Given what he showed in preseason action for the Cleveland Cavaliers, a large contingent of fans seemed even more pumped up for what could come in the near future for Emoni Bates. Bates, who was the 49th pick in the 2023 NBA Draft by Cleveland, is a promising prospect to have in the organization.
He was one of the top performers for the Summer Cavaliers, who won the team’s first Summer League title a few months back in Las Vegas Summer League, and he impressed in preseason. In the Cavaliers’ four preseason outings, Bates had 10.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in 15.2 minutes per game.
After averaging 17.2 points per outing and connecting on 40.0 percent from three in Vegas, Bates shot 45.5 percent from beyond the arc in preseason, and his off-ball movement and clean shooting stroke got tons of love.
Granted, one has to take preseason play with a grain of salt, and Bates is one of three Cavaliers currently on a two-way deal this season. There’s a number of others that need minutes ahead of him on the Cavs, so expectations for his rookie year shouldn’t be lofty, and even more so with his current deal structure.
Those caveats aside, with the Cavaliers banged up in early-season play here and 1-2, it might be sensible to find Bates some more early-season minutes for his shooting. He played seven minutes versus the Indiana Pacers on Saturday, but might be a player who could get hot, and provide some more depth behind Max Strus.
As a two-way player that still will benefit from his share of minutes this season with the Cleveland Charge, the Cavaliers’ G League affiliate, Bates probably won’t have a steady allotment of Cavaliers minutes this season. One wouldn’t imagine he’ll be a regular rotational contributor with the Cavs in his rookie year, and not as a two-way player, especially.
That said, the Cavaliers might want to utilize Bates a bit more in upcoming games, to see if he can give them some juice with the team’s early injury issues.
Now, Donovan Mitchell (hamstring strain) and Jarrett Allen (bone bruise in ankle) did reportedly practice on Monday, which was good news, but Allen is still not back yet for Cleveland. Mitchell missed Cleveland’s last game versus the Pacers because of a hamstring strain, and Allen has not played yet, due to a bone bruise in his ankle, dating back to near the beginning of October.
However, with Garland still dealing with a hamstring strain, and to maybe ease some of the workload on Max Strus, maybe the rookie Bates could be an option to go to a bit in upcoming games versus the New York Knicks. For what it’s worth, Caris LeVert was recently added to Tuesday’s injury report as questionable with a hamstring strain himself as well.
As was previously noted, Bates can knock down open looks from range, and he’s a player who can help spacing for other key options for the Cavaliers. He demonstrated some of those traits in preseason, and despite underachieving in his collegiate career, Bates did still having his moments as a scorer at Memphis and then Eastern Michigan.
He still has a ways to go before he can fit the bill of being a fixture in Cleveland’s rotation, as he still needs to fill out more to deal with more physical and athletic NBA wings, and he has to continue to show buy-in defensively. The same goes for him fully demonstrating he’s invested in being an off-ball player, with other key options and Cleveland’s stars in mind.
But, with the Cavs banged up at the moment, maybe the 6-foot-9, 19-year-old can be an option for the Cavaliers to play more. As a movement off-ball presence, him, Isaac Okoro and/or Georges Niang could potentially mesh well, and as a transition player for a team trying to play with more pace, Bates could give the Wine and Gold a boost for spurts, particularly with them short-handed.
Realistically, Bates minutes probably won’t be in the cards still that much, and his defense is likely a question mark on the perimeter. Despite those things, at least in lineups where he has help from others on defense, trotting him out there a bit more might be fruitful for Cleveland. And if he can give the Cavaliers some pop offensively in possible minutes with them as the season progresses, it wouldn’t be so surprising if he were to have his contract converted to a standard deal at some point.