On Monday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers capped what was an undefeated run in 2023 Las Vegas Summer League, as the latest Cavaliers squad in Vegas defeated the Houston Rockets. In doing so,Cleveland won its first NBA Summer League Championship.
In Summer League play, the Wine and Gold went 6-0, and had their share of contributors throughout that time. The three current two-way players for Cleveland, Isaiah Mobley, Emoni Bates and Craig Porter Jr., all made their imprint in Vegas, and in the 2023 Summer League Playoffs, they did so as well.
Among squads in Vegas, the Cavaliers had the best point differential, and while there were a few nail-biting contests, Cleveland kept finding ways to get the job done.
As we hinted at, there were plenty of notable contributors in Summer League for this group, which included late second-round guys such as Sam Merrill, Sharife Cooper and Luke Travers (who was taken by the Cavs last year), to name a few others. Eventually, the Wine and Golders were the victors in Vegas, but what was maybe the most impressive thing about that result was how the Cavaliers won even without having any first-round selections on their squad. Further, Merrill was the only player for Cleveland on a standard contract.
The Cavs achieving this feat despite not having any first-round picks on their Vegas roster was impressive. These unheralded guys emerged as the victors.
In Summer League, plenty of key contributors on teams are not going to play certain games. Teams don’t want players to have a risk of potential injury, of course, so some splits in Summer League have to be taken with a grain of salt.
Plus, there is going to be rust from players and teams are going to have some turbulence in their offenses. It’s Summer League, and it’s not as if there’s going to be a great sense of chemistry, by and large, for squads in their operations on the floor, at least one wouldn’t imagine so.
For these Cavs, though, while there were inherently bumpy moments, and some nail-biting instances, such as in Cleveland’s semifinal win in overtime over the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday, the Cavaliers looked to have better chemistry than many could’ve expected.
Some of that had to do with players such as Mobley, Merrill and Cooper being teammates last season with the Cleveland Charge, the Cavs G League affiliate team. Those three players were among the impactful contributors for the Cavaliers, as the sharpshooting Merrill was named to the 2023 All-Summer League First Team, and Mobley made his presence felt all over the floor. Bates, for what it’s worth, was named to the 2023 All-Summer League Second Team.
In a general sense, however, while it was again just Summer League play, and one shouldn’t put a tone of stock in it, the defensive effort and urgency, and unselfishness Cleveland played with in Vegas ultimately led to them being victorious. Or as the late legendary Cavs play-by-play announcer Fred McLeod would affectionately refer to them after wins, this group emerged as “Wine and Gold winners.”
The aforementioned Bates did have some lowlights, and he has a ways to go physically, but his effort was a positive, and despite him having only 1.2 assists per contest in these exhibitions, he did make sensible proper ball swings, and was willing to make the extra pass.
Those sort of details, and guys doing the little things, such as rotating timely defensively, running the floor and cutting to open up space and passing angles for others, were common throughout Summer League games for Cleveland. The Cavs were fifth in assists per game in Summer League, and second in blocks per game, both of which were fitting based on how the group as a whole played.
Now, to reiterate, one can only put so much stock into Summer League, and often rostered players, let alone rotational ones, are not going to be in action maybe as much as some others fighting for potential spots.
Still, Cleveland looking as sharp as they did in Vegas was impressive. And players such as Mobley, the 2023 Summer League Championship Game MVP, and the aforementioned Bates definitely didn’t hurt their cases for possible Cavs minutes. The same went for Porter, who had exceptional poise.
This was a group of Wine and Gold winners, indeed. RIP, Fred.