Rookie Isaiah Stewart brings a physical package and sterling reputation to the Pistons
The NBA might look at big men through a different lens today but toughness, drive and ability remain in demand in all shapes and sizes. The Pistons think they got all of that in one large package in Isaiah Stewart, the second of their three first-round picks in last week’s NBA draft.
Stewart spent one highly productive year at Washington, which won a pitched recruiting battle with Michigan State, Duke, Kentucky and Syracuse for the player Rivals.com rated as the No. 2 recruit in his class. At 6-foot-9, you might consider Stewart an undersized center – until you give him the eyeball test.
At the NBA’s modified combine this season, Stewart submitted to physical measurements and checked in at a chiseled 6-foot-8½ and 243 pounds with big hands and eye-popping numbers for wingspan (7-foot-4¾, second among all tested prospects) and standing reach (9-foot-0½). For comparison’s sake, Christian Wood – sent to Houston in a sign-and-trade deal as part of the Stewart acquisition – measured with a wingspan of 7-foot-3¼ and a standing reach of 9-foot-3½ at the 2015 combine.
And – oh, yeah – Stewart turned 19 in May. He might still have a growth spurt in him.
By all accounts, Stewart fits new general manager Troy Weaver’s profile of fielding a roster of hard-nosed players who’ll bloody their nose at both ends of the court, too. Stewart’s father, Dela, grew up in Jamaica and moved to Florida at 20 to cut sugar cane, eventually settling in Rochester, N.Y. Stewart credits his father for instilling a work ethic that his coaches are quick to note.
Weaver undoubtedly gained terrific insight into Stewart from his coach at Washington, Mike Hopkins. Hopkins and Weaver were assistant coaches in the early 2000s together under Jim Boeheim at Syracuse.
Here’s what Hopkins said to Brian Hamilton of The Athletic: “With Isaiah, you are getting one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around. He’s also just the ultimate professional. He’s focused, ready to go, can impact a team right away just in terms of his focus and his professionalism. He’s really good on the inside and will really prove to everyone through his work ethic that he’s a high-level 3-point shooter, which is something he works on daily. He’s so coachable, so relentless in his approach to not only how he plays but with his professionalism. He does the right thing every day. He doesn’t let a disappointment or losing get to him. He is one of those guys that just shakes it off and works on what to do better next time and how can he improve. You tell him something, he learns. You tell him to work on something and he works on it like no one you’ve ever seen before. That’s just the kind of kid he is. He will impact winning at any organization right away.”
Stewart averaged 17.0 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots in 32 minutes a game in earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors for Washington. He made 59 percent of his shots. While he took just 20 3-pointers for the season (he made five), Hopkins isn’t the only one who thinks Stewart will be able to represent a 3-point threat relatively quickly once it becomes a focus – a likelihood in Dwane Casey’s offense.
Here’s what The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie wrote about Stewart after the Pistons drafted him: “One of the toughest, most physical players in the draft. He’s 6-9, 250 pounds with a 7-foot-5 wingspan and he plays to initiate contact inside. He profiles as a potentially good rim protector and he’s an elite-level worker who also impressed in interviews with NBA teams. Another note: Teams that went up to Washington to scout the Huskies this year came away thinking that Stewart will be able to stretch the floor beyond the 3-point line sooner rather than later.”
One solid indicator of Stewart’s 3-point potential is the touch he exhibited as a foul shooter, where Stewart shot 77.4 percent. And he shot a lot of free throws, too – 199 for the season or 6.2 per game. The ability to draw fouls and then to capitalize by making free throws are nice arrows in a big man’s quiver. With big, soft hands, Stewart should make an inviting target as a rim runner and figures to combine with fellow rookie Killian Hayes in future pick-and-roll combinations.
There won’t be any immediate pressure for Stewart to contribute as a rookie with the Pistons expected to add veteran centers via free agency. But he’s about as physically ready to play as a 19-year-old coming to the NBA could possibly be – and, by all indications, he’ll log the work to make sure he’ll be prepared for whenever an opportunity to play comes along.