Detroit Pistons’ Isaiah Stewart, Marvin Bagley III figuring out how to make pairing work

Detroit Free Press

Isaiah Stewart lost a tooth before he knocked down his first 3-pointer on Sunday. Rather than picking the tooth up immediately, he let it fall to the ground to he could prioritize making the shot first.

“How great of a kid are you to look at your tooth fall but then worry about your 3 as it’s still on the ground?” Detroit Pistons head coach Dwane Casey said after the 104-102 loss to the New York Knicks. “I thought he wanted a substitution, and he said, ‘Nah, it’s just my tooth.’ ”

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While Detroit’s coaching staff probably wouldn’t condone their players losing teeth to prioritize making a shot every single time, the play illustrated where Stewart’s headspace was. Sunday was his third start alongside Marvin Bagley III, who has given the Pistons an offensive jolt since his arrival at the trade deadline.

The Pistons are invested in both of their young bigs, but neither of them are good 3-point shooters. Bagley is a career 28.8% outside shooter, and Stewart has hit 27.5% of his tries. It’s not ideal for NBA teams to play two big men who don’t space the floor together. But in a rebuilding season, Detroit can afford to give it a shot.

Stewart and Bagley thrived Sunday, as Bagley scored a season-high 27 points on 11-for-14 shooting, and Stewart finished with a 10-point, 10-rebound double-double. The key stat is what they each did behind the arc. Stewart made two 3-pointers, a season-high, and tied his season-high with three attempts. Bagley also knocked down a 3-pointer.

The two players are still learning how to work next to each other, as they entered Sunday with just 85 shared minutes on the floor this season. But they’re figuring it out.

“We’ve got to continue to work on it, develop it,” Casey said after the game. “I liked that about them today. We don’t want to stop rolling to the rim and getting lobs and popping back and shooting 3’s every time. We’ve gotta give it a good balance, because Marvin’s threat is rolling to the rim. Now if he spaces to the corner, that’s the rhythm we’ve gotta get.

“Both of them shot the ball,” Casey continued. “Isaiah shot one, lost his tooth, dropped his tooth and let his tooth fall and shot it and then shot the 3. I said ‘You better let that tooth go.’ Great kid, heart’s in the right place and he’s going to have a bright future.”

The Pistons gave Stewart the green light to shot 3-pointers with volume last season, but it hasn’t been as big a part of his offensive arsenal this year. Casey recently encouraged Stewart to take 3-pointers when he’s open, and he heeded that call on Sunday.

While Bagley also hasn’t knocked down 3-pointers at a high clip, he’s a good mid-range shooter and is confident his accuracy from outside, along with his chemistry with Stewart, will come with time.

“Basketball is basketball,” Bagley said. “Once we get out there and play and figure out how each of us plays spacing-wise, it’ll be easier. My shot hasn’t been falling, but I’ll continue to shoot it with confidence and continue to felt it fly when I have the chance. Isaiah hit two big ones tonight. I had the one in the corner that I had. It’s just about shooting them with confidence. Past few games, my shot hasn’t been falling like I want it to, but it’s a lot of staying locked in, staying ready, keep shooting them in practice, and whenever the opportunity presents itself to shoot in a game, let it fly.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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