Why the Detroit Pistons would love for Isaiah Stewart to become a 3-point threat, and soon

Detroit Free Press

The offseason has begun for the Detroit Pistons, which means it’s also time for videos of NBA players’ workouts popping up on social media.

On Tuesday, sports marketing company New Recruit Media posted a video of Pistons big man Isaiah Stewart working out with USA Basketball coach Scott Fitch. The 2-minute clip opens with Stewart dribbling with his left hand before completing ball-handling and midrange shooting drills. The rest of the video consist of highlights from Stewart’s rookie season, showcasing his ability to knock down 3-pointers and midrange shots and drive to the rim.

If that video introduced you to Stewart, you might assume that he’s a forward. But Stewart, who is 6-foot-8, entered the NBA as a traditional center. During his lone season at Washington, he scored most of his points in the paint and was a good rebounder. His ability to score away from the basket was rarely shown in college, but became a featured part of his game during the back half of his rookie season.

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Stewart’s workout video confirms what we already knew — his priority this season is to continue developing his perimeter game. He almost exclusively played center during his rookie season, and thrived. But the Pistons envision him being able to play power forward in the future. He’s slightly undersized for the five, and has shown enough of a perimeter game to suggest that he can thrive playing with another center on the floor.

By shifting down a position, Stewart would free up more lineup combinations for coach Dwane Casey. It would also settle the Pistons’ frontcourt of the future if they were to select Evan Mobley, one of the best center prospects to enter the NBA draft in recent seasons.

“I didn’t know how much Isaiah’s game would translate to the NBA,” Casey said during his end-of-season press conference. “I knew his hard play would translate but I didn’t know if the 3-point shooting, the offensive rebounding, if he’d be able to do that against bigger, stronger players. And he did.

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“Can Isaiah step out and be a four-man and play at the same time as Mason (Plumlee)?” Casey continued. “All those things for him, I was really happy to see him take and make the 3-point shots as the year went on and I wanted to do that in a slow fashion and not do it all in a hurry. He did that and he’s going to be a good 3-point shooter in our league.”

Stewart knocked down 21 of his 63 (33.3%) 3-point attempts last season. More than half of those shots — 35 — were taken during his final 10 games off the season. Stewart didn’t take his first 3-pointer this season until the 11th game of the year, and it took him another eight games to take his second attempt. His first make from outside wasn’t until Feb. 9, the 22nd game of the year for the Pistons.

He made 12 of his first 28 tries, a healthy 42.9% mark. But his accuracy declined when his volume increased, and he hit just nine of his remaining 35 attempts (25.7%). Defenses began closing out on him toward the end of the season.

“It’s different because before this I’ve never taken so many 3s in a game,” Stewart said on May 11. “Usually I never really took a 3 in games. It’s a different feeling, it’s something I’m still getting used to. But it’s something I work hard at every day. Always putting up shots, working on my follow-through mechanics and everything.”

While Stewart was just 1-for-4 from outside that game, he did showcase some perimeter skills that weren’t present early in the season. Against the Chicago Bulls on May 11, he had separate drives to the rim that demonstrated his ability to control his dribble and finish between defenders and through contact.

Beyond knocking down 3-pointers, his ability to attack space and put pressure on the rim from anywhere on the court could open up his offensive game. And the Pistons are banking that he’ll be able to do it consistently.

“He doesn’t want to forget his day job, but the plays we call for him to pop back and take those are going to be like he did tonight,” Casey said after the Bulls game. “They’re not just going to let him stand out there and shoot them. So what’s Plan B? And tonight he attacked the rim, made excellent plays going to the basket. That’s another step of growth and development on his part.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Pistons content. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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