Isaiah Stewart was and is one of my favorite players on the Pistons roster. I am not from Detroit, in fact I have never been to Detroit (something that will change in March), and just recently started following the team and creating content exclusively a little over 12 months ago. I say that because even as an “outsider,” it did not take long to understand why fans absolutely fell in love with Stewart and what he embodies. The energy ... the toughness ... the refusal to back down from ANYONE seems to encapsulate the city and what previous teams were all about ... embodying what it means to be a “Bad Boy” and “Goin’ to Work” every night.
Stewart leads the Pistons in rebounds per 100 possessions by almost 3 and also in blocks per 100 possessions by more than 1. So, if all of these skills and intangible qualities are there, why is there so much angst about Stewart and the potential for what he can be for this team long term? The answer revolves almost entirely around his offensive game.
I knew I wanted to take a look at Stewart, who is short for a center and not an explosive leaper, in pick-and-roll situations to see if his perceived deficiencies are as true as many critics make them out to be. I told myself I would not take a look at his outside shooting but after a couple games where it came to the forefront, I felt it necessary to again show why I think it is an important aspect of his development. The final piece of this offensive game and then one we will start off with is his overall effectiveness in the paint.
In the Paint
I am looking at what Stewart is bringing to the table, or not, when playing in the lane but not in PnR situations. This does include him showing that high motor on offensive rebounds that we all know he is great at, BUT I wanted to see what else was there. As I got more into the breakdown, I really started to focus on what he was bringing in that “dunker” spot along the baseline. I have to admit, right now Stewart leaves something to be desired.
He often finds himself slow to get to the right spot and thus finds himself out of position to be an outlet for a dump-off pass. An area I am really interested to watch moving forward is his ability to finish when he does get those dumpoffs because he has to overcome his lack of explosiveness and quick twitch ability to score before the defense can recover. The hope is that he is going to eventually find a way to be a “crafty” finisher around the rim.
Pick and Roll
Staying right in line with his play in the lane comes the area many fans may be most interested in, his ability in the pick and roll. There is obviously a lot of pressure on the Detroit Pistons “bigs” to be good in this area now that they have guards like Killian Hayes and Cade Cunningham. Without being too negative, this is another area where Stewart leaves plenty to be desired as well, BUT on the positive side there are some areas where we could see improvement as he continues to get more comfortable.
No, I do not think he will all of a sudden become a high riser finishing lobs at the rate fans want. I think he DEFINITELY has to work on his short roll passing and ability to play out of that scenario better. As I highlight in the breakdown that I am not sure his teammates really trust him in that role yet. The area where I think he can make the quickest improvement and make an impact is as a screener on the weak side “tag” man creating tougher and slower rotations for the defense.
If someone were to say that becoming a bigger impact in pick-and-roll situations wasn’t the offensive development that they were most interested in seeing from Stewart then my guess would be they want to see him be able to stretch the defense with his shooting. This was something I thought we would see him improve on in his second year, and thus far we have only seen a regression and a significant lack of attempts. In the breakdown, I show why I feel it is so important for him to start taking and making these shots, at least from mid range, for the overall offensive flow of the Pistons.
I will be the first to admit that while my fandom usually creates biases for some of my favorite players, I have quietly questioned the progression in Stewart’s offensive game this season. I was one who, perhaps irrationally, expected him to be taking 2 or 3 triples a game while making 1 and showing an improvement in the pick and roll as a short-roll passer and finisher.
I quickly discovered many of my expectations for improvement this season were far too high for this team, and when you combine the offseason ankle injury Stewart sustained, you can understand why we did not see these things early in the season. With that said, we are now 20+ games into the 2021-2022 regular season and based on the in season progress we saw from Stewart as a rookie I am hoping we will start to see him get better in at least a couple of these areas.