Isaiah Stewart at power forward experiment paying off


One of the Detroit Pistons’ most significant experiments of the 2022-23 season is paying off. Isaiah Stewart transitioning to power forward has proven fruitful for Detroit in its limited sample size.

Stewart always had the defensive versatility to play at the four. He has quick enough feet to stick in front of his man. He possesses the switchability to hold his own against opposing guards and wings, albeit in a limited capacity. Stewart can guard along the perimeter and within the paint.

The one question Stewart had to answer before he could transition to power forward was whether he could provide enough floor spacing for the Pistons’ offense. Marvin Bagley III and Jalen Duren are not known as three-point shooters. If the Pistons were to run two big lineups, someone had to provide sufficient floor spacing. Stewart answered that call.

The Pistons experimented with Stewart at the four in Summer League. The big man performed well, and he shot the ball well from beyond the arc. However, with Bagley suffering an injury during the preseason, Detroit had to hold off from allowing Stewart to make the switch to the four.

Isaiah Stewart is hot from beyond the arc after starting the season ice cold

Stewart struggled from three-point range to open up the regular season.

The big man shot 23.5 percent on 4.3 three-point attempts per game through his first eight games played for Detroit. His shot looked good. His mechanics were far from broken, but his shots simply would not fall. Often his three-pointers rimmed out.

The 21-year-old never shied away from letting his shots fly. His persistence has paid off. Over his past nine games, Stewart is shooting 48.5 percent on 3.7 three-point attempts per game. He is shooting 55.6 percent off catch-and-shoot three-pointers as well.

Isaiah Stewart is a perfect big man to pair with Marvin Bagley III

Since Bagley entered the starting lineup, Stewart has shot 53.3 percent from beyond the arc. That is only a three game sample size. Stewart missed seven games due to a toe injury one game after Bagley was inserted into the starting lineup. However, in that small sample sizes, the performances look promising.

Playing Stewart at the four allows Bagley to do what he does best on offense. Bagley is best utilized as a pick-and-roll rim runner and overall scorer within the arc. With Stewart playing as a perimeter shooter, Bagley has plenty of room to go to work in the paint. Bagley himself is shooting decently well from beyond the arc so far this season. The big man is shooting 38.9 percent on 1.6 three-point attempts per game.

Stewart provides Bagley with the space he needs to be successful on offense, but his impact on Bagley defensively is just as important. Bagley is not a great defender. He has some moments of decent defensive performance, but it is not expected of him. Stewart is able to help hide some of Bagley’s deficiencies on the defensive end. He is able to guard the opposing team’s best bigs, and Bagley is able to hide on a lesser offensive threat as a result.

Stewart is new to playing power forward. While he has played very well at the position in a small sample size, he will only improve as he becomes more comfortable in his role. In the long-term, Stewart’s transition could ultimately lead to Detroit boasting one of the best defensive front courts in the NBA one day.

Isaiah Stewart and Jalen Duren could be an elite defensive frontcourt in the near future

This past season, the Boston Celtics made a lineup decision that drastically improved the effectiveness of their young big man Robert Williams. The Celtics utilized veteran center Al Horford as the designated rim protector. Horford matched up with opposing team’s centers. Williams was then allowed to play more of a roaming role. He played in the corners and on the elbow and rotated as a shot blocker. Williams averaged a career-high 2.2 blocks per game in this role last season.

In the long-term future of the Pistons, Stewart and Duren could play a similar style of defense as the Celtics’ big man duo.

Duren has already shown the makings of an elite shot-blocking rim protector. The 19-year-old certainly has plenty of developing to do before he gets there, but there is no doubt the potential is there. Stewart is already Detroit’s best defender, he has been since his rookie season. His versatility on the defensive end would allow him to easily slot into a role similar to that of Williams in Boston.

Detroit’s experiment with Stewart playing as a stretch four has worked so far this season. His pairing with Bagley works, but the potential of his pairing with Duren could be even higher. Using lineups with Duren and Stewart together is the next experiment the Pistons need to try. The team has played the pair together before, but not for significant minutes. That needs to change.

(Featured Image Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)