Has there been a recent player that’s embodied everything great about Detroit basketball more than Isaiah Stewart?
While Detroit Pistons fans have been quick to embrace Beef Stew’s on-court effort, he will need to take steps forward in several facets of his game if he wants to be a reliable starter on a contending team. Stewart shined early on averaged 7.9 points and 6.7 rebounds a game en route to All-Rookie Second Team honors.
Stewart’s unrelenting desire to do whatever it takes to help the team succeed reminds you of some of the past greats who have donned the Pistons’ red, white and blue. Detroit is still in the preliminary stages of a rebuild, so we can maintain some patience with his overall skill progression even as his role will take a sizable leap.
As an undersized big, Stewart’s defensive versatility stands out when evaluating his overall game. He protects the rim well, averaging 2.1 blocks per 36 minutes during his rookie year. He uses his thick frame to avoid being overpowered by taller centers.
Outside of the paint, Stewart shows surprisingly good movement when switched on to guards and rarely looks flat footed - somewhat resembling Ben Wallace’s ability to contain all parts of the court. Will he turn into a four-time defensive player of the year caliber defender? Odds are against it. But, with Wallace now working with the franchise and spending a lot more time at practices, Stewart can absorb as much of Big Ben’s essence as possible.
Offensively, Stewart shattered expectations by not simply being the energetic bruiser his reputation implied, but by fully embracing how to be a successful big man in the modern NBA. His shooting number in college were virtually non-existent, using his body to overpower smaller bigs and finish around the rim. As he transitioned to the speed of the NBA, it was clear early that he’ll be a viable pick and roll/pop option. During his rookie season, he shot very well from almost all parts of the court and 38% from beyond 25 feet.
Overall, the biggest strength of Stewart’s game is his bully-ball mentality. He will continue to progress skill-wise, but his mindset alone will keep him in the league for a long time as by giving 110% effort on both sides of the floor. If he can maintain steady progress in improving every facet of his skillset and adapting to the speed of the game, his ceiling will continue to rise.
Areas for improvement
Considering Stewart’s ability to exceed expectations during his rookie year, it’s tough to be overly critical about his weaknesses as nothing has been intensely glaring.
His outside shooting will need to at least maintain a similar percentage, as the volume will continue to go up along with his minutes and role in the offense. Although the midrange game overall is dying, Stewart struggled shooting from 20-24 feet, only making one of his 15 attempts. The addition of Kelly Olynyk on this squad should alleviate some pressure on Stewart to take a huge step forward as a shooter, but he should continue to work toward becoming a well-rounded pick-and-pop option.
Stewart will also need to cut down on his foul rate as he averaged 2.7 per game last season, which was fourth among all rookies. Olynyk also ranked in the top 20 on this list, which could lead to foul trouble for the Pistons and a lot of scrambled lineup combinations.
Know Your Role
As with all rookies who show success early on, there will be heightened expectations heading into year two. Both Stewart and Saddiq Bey proved they are capable starters in the league, but will need to show increased output as their minutes continue to grow.
Based on preseason action, it looks like Stewart will start from the get go. Dwayne Casey puts an emphasis on defense and so does the fan base - which means Stewart will be counted on to anchor them on that side of the ball, especially with lesser defenders in Olynyk, Trey Lyles and Luka Garza backing him up.
Stewart averaged a little over 20 minutes a game as a rookie but that will obviously change. It’s his job to maintain good defensive and shooting numbers, while staying out of foul trouble as Detroit continues to progress towards a contender in the East.