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Isaiah Stewart could be the prototypical five for the Pistons for the next decade

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A stout defender who is flashing passing, shooting and dribbling skills, Stewart has a chance to be a foundational piece for the Detroit Pistons

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Not long ago, we discussed Mason Plumlee’s important role in the running of Detroit Pistons’ offense and defense. Mason’s success is not based on wins and losses, but on how he contributes to the development of the team’s crop of young players. One of those young players, Isaiah Stewart, is progressing so quickly, he might already be ready to displace Plumlee as the team’s starting center.

Stewart turned heads immediately with his energy and hustle as a backup big. It was clear he could be a contributor, but there were questions about how he could succeed on offense outside of the still useful role of a garbage man. Now, though, it’s becoming clear there is more to Stewart’s game, and he is showing significant growth in the ways it takes to be an impact big man in today’s NBA. Even if there are still some shortcomings in his game, he’s filling them. And he’s only 19 years old.

Let’s take a closer look at Beef Stew’s growth on offense and defense.

Offense

Since we are talking about centers, let’s start at the rim.

Isaiah is solid in the restricted area hitting 59.3% of his shots. But lately, Stewart is getting more comfortable and learning a thing or two from Plumlee. In the last 10 games, Stewart is inching closer to Mason’s elite 74.3% mark. In those games, Stewart has a 67.9 FG% in the restricted area. Most (68.4%) of his scores there come assisted. The Pistons offense needs big men able to convert when Detroit’s playmakers are able to use dribble penetration to open up passing lanes, and Beef Stew shows to have good athleticism, nice touch and skills as well as understanding of off-ball movement to deliver such conversions.

What’s most noteworthy here is his leap as roll man. In his past 10 games, he went from scoring 1.05 to 1.19 PPP (or from the 39.2 to 64.4 percentile) in this category.

However, Isaiah is really making people believe in his future thanks to his ability to hit from the perimeter. The rookie is now proving that his long-ball will translate at the NBA level and makes himself available for assisted triples.

In last 10 games, he is 5-of-8 from deep.

If team playmakers need to catch a break or their efforts to break down defenses don’t yield successful results, Isaiah can be trusted to make something in the post, going from 0.81 to 0.96 PPP (or from 25.5 to 59.6 percentile) in the past 10 games.

All those things are great. But they’re just an extension of some of what he was already showcasing during his lone season at Washington.

What he wasn’t able to showcase at Washington was any sense of a passing game. Mike Hopkins used him almost exclusively down low where he needed to bang the entire Pac-12 collapsing on him. In Detroit, he is being used more as a facilitator. Stewart 6,3 AST% this year is the same as his college figure, so it wasn’t revealing as well. He’s starting to show the ability to create for others from down low, on a roll and as a handoff/pin down hub in high post, where he looks to have a very useful dribble.

Although he has a long way to go to be at the level of Plumlee (20 AST%), his ability to shoot midrange jumpers (he has made 6 of his last 9 mid-range shots) should create more space for his teammates to cut and spotup and more open passing lanes. And like Mason, Isaiah helps create opportunities to score for his teammates not only with his good passes but also with being elite in screen assists (4.8 per 36 minutes, 88.3 percentile).

What hasn’t waned at all this season is his hustle on offensive glass.

Put it all together and and Stewart is having nearly as great an impact on Detroit’s offense as Plumlee. He currently has OFFRTG of 106.7, while Plumlee sits at 108.5.

Defense

All the development on offense in Beef Stew’s game is paired with his near constant progression on defense. Defensive metrics are hard to come by and even harder to trust, but it’s clear Stewart is getting better game by game on that side of the ball. As Matt reported in January, Isaiah’s first month in the NBA showed some big holes on D. The rook was getting cooked and overmatched, especially when defending isolations (the woeful 10th percentile on isolation D seemed to match the eye test). But 10 games ago, he was in 34th allowing 1 PPP, now he’s in 44th (0.94 PPP). As the first clip shows, he still can be put on skates a little by more shifty guard, but as is exhibited by the rest of clips, he usually can stay in front of ball-handlers and contest their shots.

His motor, strength and length have allowed him to be successful in the post, and he’s improving nightly. He was in 64th percentile 10 games ago (0.81 PPP), now he’s in 73rd (0.79 PPP). Watch how impassable he is on the block.

His P&R defense has remained steady all season. With 0.74 PPP allowed, he’s in 79th percentile defending roll man. But he’s improving against guards after a switch or when blitzing and guarding both players in drop coverage. The film below displays it all.

He’s also all over the place contesting shots, and yes, he’s becoming better at it.

A couple of weeks ago, he contested 13.3 shots per 36 minutes and opponents shot 2.7% worse when defended by Stewart. Lately, he’s improved to contesting 13.4 shots and opponents shoot 3.6% worse. Everything is trending in the right direction.

When Stewart is on the floor, Detroit generates more steals (8.6% to 7.5% steal percentage). And it’s happening even though his pedestrian numbers of 1.5 STL% and 1.8 deflections per 36 minutes don’t allow us too often to see him making these kind of plays.

On defense is where the student has truly surpassed the teacher, and argue for Stewart getting a larger role on this team going forward. Stewart’s 105.7 defensive rating is way ahead of Plumlee’s with 113 mark.

In the middle of his first season, Isaiah Stewart is showing he soon will be ready to take over the starting five role for the Detroit Pistons. Most of the credit here obviously goes to the talented Stewart, but it also must be shared with Dwane Casey and the coaching staff and incumbent starter Mason Plumlee as well. Beef Stew is posting rookie numbers similar to Bam Adebayo in his first professional season. There is a long way to go to know if Stewart has the kind of superstar potential of Bam, but it’s already clear he could be a foundational piece of a contending Detroit Pistons franchise a few years down the road.