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Preseason Player Profiles: Isaiah Stewart

Let’s kick off our men’s basketball preview coverage by going in-depth on the highest ranked recruit in Husky history

Jordan Brand Classic Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Welcome to the first part of our in-depth preview of the upcoming 2019-2020 Washington Men’s Basketball season! It may feel like we’re a long ways off but tomorrow is Pac-12 Media Day and the season opener against Baylor is just over one month away! We’re going to go player by player through the Husky roster to get you ready for what should be an exciting season. We’re going to work our way from the back to the front with the highest rated recruit in Husky basketball history.

Isaiah Stewart; Freshman; La Lumiere HS, La Porte, Indiana

6’9, 240 lbs. Class of 2019: 5 stars, #2 overall (247 composite)

2018 EYBL Stats: 17.6 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 58.5% FG, 68.2% FT

Italy Exhibition Stats: 19.5 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 0.5 bpg, 64.1% FG, 42.9% FT

The Isaiah Stewart to Washington story started many years ago while Mike Hopkins was still an assistant coach at Syracuse and Stewart was 14 years old in Rochester, New York. As you would hope, Syracuse was the first school to recognize the local Stewart’s ability and Hopkins began forming a strong bond. It would prove to be nearly unbreakable as Hopkins took over at Washington and Stewart moved to a basketball factory in Indiana where he became one of the most coveted recruits in the country. Yet distance was never a concern and Isaiah followed Hopkins out to Seattle where he has the chance to win a number of accolades for himself, his team, and his coach.

Offensive Game

There’s a reason that Stewart has been viewed as perhaps the most ready to play freshman in the 2019 class. It starts with the physical attributes. Stewart is slightly undersized from a height standpoint to play center but he makes up for it in two other ways. The first is his 7’5 wingspan which gives him a much greater reach than 98% of all college basketball players. And the second is his chiseled frame which allows him to hold position against all but the most veteran of college centers. Noah Dickerson who was a master at low post positioning in his time at Washington just could not move Stewart when the two faced off this summer at the Crawsover.

Those physical attributes alone would make Stewart a 4-star player but what elevates him to a potential All-American is the skill that accompanies it. There’s not really a hole in Stewart’s offensive game. He has a variety of post moves which allow him to score from anywhere inside of 10 feet. Stewart can back his guy down and spin around him using his long arms to shield the ball or go up for an effortless looking hook shot. If you don’t deny him the ball down low as a defender, you’re dead.

But even outside of the low post he has expanded his game over the past year. Stewart has shown off the ability to consistently knock down the midrange baseline jumper when defenses commit to keep him out of the paint. He also has a not terrible looking 3-pt shot which he’s not shy of taking should his defender not follow him all the way out to the perimeter. It’s likely that his 3pt percentage is somewhere in the 28-33% range on 1-2 attempts per game but if he is able to take a leap in that regard then he’s officially unguardable.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about Stewart is his motor which guarantees that he is always a threat. Unlike your average lumbering big man, Stewart is an energizer bunny running the court in transition and expect sighs of exasperation from opposing coaches when the guy the entire defense should be keyed in on happens to beat the defense down the floor for a thunderous dunk in the open court. It also means that Stewart follows up every shot and so even when he misses there’s a good chance he’ll be able to pick up the rebound and lay it back in.

Defensive Game

You would expect any freshman to be further along on the offensive end than on defense and that will certainly be the case for Stewart. But he has both tremendous physical tools as well as positional versatility which make him a perfect fit for the Husky zone.

When Washington takes the court in its first game this season I fully expect Isaiah Stewart to be manning the middle of the Washington zone. Hameir Wright has been incredibly effective at center for the Dawgs despite his arms being 3 inches shorter and weighing 25 pounds less. Stewart wasn’t an elite shot blocker in high school but he should be able to average somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.0-1.5 blocks per game.

