When it comes to historical player comparisons, fanbases tend to keep them in-house. It’s why Isaiah Stewart, whose rebounding and defensive energy have helped him become a key rotation piece as a rookie for the Detroit Pistons, has often been compared to one of the greatest big men in team history — Ben Wallace.
Stewart’s career night against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday made it clear why the comparison has been a popular one for Pistons fans. Stewart scored 15 points, grabbed a career-high 21 rebounds, dished three assists and blocked two shots during a 110-104 victory over the Thunder.
Head coach Dwane Casey has been high on Stewart’s chances of becoming one of the Pistons’ great big men. After Friday’s game, the Wallace comparison came up once again. And it wasn’t just for Ben, either.
“He fits the Ben Wallace mode, he fits all the big guys, Rasheed Wallace, the history of big men in the Pistons history,” Casey said. “I told him he wants to be like Ben Wallace.”
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On paper, the similarities between Ben Wallace and Stewart are obvious. Both players are undersized for the center position, strongly-built and play with high motors. Wallace was the defensive anchor for the 2004 championship team, and brought home four Defensive Player of the Year awards. Stewart isn’t defending at that level yet, as he hasn’t completed a full NBA season. But the Pistons are high on his defensive upside.
On offense, the comparison doesn’t hold up. Wallace was a defensive specialist who mostly scored on dunks and layups, and never averaged more than 9.7 points per game in a season. Stewart is showing promise as an offensive weapon. He can post up, roll to the basket and has shooting touch that extends behind the 3-point line. His offensive rebounding percentage entering Friday (12.7%) is comparable with some of Wallace’s best seasons.
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Stewart’s potential as a 3-point shooter is where the Rasheed Wallace comparison factors in. Stewart has knocked down 11 of his 26 (42.3%) 3s this season. Like Rasheed, Casey envisions Stewart eventually spending time at power forward to take advantage of his floor-spacing.
“If he has it now he can take it, but that’s going to be a big part of his game,” Casey said. “Right now he’s putting pressure on the rim by rolling, getting on the offensive boards and don’t want to take that away right now. Sooner or later he’s going to do that, but he fits the Pistons mold. And I don’t want to leave out my man Rick Mahorn, either. He fits right in there with all of those guys.”
Ultimately, Stewart will forge his own path as his career progresses, and the comparisons to past Pistons big men may dwindle. But the effort he plays with will continue to endear him to fans who grew up watching the Bad Boys and Goin’ to Work teams. Friday was a dominant performance for him, as he outworked several bigger Thunder defenders.
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Neither Moses Brown (7 feet 2) or Tony Bradley (6-10) were able to do much to keep Stewart (6-8) out of the paint. Nine of Stewart’s 21 rebounds were offensive. Even though he’s often at a height disadvantage, it hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of the team’s best rebounders as a rookie. On Friday, it helped deliver the shorthanded Pistons (17-39) a victory.
“Tonight was all about physicality and playing hard,” Stewart said. “Just trying to be great on both ends of the floor. Growth-wise, I try to get better at everything. I watch film, work on my game and I just try to let the rest take care of itself.”
Contact Omari Sankofa II at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.