Killian Hayes receives the most hype and Saddiq Bey garners most of the headlines. It makes sense. Hayes is a lottery pick at perhaps the most consequential position on the floor and is the anointed point guard of the future in Detroit. Bey is the plug and play guy who fell in the first round and would likely have broken the rookie record for most 3-pointers in a season if the pandemic hadn’t lopped 10 games off the schedule.
Then there is Isaiah Stewart. Beef Stew. The hustle and energy guy who quickly won over the Pistons fan base but few others paid attention to. That’s not surprising, and Detroit fans themselves might be a little at fault.
We were so enamored by his old-school game we didn’t stop to appreciate that an undersized center in the mold of Ben Wallace who dishes out punishment like one of the Bad Boys has a thoroughly modern NBA game.
While everyone paid attention to Bey’s 3-point shooting prowess, nobody paid much mind to the numbers Stewart has been putting up. Quick, which rookie has the most blocks? The most offensive and defensive rebounds? Which first-year player tops his class in win shares?
The answer to all of the above is Isaiah Stewart. The most remarkable thing about Stewart is how unremarkable his output seems because he’s simply pretty good at every facet of the game.
Stewart is undersized at 6-foot-8, yes, but he’s got amazing footwork and good touch. He uses his exceptional 7-foot-4 wingspan to get quality looks and that size, quickness and wingspan become a major asset on the defensive end where he can switch on the perimeter, keep his positioning and alter shots no matter where they’re coming from.
Of the 21 rookies with at least 300 field goal attempts, Stewart’s 59.7 true shooting percentage is second behind Desmond Bane. he has 30 more blocks than the next closest rookie and nearly 100 more rebounds.
Then there is the shooting touch. He’s shooting better than 63% from the restricted area and 50% from the paint overall. What really sets him apart and sets him up for success is the promise he is showing with his 3-point shot.
Stewart was a reluctant gunner earlier in the season, but he showed he could hit the occasional outside shot. This wasn’t exactly shocking. He showed good form and a decent free-throw rate in high school and his lone year at Washington. He’s been much more willing to make the 3 a part of his game. This has caused his efficiency to drop, but it’s also the skill that could turn heads and be a difference maker as he develops as an NBA player.
As Omari Sanokofa outlines in the Free Press, Stewart didn’t make his first 3 until 22 games into the season and had 31 attempts in his first 60 games this season. In the last eight games, Stewart has put up 32 attempts.
He’s hitting at an acceptable 33.3% rate. Again, Stewart is a starting center in the NBA leading his rookie class in blocks and rebounds and looks like he’ll have a reliable 3-point shot. That is a remarkably rare skillset. Oh yeah, and he’s still only 19 years old — one of the 10 youngest players in the NBA.
All of this flies under the radar because nothing Stewart is doing is eye-popping, and he doesn’t generate headlines or highlights like LaMelo Ball or Anthony Edwards does. He just puts in the work night in, night out. Again, that is why Detroit Pistons fans love him so much.
Stewart’s 1.3 blocks per game. Pretty damn good for a big man. His 6.7 rebounds are not going to make anyone look twice even as he does it in just over 20 minutes per game. His 7.9 points, well, that’s not even double digits.
But if you take a step back and ask yourself — how many rookie big men can give you those points, rebounds, blocks and a 3-point shot? The answer, unsurprisingly, is not that many.
The only rookies to play 500 minutes and put up at least 7 points, 6 rebounds, and 1 block per game while having at least 50 3-point attempts?
Isaiah Stewart, Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Jamario Moon, Lamar Odom, Paul Pierce, Arvydas Sabonis.
Excepting Moon who, with apology, was already 27 years old when he made his NBA debut, that is some mighty fine company to find yourself in.
Hopefully, the next group Stewart finds himself in is with teammate Bey on the All-Rookie first team.