I limit those numbers a little bit mainly because he won’t play all of his time at that center spot. We’ll get to it more as we continue the player profiles but the Huskies have a lot of options between 6’9 and 7’0 (or even 7’4 if you count Riley Sorn) on this roster. Stewart isn’t the most agile big in the world but he’s got enough length and athleticism to adequately defend the corners of the zone. Expect to see defensive lineups where Stewart is paired with Sam Timmins or Bryan Penn-Johnson at center and Stewart makes it impossible to get off a corner 3 while providing weakside rebounding and shot blocking.

The rebounding element is perhaps the biggest advantage for Stewart. His soft touch around the rim on offense makes sense considering the ball sometimes appears to be magnetically connected to his fingertips. The zone is susceptible to giving up a ton of offensive rebounds. And it will continue to do so again this season. But it should be much improved with the collection of long arms the Huskies have assembled this season and Stewart will be front and center within that movement.

Expectations for 2019-20

The sky is the limit for Isaiah Stewart this season. A number of preseason publications have dubbed Stewart as a legitimate All-American candidate and that’s to be expected given his pedigree. Just for comparison here’s a list of the freshman seasons for any PF/C that was a top-5 player in the 247 Sports composite rankings:

Top-5 Big Men Recruit Freshman Year Stats 2015-2019

Year Team Player 247 Composite Rk Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers FG% FT%
Year Team Player 247 Composite Rk Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers FG% FT%
2015 Duke Jahlil Okafor 1st 17.3 8.5 1.3 0.8 1.4 2.5 66.4 51
2015 Kansas Cliff Alexander 4th 7.1 5.3 0.4 0.2 1.3 1 56.6 67.1
2015 Kentucky Karl-Anthony Towns 5th 10.3 6.7 1.1 0.5 2.3 1.4 56.6 81.3
2016 LSU Ben Simmons 1st 19.2 11.8 4.8 2 0.8 3.4 56 67
2016 Kentucky Skal Labissiere 2nd 6.6 3.1 0.3 0.3 1.6 0.9 51.6 66.1
2016 Kansas Cheick Diallo 5th 3 2.5 0 0.3 0.9 0.6 56.9 55.6
2017 Duke Harry Giles 2nd 3.9 3.8 0.3 0.3 0.7 0.7 57.7 50
2018 Duke Marvin Bagley 1st 21 11.1 1.5 0.8 0.9 2.3 61.4 62.7
2018 Texas Mohamed Bamba 3rd 12.9 10.5 0.5 0.8 3.7 1.5 54.1 68.1
2018 Arizona DeAndre Ayton 4th 20.1 11.6 1.6 0.6 1.9 2 61.2 73.3
2019 Oregon Bol Bol 4th 21 9.6 1 0.8 2.7 2 56.1 75.7
2019 Duke Zion Williamson 5th 22.6 8.9 2.1 2.1 1.8 2.4 68 64
Average 13.75 7.78 1.24 0.79 1.67 1.73 58.55 65.16

It’s a pretty clear split between the guys who were ready to contribute immediately and the ones who were rated that highly purely on their athletic upside or physical attributes only or were coming off injuries. The top half of the list averaged 20.2 points and 10.3 rebounds per game on 61.5% shooting. The bottom half of the list averaged 7.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game on 55.6% shooting. Expect Stewart to be much closer to the former than the latter.

Voting for Pac-12 Player of the Year is inconsistent with the criteria but Stewart has to at least be considered on the short list for the award along with Tres Tinkle, Payton Pritchard, McKinley Wright IV, and Nico Mannion. And if Stewart doesn’t end up as 1st-team all conference by year’s end it will mean something went terribly wrong.

Stewart is the all-around package. He should be a tremendous leader for this team on and off the court and his infectious hustle and personality will make him a fan favorite right from the jump. He’s just flat out special. Enjoy him this year while you can.

Per Game Projections: 28 minutes, 16.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 63.1 FG%, 30.6 3pt%, 65.1 FT%

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