Film Don’t Lie: Isaiah Stewarts’ Defense is……REALLY good

Detroit Bad Boys

I have done a few breakdowns this year on what Isaiah Stewart brings, or could bring, on the offensive end for the Detroit Pistons. I did spotlight his defense a bit in a combined look with Killian Hayes. Now, though, it’s time to shine the full light on how good Stew is on the defensive end.

Honestly, I do not know what the advanced metrics say about Beef Stew on the defensive end. I also do not care. I have referenced a defensive stat or two in my time, but I am still not sure I trust them at all.

***Sidebar: I would like to sit down with someone to explain and show me exactly how they quantify these defensive metrics so that I may be more willing to buy into them.***

I feel very confident in my “eye test” of Stewart, or any Piston, considering I have watched every second of his play since he entered the league.

For this breakdown, I used the four-game stretch of games against the Hawks, Wizards, Knicks, and Nets. I do want to make note that because of the Stewart and Marvin Bagley III starting lineup, we got a chance to see Stewart in a bit of a different role. Specifically, against the Nets, his matchup was Bruce Brown so he was playing more on the weak side defending a perimeter player and not quite as much in all the ball screen actions or defending a big in the post/dunker spot.


One thing I noticed from the Nets game is that because Stew was playing with MBIII, the Nets put Bagley in those ball screen situations thus eliminating the effectiveness of Isaiah being able to switch. Stewart not having to be in those as often isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it probably just speaks more to MBIII having to figure out what he is going to be good at when it comes to defending ball screens for this team moving forward. I will present how Isaiah held up in that weak side, off-ball defender role.

With that said, I am fine with Stewart being in as many ball screens as other teams choose to put him. As I have spent more time watching the NBA, it is clearer than ever that a “big” has to be good at one of the ball screen coverages or they will get played off the floor, especially in the playoffs. That coverage is going to be different for different players. For example, possible No. 1 pick Chet Holmgren PROJECTS to be an elite DROP coverage ball screen defender.

The Pistons being a switch everything defense for the latest stretch of the season doesn’t give us much of a window into if Stewart can excel in drop coverage, but it has given us PLENTY of opportunities to see his switchability. I apologize for putting in so many clips, but I thought it was important to see the frequency and range of offensive players Stewart was asked to defend in these situations. Switching onto the perimeter is a defensive skill that going to allow him to stay on the floor in the playoffs once the Pistons finally take that step.

I always want to try and be as fair as possible with these breakdowns so I did want to show some possible negatives that could come with switching everything on the ball. Of course, he is going to get beat at times, but the bigger issue is you are putting him in positions to commit more fouls in those situations. I also highlight how important it is that Isaiah does not “get used” to standing at the 3-point line when a shot goes up and makes sure he stays involved on the boards. Finally, the switch should be an easy coverage but there are still times communication can be an issue, AND on the other side of the switch you could end up with a “small” on a “big,” although scram switching (check out Saddiq Bey/Isaiah Livers articles for examples of scram switching) can ease that burden as well.

In the Paint

I also wanted to take a look at Stewart when defending the paint/rim. Most of these scenarios are going to come from him playing as the “low man” on the weak side and coming over as a helper. I did not get nearly as many clips of him playing on the ball against a “big” as I was hoping. That is one of the things I have questions about with Stewart moving forward, how does he just hold up against guys that are just flat out taller, stronger, and bigger than him in the paint.

Playing in that weakside spot also will cause Stewart to be in a position to have to close out to the perimeter as well. I know I spent the last section talking about and showing how well he can defend out there but closing out after helping on a drive provides a different scenario for a player. There are also going to be limitations for Isaiah defending the rim specifically related to his “vertical pop.” At the end of the day, some guys are just simply going to be able to outjump him. While positioning can help take away some of these opportunities, they are still going to present themselves at times.

Sometimes I have a difficult time deciding what adjective to use when describing these players’ talent and abilities because I have not broken down enough general NBA for the comparisons. I think I feel comfortable saying Stewart is “fine” when it comes to protecting the paint but has obvious limitations. I also feel very strongly that I can say he is absolutely a “plus” as a switchable big and that is a skill that will be very valuable when this team starts making playoff runs. One thing I am very curious to see, as the defensive schemes continue to expand for this team, is what other ball screen coverages/roles Isaiah could be effective in.

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