The moment Jerami Grant was traded, the big question became, “Who is going to take his place in the starting lineup?” The answer wasn’t found in free agency, with the Detroit Pistons adding center Nerlens Noel, shooting guard Alec Burks and long-shot reclamation project Kevin Knox. Nor was it found in the draft where the Pistons took off guard Jaden Ivey and big man Jalen Duren. As it stands, the Pistons have zero prototypical power forwards on their roster. As we search for answers, Detroit Bad Boys will be examining five candidates on their potential as the starting 4. Unless a trade is made, it’s gotta be one of these guys, right?
Before we take a look at the film to see what Detroit Pistons big man Isaiah Stewart actually showed on the court through two Summer League games in Las Vegas, I first want to give my thoughts on the idea behind him expanding his game to play the “4.”
For me, fans’ thoughts and opinions on this remind me a little bit of the conversation around Saddiq Bey working on his all-around offensive game last offseason and in Summer League. There were some opinions out there that he shouldn’t be working on his off-the-dribble and isolation games and instead should focus on mastering his 3-and-D role. While I understand this opinion and respect everyone’s, I personally disagreed.
The advantage of where this Detroit Pistons organization currently stands is you are able to allow your young players to spend offseasons, Summer Leagues, and even time in-season working on weaknesses because you simply aren’t that worried about wins and losses right now. If they were a legit playoff contender they would not have had the ability and patience to let Bey work through those early-season struggles and eventually regain his “form” throughout the middle and end of the season. Whether it worked or not is another story but it’s about taking those opportunities to try and maximize the abilities of each of your players.
With that said, I absolutely think that Stewart should be doing everything he can to expand his offensive game beyond what we have seen the first two seasons. The Pistons will yet again be in a situation this season where the wins and losses are not the most important criteria for success. The first two offseasons of his young career have been less than “normal” with the Covid pandemic his rookie year and the ankle injury keeping him out of offseason work most recently. Stewart is finally getting a summer to work on really becoming a legitimate 3-point shooter and play that stretch big role to go along with what he brings on the defensive end.
When you look at the current roster construction for the Pistons, you see why this would be a major development for Stewart. This would allow Dwane Casey to play him with more paint and pick-and-roll bigs in the rotation like Marvin Bagley III, Jalen Duren, and Nerlens Noel. Stewart is not as good as any of those guys as a vertical threat at the rim in ballscreen situations or in the dunker spot, but if he is able to be a respectable 3-point shooter you can use him to space the floor while those guys operate in the pick and roll with Cade, Killian, and company.
This also gives you a really intriguing pair of bigs on the defensive end when he is on the floor with Duren or Noel. Stewart can be your ball screen switch big which would leave Duren/Noel roaming on the back line of the defense to provide rim protection. It also gives you a ton of flexibility in general when putting your lineups together depending on your opponent that night. If a team goes big, like the T’Wolves, then you have Stew playing the 4 with one of the aforementioned 5s. If a team wants to go small then you can play Livers or Bey at the 4 and have Stew, or any of MBIII/Duren/Noel, playing at the 5.
Again, I am not really worried about all of that right now, although being able to get some of the young bigs minutes at the same time for their development along with keeping floor spacing for the guard development is important. But you can use this off-season and season to develop Stewart at the 4 for those situations down the road when this team is in a playoff series against their Central Division counterpart Cleveland Cavaliers throwing out a frontcourt of Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen.
All of this is why I was somewhat disappointed in Killian Hayes one summer league game. We saw Hayes do, simply, what Hayes does best, and I wanted to see him get the opportunity to consistently attack to score with the ball in his hands OR even play off the ball but shoot 10 3-pointers a game. Either one of those would, seemingly, put him outside of his comfort zone and force him to work on things he hasn’t shown to be great at. And make no mistake, it is okay to put these young players out of their comfort zones, ESPECIALLY in the off-season and summer league.
Isaiah Stewart needs to be taking 3, 4, 5 catch-and-shoot 3-pointers a game to start the season. Beef Stew needs to be operating in DHOs, throwing backdoors, attacking closeouts, and all-around seeing what else he can bring to the table offensively. If it is an absolute disaster through the first half of the season and you see he is losing overall confidence in his game, then you dial it back to the things he does best and regroup for next off season. Until then, I want to continue to see this organization push these young players out of their comfort zones and preconceived bounds to help them reach their max potential as players and for the overall benefit of the team.