Duren, Bagley can stamp roles for rest of season & give Detroit Pistons a lot to consider

Detroit Free Press

LOS ANGELES — Detroit Pistons center Isaiah Stewart is seemingly having a breakout season. He has established himself as the team’s most malleable defender, reliable rebounder and credible 3-point threat.

For now, the Pistons will experience life without him. Stewart sprained his right big toe during Monday’s loss to the Toronto Raptors, and will miss the next two-to-three weeks. In the short term, the injury will open minutes for rookie center Jalen Duren, Marvin Bagley III and Nerlens Noel. But coach Dwane Casey will have a tough time replacing Stewart’s production.

“The one thing you can’t give everybody else is Isaiah’s DNA, his spirit, his toughness, his enthusiasm,” Casey said after Wednesday’s practice on UCLA’s campus. “That’s what you miss most with Isaiah.”

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This season, Stewart is averaging career highs in points (12) and rebounds (9.3) while hitting 33.3% of his career-high 3.6 3-point attempts per game (18-for-54). Stewart knocked down 14 of his 32 3-pointers over his past 10 games — a team-high 43.8% clip. He was 2-for-2 from 3 in the first half of Monday’s game before stubbing his toe on a protection barrier after chasing an errant pass with 3:20 remaining in the second quarter. He was ruled out of the rest of the game.

Stewart has shown he could become a rare and valuable 3-and-D big man. He entered the season with 109 3-point attempts through his first two seasons, and made 36 for a 33.3% clip. His overall percentage hasn’t improved, but his volume has increased substantially. Through 15 games thus far, he has taken 54 attempts and is on pace to take 295. He’ll fall short of that, since he won’t play all 82 games, but still has a great chance to triple his career total in one season.

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He has become one of Detroit’s most irreplaceable players. Stewart is the only player on the roster standing at least 6 feet 9 who can knock down 3-pointers with consistency. His switchability on defense separates him, though Casey has expressed confidence in Duren and Bagley’s ability to stay in front of smaller players.

“It shouldn’t change the way we want to play defensively, because (Duren) can switch, he can play in a drop and Marvin can do both,” Casey said. “It shouldn’t change much.”

Casey may have to abandon his two-big man lineups, as Stewart’s shooting enabled Casey to play him alongside either Duren or Bagley. The latter two have shared the floor in spurts, but neither are reliable shooters. Duren only has one 3-point attempt this season and is unlikely to take many more. Bagley, 23, has three 3-point attempts and sank one vs. the Raptors.

Bagley, a career 29.1% 3-point shooter on 1.9 attempts per game over four seasons, has the green light to take open 3s, but the coaching staff isn’t encouraging him to emulate Stewart’s volume. Casey will have to navigate the spacing challenges that come with having three non-shooting bigs on the roster. Based on previous rotation trends, Bagley and Duren will likely be staggered.

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“We’re not saying Bagley is a 3-point shooter,” Casey said. “He’s got to command the paint. He’s not spacing out to shoot 3s, that’s not his game. He’s capable of shooting 3s, but his role is making sure he can protect the rim, lob threat, post up and that kind of thing. If he’s presented with a wide-open 3, he’s got it. But the volume of those, we don’t want those to turn high volume right now.”

Stewart’s injury will give Duren more responsibility. The rookie, who turns 19-years-old Friday, has had a bigger role than expected due to Detroit’s injury woes. Bagley missed 13 games with an MCL sprain. Duren is prone to rookie mistakes, but he’s averaging 6.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and a team-high 1.2 blocks in 21.1 minutes per game.

Duren is already a good lob threat and offensive rebounder, and has a chance to earn more minutes until Stewart returns.

“He’s jumped in the deep end,” Casey said. “He’s swimming and is he making mistakes? Yes. But that’s what this year is for him. Competing to win and letting guys play through some mistakes and learn from those mistakes. There’s nothing wrong with a mistake, as long as you do it hard and not repeat it.”

It’ll also give Bagley more time to acclimate himself after missing the first three weeks of the regular season. After making his season debut against the Boston Celtics last Saturday, Bagley acknowledged it’ll take some time to find rhythm. The coaching staff promoted him to the starting lineup vs. Toronto, and he could have more minutes on his plate.

“It’s unfortunate for (Stewart), because he’s the spirit of our team,” Casey said. “But injuries are a part of the game. Next guy up. It’s going to be more reps and minutes for (Duren), more reps and (Duren) for Nerlens. Marvin is already in there. The next guy, it’s an opportunity to come out and play his role.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

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