebounds, 1.3 blocks on 19/36 (53%) shooting.
- USC’s Oneyeka Okongwu, drafted 6th by the Hawks (1 game): 18 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks on 6/12 (50%) shooting.
- Gonzaga’s Killian Tillie, signed with the Grizzlies (1 game): 21 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks on 6-of-7 (86%) shooting.
- Tennessee’s Yves Pons, projected second-round pick in 2021 (1 game): 14 points, 10 rebounds on 7-of-12 (58%) shooting.
Stewart is just really good at what he does offensively:
Now, hear me out, because I hear you already. I know he doesn’t fit the mold of the mobile, switchy big man with shooting range. He’s got potential for the latter, but I’m not sure he’s ever going to be super mobile defensively. His length gives him a chance, though.
The closest comparison I can come up with is Derrick Favors. Both he and Stewart are average athletes who stand 6-foot-9 with 7-foot-4 wingspans. They’re both physical rebounders who work hard and are good locker room fits. That kind of player is valuable, and it’s the gritty, work-hard, play-hard type that fans in Detroit identify with.
Stewart is the kind of player the Goin’ to Work Pistons would have welcomed with open arms.
Now, as a former No. 2 overall pick, Favors has been a bit of disappointment based on his draft position, but he’s going on Year 11 with career averages of 11.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game.
If you can get that kind of production out of Stewart, along with getting him up to 33ish percent from 3-point range, you’ve found a very useful player out of a maligned draft.
I think there’s a level of intensity, an energy, to Stewart’s game that Casey will like. He’s ready to play, and he won’t require shots to be happy. When the Pistons are inevitably 14 games under .500 in February, struggling to find the energy on the road, Casey will know he can get the burst he needs from Stewart for 10-15 minutes.
Stewart eventually overtakes Okafor for nightly minutes backing up Mason Plumlee. There are only four true big men on this roster in Stewart, Okafor, Plumlee and Blake Griffin. We know Okafor can’t defend anybody, so the nights where he struggles on that end should serve as an opportunity for Stewart.
Stewart can’t defend, and his offensive game is inefficient. There’s a possibility that Stewart is too slow to defend mobile centers and too small to handle the giants. He may not have a developed enough offensive game to score and, with no G League, may spend the year watching games glued to the bench.