Why Detroit Pistons’ Isaiah Stewart holds key to unlocking the offense

Detroit Free Press
Anthony Schulte |  Detroit Free Press

Detroit Pistons general manager Troy Weaver and his staff have had one of the best offseasons in the NBA.

But a curious question has emerged, after the trade for Jalen Duren with the 13th pick in the draft, the acquisition of Nerlens Noel and re-signing of Marvin Bagley III: The Pistons now have five players whose best position might be center. So how will this crowded frontcourt situation play out?

Isaiah Stewart’s newfound 3-point shot could be the key to making it work.

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Stewart, drafted in the first round of the 2020 draft, has yet to establish himself as a consistent scorer. One of the skills holding him back is his lack of an outside shot. As a rookie, Stewart shot 33% on 63 attempts from the 3-point line. He shot 32% on 46 3-point at last season.

But he showed improvement during Summer League in July in Las Vegas, shooting 5-for-9 on 3s. Granted, it’s far from regular season competition, but being able to take and make outside shots with consistency will help Detroit’s frontcourt versatility.

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And it could help unlock the Pistons’ offense. They were 28th out of 30 teams in scoring last season (104.8 points per game) and 29th in 3-point shooting (32.6%).

The Pistons’ coaching staff have suggested Stewart shots more 3s to complement the roster better. And his work on that shot looks to be paying off.

“He’s got all the confidence in the world in that shot and we have the confidence in him,” Summer League coach Jordan Brink said after the Pistons win’ against the Blazers in the opener. “It was really nice to see him make those big ones.”

If Stewart can become a 3-point threat, it would give the coaching staff more flexibility to play him along with one of the other traditional centers on the roster.

He found success playing power forward during Summer League, and that role could translate to the regular season, especially now that he has a bit of experience at the position.

“I never played the 4 in my life,” Stewart said. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to play some summer league games, is to get reps at the 4.”

Kelly Olynyk is the only other big on the roster with shooting range. And in today’s NBA, it is important to have a big man who can stretch an opponent’s defense. If Olynyk does come off the bench, Stewart’s ability to shoot would give the Pistons spacing to start games.

Bagley, Noel and Duren aren’t known as shooters, but they bring skills that will complement the jump shooting of Stewart and Olynyk. Noel is an athletic shot blocker. Duren should provide athleticism and defense down low, and Bagley complimented the Pistons’ young guards as a low-post scorer and lob threat in the latter stages of last season.

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Injury history is a concern though. Noel missed 57 games last season with a recurring knee injury, and Bagley missed 34 games due to an ankle injury.

Stewart could bring the most to the court if he hoists more 3s and makes a fair amount. The lineup and playing rotation is uncertain, but Stewart’s improvement offers  optimism as training camp lingers a few months away.

Free Press sports writer Omari Sankofa II contributed to this report. Anthony Schulte, a rising senior at Lake Orion High School, is a Free Press apprentice this summer.

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