Detroit Pistons: Who should be the backup Center?

Isaiah Stewart #28 of the Detroit Pistons (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
Isaiah Stewart #28 of the Detroit Pistons (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images) /

Between rookie Isaiah Stewart and six-year vet Jahlil Okafor, who should be coming off the bench first at the ‘5’ for the Detroit Pistons?

The Detroit Pistons and Dwayne Casey find themselves with an interesting dilemma. Both reserve centers Isaiah Stewart and Jahlil Okafor are playing solid off the bench this season.

While Mason Plumlee holds down the starting spot, both backups are playing well in place of Plumlee while he’s on the bench.

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Let’s make a case for the 6-foot-9 rookie Isaiah Stewart first. Troy Weaver made a trade with Houston to acquire the 16th pick in order to draft Stewart. Known widely as a top recruit in the country, Stewart had a nice freshman season at Washington. Coming out of college, Stewart was known for his strength, defense and rebounding ability. Also, his 7-foot-4 wingspan really stood out to NBA GMs.

This season Stewart is averaging 4.5 points, 5.2 boards, and 0.8 blocks on an average of 18 minutes of action per game for the Detroit Pistons. He is struggling to finish around the rim, as he is shooting 48 percent this year. Something Stewart needs to improve is his overall offensive game. He still doesn’t have a great arsenal of post moves and he isn’t someone who can shoot, at least not right now. Despite the offensive struggles, Stewart’s rebounding ability is fantastic. In his limited action, he ranks 16th in the NBA in offensive rebounds per game. He cleans the glass and runs the floor well for a rookie.

Detroit Pistons: Jahlil Okafor or Isaiah Stewart?

Since Stewart is small for a center and has a versatile defensive game, he does bring a luxury of playing power forward. The only problem is if he and Okafor are on the floor together in the frontcourt it could create a spacing issue since both players are inside bigs. Plus, Griffan, Grant and Doumbouya all split time there. Given that, is there enough room to slide in Stewart some minutes?

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Stewart is only 19 years old and he has earned his minutes on the hardwood. His motor is unmatched and one can truly tell he wants to be on the floor every minute, unlike when Andre Drummond was in Detroit. Plus, Stewart psychically is ready to compete with NBA bigs, and developing the newly acquired young talent is essential for upward progress for the organization. Wiping off the boards and doing the little things on defense will keep Stewart in the lineup. If his game around the basket on offense keeps improving he also should keep getting minutes, but then where does Okafor play? That’s the problem.

Obviously, Casey wants to develop his first-rounder, but if Okafor gives the Pistons the best opportunity to win, he should be on the floor.

Okafor is a former top-three pick from Duke who is a back to the basket assassin. the 25-year-old has been a bit of a journeyman in his six-year career. Detroit is his fourth team so far, as finding a long term spot has been tough for Okafor. Adding him was another one of Troy Weaver’s resurrection projects, like Josh Jackson. Okafor is best known for scoring around the hoop. He is also a guy who able to run the pick-and-roll with the guards up top. Defense isn’t a strong suit of his game, but he at least will give effort on that end of the floor.

On an efficient 67 percent from the field, Okafor is averaging 5.6 points and 3.4 rebounds this year in 11 minutes. Okafor has played well when given his opportunity, but he missed some time do to an ankle injury.

His low-post game is the best on Detroit besides Griffan, but he doesn’t have the defensive upside that Stewart has. Okafor is also a good rebounder, but then again Stewart is better.

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The coaching staff needs to pick their poison. Do they want the younger player that offers more of a rim runner, defensive style game? Or, does the offensive ability of Okafor and his experience attract him to get more of the minutes? This is something that Casey needs to start thinking about and start implementing it into his lineups.

Developing consistency with the second unit will create better overall chemistry and lead to more wins for Detroit. Getting to this all starts with the frontcourt and with who Casey decides to bring in off the bench at center.