The Cleveland Cavaliers were seemingly always going to draft Emoni Bates with the No. 49 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. They barely brought anyone in for a workout (and most of those players were likely undrafted players) and the organization behind the scenes apparently fell for his potential as a former top recruit.
That’s exactly what they did on Thursday night, drafting Eastern Michigan forward Emoni Bate at pick No. 49. They didn’t end up trading up nor adding another pick, but instead are likely to place Bates on a two-way contract and look to free agency and the trade market to upgrade the roster.
Who is Emoni Bates?
Who are the Cavs getting in Emoni Bates? An AAU superstar, by the age of 15 he was getting buzz as a generational player. Seriously: in 2019 The Athletic ranked the top 40 high school basketball players, and they put sophomore Bates at No. 1 ahead of seniors like Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. (That’s a fascinating trip down memory lane – some really good and really disappointing names dot the list).
Bates then reclassified to skip his senior year of high school and play in college a year early, joining the Memphis Grizzlies. He was a colossal bust with the Tigers, averaging just 9.7 points per game as he floundered against college competition. After tussles with the law, he played his sophomore season for Eastern Michigan, where he put up points but also showed a number of the flaws still present in his game.
What does Bates bring as a prospect? Let’s break it down in three categories.
The good: Emoni Bates can score the basketball. He can attack from all angles with the ball and is comfortable pulling up from anywhere. If basketball was simply playing one-on-one, Bates would be a top prospect. The degree of difficulty on his shots this past season was insanely high, and he still managed to average 19.2 points per game. The jumper is smooth and he should be a high-level shooter in the NBA, especially with a smarter shot diet.
The bad: If Bates isn’t shooting a jumper, he’s likely in trouble. He is a poor athlete, isn’t particularly fast and doesn’t have much vertical pop. If forced to try and finish at the rim he’s going to throw up a wild attempt. There is always the pass, but Bates doesn’t seem to understand those are legal in all situations. His first option on a play is for Emoni Bates to score, his second option is to let Emoni Bates score, and when all else fails he’ll try Emoni Bates scoring.
The ugly: The theory for Bates surviving would therefore be on the defensive end, where he could find a path to sticking in the league while he hones his offensive game into that of a role player. The problem is that he was one of the worst defenders in the entire country last year, which is remarkable when you are 6’8″. He is weak, easily moved off his spot, inattentive and has terrible instincts.
It’s hard to find a great player with the 49th pick, especially when so many players will try to angle for a certain landing spot. Even so, plenty of players were still on the board at 49 who had a theory to their NBA careers: Trayce Jackson-Davis (57th, 44th on my draft board), Jalen Slawson (54th pick, 34th on my board), Jaylen Clark (53rd pick, 39th on my board) or Jalen Wilson (51st, 47th).
I had Emoni Bates ranked 68th, and that fit much of the consensus; an average of eight prominent draft analysts had Bates ranked 57th on average. For Bates to become a long-term NBA player, he will need to change everything about how he plays basketball. Is that possible? Sure. Is it likely? Absolutely not.
This was a telegraphed, low-upside, low-floor pick that the Cavaliers are tricking themselves into thinking is a low-risk, high-upside move. Most likely, Bates will continue to be inefficient and a bad teammate in the G League, and Cleveland will be moving on in a year or two.