Pistons Season Rewind: Stewart embodies traits of franchise’s heyday

From the department of Life Comes at You Fast, there’s this: Isaiah Stewart, yet to turn 23, is the longest-tenured Piston.

About to enter his fifth NBA season since lasting one spot outside the lottery in the 2020 draft after a single season in college, Stewart embodies the traits that made Detroit fall in love with the franchise during its two championship eras. Stewart would have been embraced by Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn as easily as he would have had the arms of Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace thrown around his shoulders.

Stewart immediately endeared himself to his first NBA head coach, Dwane Casey, who was struck by the 19-year-old’s irrepressible physicality during his very first training camp, and became a favorite son of Casey’s successor, Monty Williams, just as quickly. No matter what blueprint a franchise’s front office envisions or what schemes a coaching staff devises, there will always be a place in the NBA for a player like Stewart who goes hard to the whistle, takes pride in accumulating defensive stops and cares more about the scoreboard than the box score.

Here's a look at Stewart’s past, present and future:

PROFILE: 6-foot-8 forward/center, 22 years old, 4 NBA seasons

STATUS: Stewart and the Pistons agreed to a reported four-year, $64 million contract extension last July. The first year of that deal will cover the 2024-25 NBA season.

2023-24 STATS: 10.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 0.8 blocked shots on .487 shooting and .383 3-point shooting in 31 minutes a game over 46 games

DID YOU KNOW? Washington isn’t a typical landing place for five-star basketball recruits, but the Huskies landed a pair of them in the 2019 class to vault them into the national top 10 classes. In Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels, Washington signed the No. 2 and No. 7 prospects in the class according to the recruiting service compositive index. Both players stayed for only their freshman seasons at Washington and both were first-round draft picks. Stewart went 16th the to the Pistons and McDaniels went 28th to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Fourteen of the 30 first-round picks from the 2020 class had their rookie deals extended, but five of the first eight picks did not. Stewart and McDaniels are among the 14.

A LOOK BACK: Stewart grew up in western New York and was a standout as a high school freshman when he was a sturdy 6-foot-7 inches, averaging 18.5 points and 12.4 rebounds at McQuaid Jesuit High. He was brought into the USA Basketball program before his sophomore year in high school and transferred to Indiana prep powerhouse La Lumiere for his final two high school seasons. A longstanding relationship with former Syracuse assistant coach Mike Hopkins led Stewart to pick Washington, where Hopkins coached from 2017 through last season, over Michigan State, Duke, Kentucky and Syracuse. At Washington, Stewart averaged 17.0 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots to lead the Huskies in all three categories. He started 14 games as a 19-year-old NBA rookie and averaged 7.9 points and 6.7 rebounds for the Pistons. Stewart made 71 starts at center for the 2021-22 Pistons before shifting to power forward in year three to accommodate rookie teammate Jalen Duren’s ascension. Stewart began to take his game farther from the basket in year three, increasing his 3-point attempts from 0.6 per game to 4.1 in 2022-23.

THE SEASON THAT WAS: Injuries – the undercurrent of the 14-win Pistons season – played a disruptive role in Stewart’s fourth NBA season. He missed 10 games in December and January with a big toe injury, 11 games in January and February with an ankle injury and the final 13 games of the season with a hamstring injury. Stewart continued to diversify his game when he was healthy, improving his 3-point percentage from .327 to .383 while taking slightly less than half of his shots (45.8 percent) from the arc and also beginning to grow comfortable putting the ball on the floor. Stewart is a reliably sturdy frontcourt defender and his relentlessly physical playing style wears on his competitors and has been cited by coaches and teammates as something that diminishes the will of opponents to engage. When the Pistons settled on a preferred starting lineup of Stewart, Duren, Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey and Ausar Thompson, Stewart – who turns 23 on May 22 – was the oldest of the bunch, making the Pistons collectively younger than many NCAA teams.

A LOOK AHEAD: Stewart’s relatively seamless transition from center to forward has increased his versatility and value, allowing the Pistons to vary their look and match up comfortably with teams that play big or small. Stewart’s progress to become an above-average 3-point shooter, on top of his defensive aptitude and versatility, figures to make him a staple in lineups no matter what personnel tweaks the Pistons determine necessary to maximize a roster with Cade Cunningham at its heart. For his selflessness, work ethic and physical presence, Stewart also stands as a worthy partner in locker-room leadership with Cunningham. There were rumblings around the February trade deadline that Stewart was coveted by contenders for the very reasons that make him an integral part of the Pistons present and their future.

MONEY QUOTE: “I trust in what we have going on here. I would say all we can do is just continue to put our heads down and work together. We’re young. I think we’re the second-youngest team in the league. With that, there are going to be hiccups and everything that comes with it, but for us as a whole, we’re still committed and still bought in to do our best and do everything we can to be a better team next season.” – Isaiah Stewart at the conclusion of the season