B/R’s 1 ‘Risk’ worth taking for Cavs could prove to be fruitful endeavor

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

Going into his rookie campaign, expectations shouldn’t be high for Cleveland Cavaliers wing Emoni Bates. He was the 49th pick by the Cavs in the second round of the 2023 NBA Draft, and Bates is set to be one of three players on a two-way deal with Cleveland going into the 2023-24 campaign, with Isaiah Mobley and Craig Porter Jr. being the others.

In Bates’ case, he underachieved in his collegiate career, which began at Memphis and was finished out at Eastern Michigan, following him transferring to the latter for his sophomore year. Bates’ college career was one with tons of hype, but because of a number of reasons, things just didn’t pan out the way anyone would’ve anticipated before him to begin that at Memphis.

He did have a production surge at Eastern Michigan, to his credit; objectively, though, that was on a team that wasn’t winning much, and he didn’t do much to quell concerns about his possible NBA outlook.

As a result of Bates’ uneven play at the collegiate level, he was drafted in the mid-late second round, and he seems to be a ways away from contributing consistently in the Association. Fortunately, Bates should be in a good situation for growth with the Cavs, a quality club, and be able to develop further this coming season and/or ideally in years ahead.

That said, there is theoretically a scenario where he could find a way to make his presence felt with the Cavaliers as a rookie, provided he gets looks. Along those lines, in a recent piece, Zach Buckley of Bleacher Report mentioned how finding minutes for Bates with the Cavs, and a standard contract eventually, would be a risk worth taking this season for Cleveland.

Bates might be a long shot for minutes, but the idea does have merit, if he gives the team a shooting punch.

Bates had his ups and downs in his collegiate career, and while he did have 19.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per contest at Eastern Michigan, his team did go just 8-23 last season. It was a decline in competition in the MAC as well, which is something to keep in mind, after he had injury concerns at Memphis, and 9.7 points in only 23.4 minutes per outing in what were just 18 appearances then.

On the plus side, it was nice to see Bates have an encouraging Las Vegas Summer League run with Cleveland a couple of months back. In Vegas, he had 17.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 0.8 blocks per contest, and he was one of the significant contributors for the Cavaliers, who won the 2023 Vegas Summer League title.

Bates’ off-ball shooting was impressive, and even with some stretches where he seemed a bit out of place on defense, he did make some impact plays as a rotator and he appeared to be fully engaged on that end, for the most part. Those are two areas he’ll need to hone in on from here, if he’s going to have a shot to be a rotational regular with the Cavs, let alone this coming season.

As the aforementioned Buckley pointed out, however, Bates, who previously reclassified to graduate high school early, is a gifted offensive player, and not too long ago, he was one of the most hyped recruits in recent memory. Of course, his collegiate career did not live up to the hype, and he has to make strides defensively, and over the course of his first season, he has to get stronger to help his NBA chances.

But, even with the inconsistencies in college, and him needing to improve defensively and with his off-ball mindset, Bates is a player who can fill it up as a perimeter scorer and shot creator. He is still only 19, too, so his ceiling is definitely high, factoring in the prior recruiting cachet.

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Him being a rotational contributor this coming season is maybe unrealistic, especially as a rookie two-way player who has to improve physically. Despite those things, though, Buckley’s suggestion involving the 6-foot-9 Bates could prove to be a fruitful endeavor for Cleveland.