The Cleveland Cavaliers and their fans need to be patient with Emoni Bates

The Cleveland Cavaliers only had one pick in 2023 NBA Draft, a mid-second-round pick who likely wouldn’t see the floor at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse this upcoming season. But the Cavs made perhaps the most high-profile pick of the second round by selecting former number one high school recruit Emoni Bates out of Eastern Michigan. When Bates committed to play for Penny Hardaway and the Memphis Tigers in 2021, he was entered as a consensus lottery pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. But his path to Cleveland has not been straightforward, and his eventual NBA debut will require some patience and time.

Bates was named the 2020 Gatorade National Player of the Year, the first second secondary school to win the award by averaging 32.3 points, nine rebounds, three assists and 2.1 steals per game. match. But his first year in Memphis was marked by problems. Bates dealt with uneven play, missed 15 games due to a back injury (which required a specialist to review) and had legal issues September last year. He entered the transfer portal and chose to return to his home state of Michigan and his hometown of Ypsilanti to play for the Eastern Michigan Eagles. In his one year with EMU, Bates averaged 19.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists on 40.5% shooting from the floor and 33.8% from three-point territory. It marked an improvement over his time with Memphis, but his shot selection and selfishness were major detractors.

The star power Bates seemingly possessed wasn’t enough to lift the Eagles to double-digit wins, but there were glimpses of his immense potential. He scored 36 points, including eight three-pointers, against NBA draftee GG Jackson and South Carolina. He hung 30 points on Michigan in his EMU debut and poured in 43 against Toledo, including 29 straight points. Bates demonstrated the hard shot, pull-up game, ability to get downhill and hit seemingly effortlessly from the NBA range. His efficiency is still poor, which comes with having to be the entire offense at one of the worst college basketball schools in the country, and tough shooters like Bates will have downright terrible shooting nights, but the scoring ability is undeniable.

Bates was very good in Combine drills, going 25-30 on off-the-dribble shot attempts and also ranked second in a three-point shooting drill with 19-25 from deep. His frame allows him to be active on the glass, and the hope is that size and some weight gain can translate to being passable defensively. Bates is also still only 19 years old and has room to grow physically, which he will need at the NBA level.

But the downsides are there, and they’re glaring. He has poor tunnel vision, rarely involves his teammates, lacks athleticism despite his size, and has extremely frustrating shot selection.

The Summer League was a microcosm of what Bates was last year for Eastern Michigan. He averaged 17.2 points and six rebounds per game with very, very few assists and 43.9% shooting from the floor. More than half of his shots come from beyond the arc and leads the team in shot attempts per game. match.

Volume shooter, few assists, shaky efficiency. Some of the shot making has been impressive, drilling long threes and utilizing his frame and dribbling ability to get into the paint for floaters or layups. But Bates is clearly looking to shoot as soon as he touches the ball. Defensively, his length has affected shots and he had a few emphatic blocks. The tools are clearly there, but on the Summer League squad he is a focal point in the offensive end. What happens if he doesn’t have the ball in his hands? The development for Bates would be to be more of a team player, finding cutting lanes and looking to get others involved. Those things, combined with tough shot-making and decent size, would be very exciting.

The Cavs know Bates needs a lot of work, but the organization’s infrastructure is sound. The front office is stable with Koby Altman, who has been with the Cavaliers since 2012. Head coach JB Bickerstaff signed with the team in 2019 and is known as a player coach. Cleveland Charge head coach Mike Gerrity joined Cleveland in 2013 and has extensive player development experience, starting as video coordinator.

The Cavs have a good group of veterans in the locker room, and discontent is (lately) rare. Organizational visions and goals align toward deep playoff runs and create camaraderie (Caris LeVert’s extension, as an example). Superstar Donovan Mitchell has already expressed how he plans to work with Bates and “take him under his wing”. That’s not an insignificant endorsement, especially for a second-round pick who might not make it to an NBA court this year. Bates will have time in a controlled NBA atmosphere with a coaching staff that understands his strengths, weaknesses and can chart his development. Creating a supportive environment is critical to Bates’ development both physically and mentally.

Cleveland, as well as several other teams that had Bates in for pre-draft workouts, saw the talent level. The Cavs have put themselves in this “project” position before with Kevin Porter Jr. in 2019. That scenario was a little different as the Cavs gave up draft capital to move up and take Porter while Bates fell into Cleveland’s lap, but the similarities are there. Both players were highly touted high school recruits. Both players went to high-profile colleges and had difficult freshman seasons for one reason or another. Both players saw their draft stock drop from high lottery to the second round, or even go undrafted. While it didn’t work out in Cleveland with Porter, the stakes were lower this time around with Bates, as they didn’t give up anything extra to select him.

There is, understandably, more excitement with Bates than your second-round pick. He fits a need for the Cavs as a wing, has a clear ability to score at all three levels, has a high pedigree dating back to high school and still isn’t even 20 years old. Cut hard and you can see a hint of Brandon Ingram sneaking around screens and using his handle to create space before heaving for a jumper. Expectations should be tempered, especially given the tumultuous past few years Bates has had, but the talent is certainly there — the Summer League showed flashes. But it will be up to the Cavs, and Bates himself, to exude patience and trust the process on the road to the NBA.

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