Of the four players the Pistons selected in the NBA, Isaiah Stewart’s selection was probably the most divisive. Killian Hayes was the point guard of the future, Saddiq Bey was the sharp-shooting two-way player who fell in the first round, and Saben Lee was the uber-explosive point guard you take a flier on in the second round.
What, exactly, was Isaiah Stewart?
It turns out, he’s everything Detroit Pistons fans love in a player. Stewart instantly won fans hearts because he is the epitome of what Deeetroit Basketball is all about — endless energy and effort, a lunch pail work ethic that calls for getting your hands dirty on occasion.
Stewart has already amassed quite a collection of players who haven’t exactly appreciated being forced to deal with his hard-charging, physical style of play. He’s made big men like Demarcus Cousins take notice, came away with a pound of flesh (or maybe just some nylon) from Dwight Howard, and has held his own defensively when switched on to Jayson Tatum, Lebron James and others.
It’s how Stewart was able to quickly supplant Jahlil Okafor as the first big man off the bench and keep his spot despite shooting 43% from the field and fouling more than five times per 36 minutes. There are three rotation players who have a positive plus-minus — Jerami Grant, Wayne Ellington and Isaiah Stewart.
Stewart causes good trouble. But he’s not a trouble maker. He seems like a nice, unassuming presence with the occasional flash of a big smile. Stewart is willing to do the dirty work required to play winning basketball. Setting hard screens, switching effectively, bothering shots and getting deflections.
He’s not a flashy guy, but on the court, if he is able to secure a big rebound, get a key basket or block your shot, he’ll let out a primal scream that seems to shake the gym.
“Oh yeah, it’s definitely a switch that I am able to control ... I know when to turn it (on) and when to turn it off,” Stewart said of his energy and aggressiveness after Detroit’s surprise 107-92 win against the Lakers.
That game, like many before it, saw him trading a few subtle elbows and hard screens with big men like Montrezl Harrell and Markieff Morris, as well as some free-flowing trash talk.
“Definitely been some great battles, and it’s just me trying to learn their game. Try my best to defend them,” Stewart said of his memorable matchups so far this season.
Nowhere is Stewart’s energy more apparent than his un-quenching thirst for offensive rebounds. He currently corrals 16.7% of all offensive rebounds when he is on the floor. That is a threshold few players meet, much less 19-year-old rookies.
The mark has only been hit 69 times in NBA history (min. 16 mpg and 15 games). Only five rookies have hit the mark — Hakeem Olajuwon, Popeye Jones, Kennith Faried and Larry Smith.
“I sit there, and I watch him play, and I am just amazed at some of the basketballs he’s able to get to,” Griffin said of the rookie center. “The hustle plays. The second and third chances he gets us. it’s all just him wanting it more. I’m very impressed with Isaiah.”
Indeed, his “want to” under the offensive rim appears unmatched. It makes his inability to secure defensive rebounds all the more puzzling. Nine of his 17 games have seen him secure more offensive than defensive rebounds.
No game has been more Isaiah Stewart than against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Just under 15 minutes on the floor, 0-of-6 shooting, zero points, six rebounds — all offensive. And in a game the Pistons lost by 15, Stewart was just minus-1.
It points to why all that energy and his “wanting it more” is the calling card of his game. He’s not going to be the biggest guy on the floor, and for now, he won’t be the strongest. He is still learning many facets of the game, and can get muscled out down low, and struggles to move effectively after screening for teammates.
He’s raw, his shot is a work in progress (and showing some promise), but nobody brings everything he has in him on a nightly basis more than Stewart.
He makes winnings plays, and on a team that for too long has been devoid of those types of players, it’s no wonder he’s so quickly become embraced by the fan base.
Stewart causes good trouble, and he’s gonna be a problem for opposing players for a long time to come.