Troy Weaver took what neutral observers surely deemed a big dice roll – two of them, in fact – when he dealt future assets to pick add the 16th and 19th picks in the 2020 draft.
It would typically take at least a few seasons for a conclusive risk assessment of those deals, but Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey pretty much put the verdict to bed before their rookie seasons had ended. Based on what they did in the season opener of year two, Stewart and Bey are pushing Weaver’s dual moves even more affirmatively into the win column.
Stewart finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and a blocked shot in 26 hard minutes, hitting 6 of 9 shots including several strong finishes in traffic. But his biggest impact came at the defensive end on a night the Pistons held a powerful Chicago offense to 94 points. Stewart banged with Nic Vucevic as the four-time All-Star shot 7 of 21 and found more success when Stewart was off the floor than on it.
“You’ve got to make a decision every night you play against him,” Dwane Casey said. “He brings it each and every night. If he makes a mistake, it’s a hard mistake. Whoever Isaiah is playing against – Vucevic to Mutombo – whoever it is, he’s going to play him hard.”
Bey scored 13 points, unremarkable except for the fact he did it while going 0 of 4 from the 3-point arc. He led the Pistons in rebounds (nine) and assists (four), a career first for the latter, and also in minutes played, logging 11 seconds more than Jerami Grant. The Pistons know Bey, who led all NBA rookies in 3-pointers last season while shooting nearly 40 percent from the arc, did not forget how to shoot over the summer. They also know how much work he put into diversifying his game – and it showed against Chicago.
“I love Saddiq,” Casey said. “He’s one of our most consistent players. I’m not judging him on whether he makes or misses shots because that’s going to be there.”
By all available evidence, the Pistons landed two durable, conscientious and driven players at a spot in the draft where nothing is guaranteed. Bey already has proven his bona fides as an NBA starter and Stewart, still just 20, is closing fast on the same. Casey would double down on Troy Weaver’s bet on the duo to continue their NBA ascent.
“Two guys on our team that I know they’ll be prepared for anything thrown at them are Saddiq and Isaiah,” Casey said. “There are three kinds of guys you can have: the guys who are compliant, go through and (follow) all the rules; guys who are committed; and then guys who really challenge themselves to be great on every possession, every day. Their second year, I expect them to take another step.”
Stewart’s impact is destined to always exceed his counting stats just by the nature of how consistently hard he plays. Playing with his motor on high rev demands the same of teammates. For an organization hellbent on following the time-honored Pistons blueprint for success – defense, toughness, teamwork – Stewart can be to this era what Dennis Rodman and Ben Wallace were to theirs.
Stewart spoke to the essence of that type of contribution after Wednesday’s opener, underscoring the value he brings to a team that wants to be known as the opponent nobody relishes playing.
“We brought that fight early,” he said. “We just came in from the beginning to basically say it ain’t going to be an easy game.”
That mindset, coming from a player as earnest as Stewart, rubs off on teammates, especially when he’s destined for a more prominent role going forward.
“Just watching him last year and this year, he’s a guy that plays extremely hard,” Trey Lyles said after Thursday’s practice. “He makes up for any mistakes he might make with how hard he plays. He has a very high ceiling offensively and defensively. He’s very quick to the ball, quick reactions. He’s a great rebounder and he knows his role. I think he can become a very good player.”
Casey has spoken to Bey since last season ended with him earning first team All-Rookie status that he was no longer a secret and teams would prioritize running him off the 3-point line in the future. So Bey, as diligent as any player Casey has come across, spent his off-season working on his ballhandling and preparing to operate in pick and rolls.
Bey’s third quarter against Chicago pulled together all of the off-season focus and hinted at what’s to come. In 10 minutes, he hit 4 of 5 shots and dished out three assists. He twice went off the dribble and finished by finding Stewart for layups. He scored off a spin move once, off a Eurostep another time.
“Saddiq works on his game,” Stewart said. “He tries to work on every single piece. Tonight, it showed. We all know Saddiq can shoot the ball, but tonight he showed that he can post up, take advantage of mismatches, put the ball on the ground – he showed that tonight.”
Both of Troy Weaver’s calculated-risk picks showed out on opening night. If you were a betting man, you’d probably wager they’ll be doing it in Pistons uniforms for a lot more opening nights.