When the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Emoni Bates with pick 49 in the 2023 NBA draft, the potential of the polarizing forward was clear.
The question for Emoni Bates has always been if he can reach his potential. In middle school, Bates emerged into the public eye, touted as the nation's top seventh-grade basketball player. With such high expectations at a young age, the risk of failure was always high for Bates. After reclassifying in high school to join the University of Memphis early, his erratic shot choices and dismal defense plummeted his draft stock.
Following a poor first season with the Tigers, Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan University, rebuilding his image with a lower school. While he was originally viewed as a definitive top-three pick, Bates was expected to go undrafted in 2023 by some scouts. Joining the Cavs, Bates felt he finally had a chance to fall in love with basketball again and began dedicating himself to growing his game with Cleveland.
Emoni Bates has dominated the G-League with Cleveland
The first step in Bates' journey came in the 2023 NBA Summer League, putting up legendary numbers with a 40 percent 3-point shot throughout Cleveland's run to the summer championship. He had an instant connection with his teammates and fit into the Cavaliers' culture. He was quickly dubbed "ThreEmoni" for his incredible touch from beyond the arc.
Bates later signed a two-way contract with Cleveland, playing primarily with the Cavs' G-League affiliate Cleveland Charge. Through 10 games played, Bates is averaging the fourth-most points per game with 24.3 alongside 4.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists. He has shot an astounding 41.6 percent from 3-point range on 10.1 attempts per game.
While Bates' offensive game has undeniably grown since his draft night, the most important area of growth for the 6-foot 10-inches forward was on the defensive side of the ball. In college, Bates developed a reputation as a lazy defender, often giving up on that end. With the Charge, Bates has averaged 1.3 blocks and 1.5 steals. His overall defensive impact has not reached superstar levels, but he has shown true growth.
With both playmaking and defense finally coming around for Bates, should he get a chance to play real rotational minutes for the Cavaliers? Given the recent injuries to Darius Garland and Evan Mobley, it would not be a surprise to see Bates on the court more than he has been lately.
Bates has looked rough with the Cavaliers, but it is only a matter of time.
When Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff has called Bates up from the Charge, his impressive stats dip significantly. His 3-point accuracy drops from above 40 percent to only 25 percent. He has a total usage rate of 15.3 percent when he is on the court, rarely even getting a chance to make an impact at all.
The opportunity for Bates to make his presence felt on the Cavaliers has not come yet. For a player like Bates, sporadically joining the main roster for a few minutes in a game is a daunting task. Further, it is clear that the Cavs have no preset offensive sets that would get Bates an open shot from deep.
With the Cavaliers, though, Bates has never lacked in energy and effort. He has the confidence to take the open shot when he sees it and never seems deterred when it does not fall. Additionally, Bates has sneakily been a better defender than anybody would have anticipated. Few, if any, scouts would have predicted defensive highlights from Bates in his rookie campaign, but that is exactly what he has provided.
As the Cavs near the halfway point of the regular season, shifting their offense to include several plays for Bates is going to be unlikely. At this point, Bates will most likely finish his season with the Charge, but next season should have more chances to debut his NBA talent.
On paper, a developed version of Emoni Bates is the exact framework of player Cleveland needs - a tall, sharpshooting forward with serviceable defense. It is only a question of when Bates will have the opportunity to showcase himself on the biggest stage.
In total, Bates' rookie performances have proven he is ready for the challenge, but patience is the key factor in his development. The Cleveland Cavaliers may have exited draft night with two definitive steals in both Emoni Bates and Craig Porter, Jr. - only adding to the club's bright future.