After a number of rumors surrounding the Cleveland Cavaliers and their plans with the No. 49 overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, president of basketball operations Koby Altman opted to keep the pick in favor of selecting former top high school recruit Emoni Bates.
Taking Bates led to divisive reactions across the Land’s fandom. The Eastern Michigan forward comes to the NBA after a tumultuous college career. His innate basketball talent was undeniable; yet, his overall team mentality and playstyle remained questionable.
At his best, Bates is the steal of the draft. At his worst, he is out of the league within half a decade.
So far, though, Bates is earning some love in Cleveland. The Cavs have already bestowed upon him the nickname of “Money Moni” and have highlighted him on their various social media platforms countless times. He seems to fit the culture the Cavaliers have built, and he is embracing it.
The Cavaliers have a full NBA rotation already after their spectacular offseason additions, so the pressure to perform immediately was alleviated for Bates. Summer League became a training ground for Bates, both for his skill set and his mindset.
Emoni Bates proved he has the work ethic to earn a full NBA contract with the Cavs.
In Summer League, Emoni Bates averaged 17.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, and a 40.0 percent three-point percentage throughout the six games for Cleveland in Las Vegas.
His presence with the Cavs was fantastic. He is a conversation starter. His talent and potential is clear as day, and this goes beyond Summer League.
Emoni Bates has not earned a full roster spot thanks to any one isolated performance in Vegas. The full picture of Bates’ introduction to professional basketball is one of a willingness to listen to mentors and improve game-by-game.
In the first game of Summer League, Bates scored 16 points with a horrendous five-of-18 field goal split. In his most recent showing, in which Cleveland won the Summer League Championship Game, the upcoming rookie ended the game with 19 points on an efficient six-of-13 from the field, to go with five rebounds, four assists.
While he did have a steal and a block in that last outing, where Bates lacks most is defense and playmaking, however. In his Vegas campaign, Bates only earned 1.2 assists per game. His defensive rating is nothing astounding, racking up his fair share of fouls. Even with Bates falling behind in box score assists, his willingness to pass and swing the ball to an open teammate drastically improved even just from games one and two.
Bates is a work in progress; there is no doubt about that. He said that he lost his love for basketball in college. The dream he had since childhood did not match reality. But, in the same quote, Bates praised Cleveland and said he is falling back in love with the sport.
His effort to embrace basketball again is showing on the court, and those efforts have been rewarded already. Bates was named to the NBA’s All-Summer League Second Team.
Clearly, Summer League is not a definitive example of a player’s skill set. For Money Moni, though, it might be a sign that his future is brighter than most late second-round picks.
At the end of a recent episode of the NBA Front Office Show, the best kept secret of NBA media (for now), Spotrac writer Keith Smith hinted at a possible leap for Bates.
Channeling his inner Brian Windhorst, Smith reported that the Cavaliers have seemingly worked their cap space to leave the door open to sign Bates to a full, multi-year NBA contract this season. Smith also noted that he has already heard the rumblings of Cleveland’s serious interest in Bates from a few sources.
While the Cavs just brought Max Strus to the roster in an offseason deal with the Miami Heat, improving at the wing position is always a welcome option for any NBA roster looking to compete for the Larry O’Brien.
The Cavaliers have been more than capable of discovering and cultivating talent through the G-League. Dean Wade earned a multi-year contract with Cleveland thanks to his work with the Cleveland (and formerly Canton) Charge. Lamar Stevens also fought his way into the NBA from the G-League. Emoni Bates may be the next prospect to follow this path.
Additionally, with Bates on a two-way deal to start the season, there is no rush to change anything. The Cavs will have the chance to give him minutes in a handful of games to test his readiness. This is the same strategy implemented for Wade.
Bringing Bates onto an already established roster would mean minutes are lost by another player. In theory, either Isaac Okoro or Caris LeVert would likely be traded from Cleveland at the trade deadline in order to free up a rotation spot for Bates. Both players had their name in rumors throughout last season but ultimately stayed with the team.
In the end, the jersey Bates wears during the 2023-24 season is purely speculation right now. His time in Summer League has shown that the hype around Bates was not just smoke. There is some fire behind the prospect.
With his willingness to listen and adapt, Emoni Bates may very well end up with a long NBA career and dream come true.