The optimal outcome for Detroit Pistons center Isaiah Stewart is a player who combines his defense and hustle with an ability to become a shooting threat and a short-roll passer. But is that the only avenue for him to become not only a quality player but a starting-caliber center?
I believe the answer is, there are more ways to succeed at center in today’s NBA, and after reviewing film of Stewart on the offensive end, I came away with three areas Stewart can improve relatively quickly, and it would transform his effectiveness on offense.
MORE Offensive Rebounds?
I am sure your initial reaction is that Stewart is already a really, really good offensive rebounder and how could he improve in this area (without becoming a better leaper)? After watching him extremely closely when a shot goes up, I do think there are two subtle ways he can grab even more offensive boards.
Both of these will play off of each other, but the first aspect involves anticipation in terms of getting position when the shot goes up. Far too often, Stewart will rely on just being stronger and outworking the defensive player instead of doing his work early and getting the kind of position that makes grabbing the board easier.
That includes getting his hands OFF the box out and above his shoulders to be ready to secure the board. Far too often, you see his hands below his waist or him attack a rebound with one hand while the other stays on the defender’s back. I think this plays into his overall issues with his hands, he simply does not have them in position to grab/catch the basketball.
Getting Post Position
This is an area of his offensive game I have liked going back to his rookie year. I am not saying he is the most polished big man, and his touch can definitely use some work, but I think he is solid. I would love for him to get a handful of touches per game in this spot just to keep him engaged on the offensive end, if absolutely nothing else.
With that said, I do not think those touches should come via “sets” or called actions for Stewart. I think he can get five post touches a game simply by getting early-transition post position and utilizing advantages that are created in ball-screen situations. The early transition post ups will also help put early pressure on the defense and some possible cross matches that teammates can exploit.
I believe some small improvements in off-ball movement can increase Stewart’s and his teammates production in ways that will not show up in the box score. Much has been talked about his struggles in the “dunker” spot on the baseline because of his lack of explosion. This does hinder his overall effectiveness, BUT I think with an increased awareness and better movement he can create easier opportunities when in that position.
Screening, especially off ball, is an undervalued and under-appreciated aspect of the game. Which is why I think it is the PERFECT thing for Stewart to get better at as a lot of things he does will go under appreciated (except for in Detroit where we love players that bring the energy and hustle that Beef Stew does).
I will admit that a few of these things I have talked about and shown involve a very high level of offensive awareness and that in itself will require some growth from Isaiah Stewart. I do think that an improvement in these areas would go a long way in increasing his offensive impact that is more than just saying “become a better shooter” or “has to jump higher.” I have no idea where his, and the teams, focus will be for the rest of this season and the off-season but I am excited to find out.