Emoni Bates is on the rise for the Cleveland Cavaliers

All eyes were on Emoni Bates as he stepped onto the court in a Cleveland Cavaliers uniform for the first time. It’s not every year that the 49th pick comes around Las Vegas Summer League with so much attention, but Bates isn’t a typical second-round draft pick.

A lot has happened since Bates was considered one of the top prospects in his recruiting class. A tumultuous NCAA career plagued by struggles on and off the court led to “next Kevin Durant” almost omitted in 2023.

Bates is the type of prospect that the Summer League was made for. An undoubtedly talented player with everything to prove and nothing to lose. Las Vegas is a place of development and can potentially make or break a prospect’s future with its organization.

Bates, playing for his NBA life, struggled in his first game, shooting just 5-18 from the floor and recording 0 assists to go with 3 turnovers. All the same concerns about his shot selection and efficiency were present on Day One.

Instead of sulking, Bates soaked up all the constructive criticism he could from Cleveland’s coaching staff. He showed rapid growth in each outing and played with a noticeably different approach after the first game.

Bates finished the summer average 17.2 points on 40% three-point shooting, earning a spot at Second Team All-Summer League and playing a role in Cleveland’s championship run.

To rein in Emoni’s erratic tendencies and refocus his attention on little things may sound cliche – but that’s what it takes for Bates to last in the NBA. It’s clear this was conveyed to him during Summer League as he showed an eagerness to defend and move the ball that wasn’t present during his time in college.

Playing as a willing passer, Bates was a functional cog in the machine instead of the wrench he used to be. A healthier shot chart made all the difference for Emoni, as his catch-and-shoot attempts were complimented by the occasional pull-up bomb that made him a top prospect to begin with.

There were still some bad shots. Although it is a blessing and a curse that Emoni happens to be really good at making them. He shot an efficient 43.7% from deep over his last five Summer League games, including hotly contested shots like this one:

At this stage in his career, Bates is more of a “shot maker” than a “shot creator”. He rarely creates much separation for himself before shooting off the dribble – but a hand to the face doesn’t deter him because of his height and quick release speed. When Bates rolls, we see stretches of world-beating offensive capabilities that should fascinate everyone.

Still, Bates faces the same problem that all volume shooters suffer from: the inevitable cold streak.

It is here Other things things come into play again. Can Bates be a high-impact offensive player when he’s not making three-pointers? Does he have enough defense to stay on the floor? Those are questions that Bates will have to answer at the NBA level.

At the Summer League level, Bates mostly passed the tests. He was a surprisingly passable defender who once again played as a functional member of the team. Bates recorded some impressive blocks on the help side and showed a great understanding of defensive rotations on this interception during the championship game:

Of course, it all becomes more challenging on the big stage. The speed of NBA basketball is notorious as rookies discuss their biggest adjustment coming into the league. Making plays like the above won’t be as easy when the game is sped up for Bates.

Few 19-year-olds are able to establish themselves as plus or even neutral defenders in the NBA. For Emoni Bates, his history as an overwhelming negative defender in college, combined with his limited athleticism and fragile 179-pound frame, make him an obvious target for bigger, more athletic opponents in the pros. So while he passed his first test, Emoni still has plenty to prove as a defender.

The same goes for his offensive game. Bates is most impressive when he’s drilling dazzling step-back three-pointers — but making quality reads like this quick push in transition and dime to the backdoor cutter are the type of plays that will make him a mainstay in an NBA rotation:

NBA teams aren’t keen on streaky, volume shooters who give nothing else to win. This is why Bates’ success in other areas is the most reassuring thing about his performance in Summer League. He shouldn’t bet his NBA future just by being a difficult shot maker.

That said, it’s worth highlighting Bates’ three-point shooting ability again. He has one of the fastest triggers and really doesn’t need much space to fire away. This can (and does) lead to head-scratching moments, but will also provide a jolt of electricity to any offense willing to roll the dice with its shooting.

Is there a potential role for Emoni Bates on the actual roster? Maybe in the future if he stays dedicated to polishing his game in the G-League. Long-term questions about his shot selection, will as a passer and defensive ability still need to be answered at the highest level.

Bates being a key player this season feels like a long shot given his age and the stakes Cleveland is playing with. The Cavs don’t have much room for the mistakes that can come from an unpolished, 19-year-old prospect being on the floor. They probably can’t afford to give Bates the extended leash he needs to develop right now.

However, none of this should stop anyone from feeling encouraged by Emoni’s Summer League stint. He flashed all the raw offensive upside that you want to see. And his apparent hunger to learn the game is something that will bode well for him in the G-League. There is plenty of reason for optimism here, and the future will be bright if Bates continues on this path.

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