CLEVELAND, Ohio — A few years ago, before a turbulent college career, Emoni Bates was playing in packed gyms and being touted as the next big thing while drawing comparisons to a young Kevin Durant. He was the best basketball player in his age group by the time he reached sixth grade.
But Bates failed to live up to the hype. Now he’s trying to prove that he belongs in the NBA, that he’s worth an investment.
Is the gifted teenager who once oozed pure scoring ability still in there somewhere? It’s anyone’s guess. The Cavs should try to figure it out.
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With their first-round pick in the 2023 NBA Draft belonging to the Indiana Pacers as a result of last year’s Caris LeVert deal, Cleveland enters next Thursday’s draft with just one pick — 49th overall.
Second round picks are a crapshoot. The Cavs had three of them last year. They selected two draft-and-stash prospects who will remain overseas — Khalifa Diop and Luke Travers — and Isaiah Mobley, the older brother of franchise mainstay Evan, who spent his rookie season on a two-way contract and played 58 total minutes with Cavs.
Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, Draymond Green, Khris Middleton, Nikola Jokic and Manu Ginobili are past second-round gems unearthed by savvy franchises. But these players are exceptions. Last year’s 28-man second-round draft class featured just a pair of rotation mainstays — Andrew Nembhard (31st to the Pacers) and Jaylin Williams (34th to Oklahoma City).
Given their current roster makeup and the picky nature of the draft, especially when it comes to second-rounders, the Cavs are positioned to roll the dice. They can play on the upside.
Enter Bates — one of the many players on the team’s pre-draft workout schedule.
A prep star in the Michigan area and the first sophomore ever to win the Gatorade Boys Basketball Player of the Year award, Bates decommitted from Michigan State, reclassified a grade and enrolled at the University of Memphis with a fellow top school and fellow AAU Jalen Duren. But Bates buckled under the weight of expectations. He averaged just 9.7 points in 23 minutes while the crowd grew concerned with his foul body language. Then came a mysterious back injury that sidelined Bates for the last two months before returning for two forgettable tournament games.
Wanting a fresh start, the 6-foot-9 score-first wing entered the transfer portal and opted to play his sophomore season close to home in Eastern Michigan. Only it was another shaky start.
Shortly before the season began, Bates was pulled over and arrested on felony charges. He was later sentenced to 18 months of probation after pleading guilty to a weapons offense charge. If he completes clean probation, this charge will be dismissed.
In a recent interview with NBA Insider Shams Charania, Bates said he made a bad decision by borrowing someone else’s car with someone else’s gun in it before running a stop light on his way to a haircut.
These bouts of immaturity will certainly be considered on draft night. This is a topic that has come up during previous interviews. It has been debated since he declared for the draft. There are also questions about his style of play, shot selection, decision-making, commitment on defense and a wiry 190-pound frame that makes it hard to envision him holding up defensively against other more seasoned wings as a rookie. Bates also lacks explosiveness and struggled to finish around the rim, leading to a 3-point-heavy shooting profile.
Nevertheless, this is a second-round pick. How many of them are without error? How many are supposed to crack the rotation for a team with playoff hopes?
A guy with Bates’ pedigree isn’t typically available in round two — and he plays Cleveland’s weakest spot. With a shortage of wings, the Cavs must use every resource to solve the problem. Bates has the size and length that wing-needy teams demand. His handle improved as a sophomore. He has deep reach and a scorer’s mentality. He has spent the last year trying to repair his image.
Off-field issues aside, the shifty shot-maker is worth a closer look – if the background is out of the question. Especially with the 49th pick.
It is an investment. It will take time. Anyone picked at 49 will likely spend their rookie season with the G League affiliate Charge. That’s exactly where the 19-year-old Bates belongs – away from the spotlight, in an environment where he can develop and learn to become an effective off-the-ball team player who positively impacts victory.
– This post has been updated to correct that Isaiah Mobley is Evan Mobley’s older brother.
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