Fire & Ice: Stewart, Hayes catch the eye of Cory Joseph just a few weeks into his Pistons tenure
Nic Antaya (NBAE/Getty)
Ten years and five franchises into his NBA career, Cory Joseph has lived through pretty much everything a player can experience over the decade since he left Texas after one season of college basketball.
He won an NBA title with San Antonio in 2014 and was on the ground floor at Dwane Casey’s side for Toronto’s ascent to its 2019 championship. He knows a thing or two about the process of building for sustained success.
And he’s been in Detroit long enough now since last month’s trade that brought him from Sacramento to recognize the integrity of the foundation being laid by the Pistons.
“We have a lot of young guys, young talent. They’re soaking all the knowledge up like a sponge,” Joseph said after scoring 24 points to lead Thursday’s win at Sacramento with plenty of help from that young talent. “They’re just working, day in and day out, even behind the scenes. It’s lovely to see. That’s an organization that’s going in the right direction. That’s what we’re doing here. It takes everybody.”
The two youngest Pistons – 19-year-olds Isaiah Stewart and Killian Hayes – played especially notable roles in the 113-101 win over a Sacramento team pushing for a playoff berth. For as good as Joseph was, it was Hayes who wound up with the night’s best plus-minus at plus 12. In only his third game back since returning from a hip injury that wiped out three months of his rookie season, Hayes finished with 11 points on 5 of 7 shooting, scoring at all three levels and exuding a confidence that appeared lacking pre-injury.
“I think he’s getting a lot more comfortable,” Joseph said. “He’s only played a couple of games, so he’s far ahead of me when I was his age. I think he has great decision-making.”
Hayes and Stewart – part of the “core four” as dubbed by Pistons general manager Troy Weaver, who drafted both along with Saddiq Bey and Saben Lee in November – provide something of a fire-and-ice contrast in demeanor. Hayes plays with a stoic countenance, Stewart with his heart affixed firmly to his bulging biceps.
Even though Joseph spent the first three months of Stewart’s rookie season in the Western Conference, the Ontario native was aware of him before becoming his teammate.
“When I was in Sacramento, we went to Detroit and I was just watching film of the guys and I was like, ‘Who was this Baby Ben Wallace here?’ You know what I mean? I was like, ‘Who is this guy?’ He plays extremely hard.”
With Mason Plumlee out after his collision with Bey in Tuesday’s game at Denver led to him entering concussion protocol, Stewart started and logged a career-high 33 minutes in Thursday’s win, scoring 16 points, grabbing a career-best 13 rebounds and passing for four assists.
“He’s amazing for us,” Joseph said. “He plays that Detroit, old-school basketball where he’s bumping, he’s grinding the game. He’s getting extra possessions and we need him to do that for us. He’s doing a great job.”
Casey knew Delon Wright would be a sounding board and a security blanket for Hayes, so he was fully behind Weaver’s November trade for Wright, who like Joseph played for him in Toronto. But when Sacramento felt Wright would bolster its playoff push and incentivized the Pistons to swap guards by adding two second-round picks to their offer, Casey knew he would lose nothing in mentorship value by exchanging Wright for Joseph.
And Joseph, sure enough, has put his arms around Hayes as the rookie emerged from his three-month absence with a greater sense of how to find his way in the NBA. Joseph’s advice leans to encouraging Hayes to let his instincts guide him.
“For him, it’s just not to predetermine what he’s going to do,” Joseph said. “Get downhill off the pick and roll and, as you see, the last couple of games he’s been getting downhill and he’s reading the defense like a book, which he’s great at. I think he’s only going to excel from here and just keep going. He’s a hell of a player. And defensively he’s great, too. He’s playing both sides of the ball.”
Joseph’s teammates understood how special the night must have been for him, piloting a win over a team that felt it got the best end of the trade by dealing him away. The way he reacted to the win imparted to those young teammates another small lesson among the many someone with 10 years on their resume absorbs along the way.
“It was good to get this W,” Joseph said. “We’ll celebrate tonight, but tomorrow we’ve got to reset our minds. That’s what it’s all about. A young team, you’ve just got to stay level-headed and keep grinding away every day. And the tide will turn.”