For Emoni Bates, situation with Cavs is about getting back to hoopin’

Emoni Bates, Eastern Michigan Eagles. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Emoni Bates, Eastern Michigan Eagles. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

When the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Emoni Bates 49th overall a bit less than two weeks ago during the 2023 NBA Draft, it was about his upside as a shot-maker and offensive wing.

Just a few years ago, Bates was one of the country’s most highly-touted recruits in some time, and after reclassifying, there was all kinds of hype surrounding him as he headed to Memphis to play for Penny Hardaway and company.

Unfortunately for Bates, his collegiate career did not go as planned.

Injuries, inefficient play, questionable effort at times and ill-advised shot selection all led to him underachieving. In his freshman season at Memphis and in his sophomore year at Eastern Michigan, there were noticeable struggles, and coming into the draft, it wasn’t necessarily that shocking that Bates fell to the mid-to-late second round.

Ultimately, as was previously mentioned, Cleveland would go on to select Bates at 49th, which had to have been quite a dose of humble pie for him. That said, from here, with him currently set to be on a two-way contract, there shouldn’t be too lofty of expectations.

That should alleviate any undo pressure on the youngster, too, though, and on the plus side for Bates, looking onward, it should be therapeutic for him to just get back to working on his craft, without the hype. Along those lines, it was nice to see how grateful he was and how he’s found his love for the game again, as compared to recent years past; this report from Evan Dammarell of Right Down Euclid resonated with me in relation to that.

After a turbulent collegiate basketball tenure, this situation with the Cavs is about getting back to hoopin’ for Bates.

Bates will likely be on a two-way deal heading into next season it seems, but getting his share of play with the Cleveland Charge, the Cavs G League affiliate team, wouldn’t be the worst thing.

In that scenario, he should have plenty of developmental time with the Charge, and it’d enable Bates to refine his game more, and over time, he should be able to gradually add functional weight and get stronger.

Bates does have a ways to go before seeing meaningful rotational minutes with the Cavaliers, one would assume, as his shot selection in college was an issue, and defensively, it’s difficult to project what types of NBA players Bates will guard. His effort on that end of the floor has to be much better, too, along with his passing willingness.

More than anything, though, it was encouraging to hear Bates’ recent comments in media availability about how over the past week, it’s been about getting back to just playing the game. As Dammarell’s report in Summer League media availability expressed above, in his collegiate tenure, Bates lost his “love” for basketball, and he’s rediscovered since that being with the Cavs, which has been just about playing the game itself and seemingly without outside noise.

As for his draft night fall, it was not ideal for him personally, but Bates’ outlook on the matter was refreshing, via reporter Chris Fedor of, and there’s more reasoning to be hopeful, as far as his mindset with Cleveland.

"“It was a blessing and humbling,” Bates said when asked about falling to the second round. ‘A lot of kids don’t get this opportunity and for me to get a chance to get here, it’s a lifetime for real. It was a lot of tears. Emotions was everywhere.‘I’ve been playing basketball since I was young. It’s been my dream for a long time. For me to actually be here, it’s still feeling unreal. Some day it’s like, ‘Wow, I’m in the NBA.’ It’s still shocking.‘But I feel like as I keep going through the process, I will get more comfortable. I’m not trying to really think too far ahead. I’m in this present moment right now and my main thing is just getting better every day. One step at a time. I don’t want to think too far you know what I mean? I’ve got to get better each day. It’s each step. It don’t happen overnight.”‘"

For Bates, his freshman season was filled with expectations, playing with AAU buddy Jalen Duren and for a former NBA star in Hardaway.

As we noted, though, things didn’t go as planned for Bates, who is still not too far removed from being the first high school sophomore to be named Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year (as was pointed out then by Jeff Borzello of ESPN).

Bates dealt with injury, and was not able to find much of a rhythm. He had 9.7 points per contest, to go with 3.3 rebounds in an average of just 23.4 minutes per game in 18 appearances. He shot 32.9 percent from three.

He would then eventually transfer to Eastern Michigan, close to where he’s from, for his sophomore campaign. Bates would have far better production with Eastern Michigan, with 19.2 points per outing, to go with 5.8 rebounds per contest. However, it was in the MAC, a step down in competition, and his team would go just 8-23.

Needless to say, with his bumpy road in his collegiate career, Bates is thankful for having been drafted, and even with him seemingly likely to be with the Charge/on a two-way deal, at least to begin his next basketball chapter, he’s excited to just be playing.

This from Bates was another soundbite that was reassuring in that regard, via Fedor in his report.

"‘I found my joy back for sure,” Bates said. “I love it here. Really just a long journey. A lot of people have been knowing me since I was 12.“No expectations. I’m with talented players. I can learn from everybody. I don’t got to go out there and do this or that. Just go out there and have fun with basketball.'”"

It’s going to take time for Bates to potentially have meaningful time with the Cavaliers. It’s not a certainty, frankly, that he will, either.

Having said that, Bates can score the basketball. He had four 30-point games last season for Eastern Michigan, as Fedor alluded to, and even with him not being particularly athletic, and needing to get more filled out, the 6-foot-9 wing can fill it up as a shot creator and his shot form is a positive.

His iso scoring potential led to his selection, and if he can improve his game over time with the Charge, Cleveland might have a big-time steal on their hands here.

Next. How Isaac Okoro fits into the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers. dark

In the mean time, it should be fun to watch Bates and others in the Las Vegas Summer League soon. And for Bates, just being able to get back to hoopin’ and not having so much outside noise has to be a breath of fresh air.