5 reasons the Cavs struck gold with rookie Emoni Bates

8 Min Read
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Cavaliers took a chance in the second round of the 2023 NBA Draft, picking former top recruit Emoni Bates, who played his last collegiate season at Eastern Michigan University.

Bates began his college career at the University of Memphis, but he never reached the level that many thought he would when he was ranked the No. 1 player in the 2022 recruiting class.

Bates flashed some of his potential in the 2022-23 season at Eastern Michigan, as he averaged 19.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game while shooting 40.5 percent from the field and 33.0 percent from beyond the arc.

Cleveland used the No. 49 overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft on Bates, and it is hoping that he can tap into some of the potential that he had coming out of high school.

So far in Summer League and preseason, Bates has done just that. On Monday, he was Cleveland’s leading scorer in its preseason win over Maccabi Ra’Anana – a team out of Israel.

Drafting Bates was a low-risk, high-reward move for the Cavs, who signed the rookie to a two-way contract for the upcoming season.

At just 19 years old, there is a ton of room for Bates to grow, and there are a few reasons why Cleveland may have struck gold by taking a chance on the former highly touted prospect.

1. 3-point prowess

To be effective for a long time at the NBA level, Bates needs to display a skill that separates himself from the average NBA player.

So far, it seems like the lanky wing can shoot the ball at a high clip, something that the Cavs lacked at times last season – especially in the playoffs against the New York Knicks.

Bates is 27-for-65 from beyond the arc in his Summer League and preseason games, an impressive showing to say the least. He’s a high-volume shooter, so the fact that he can be as efficient as he has is a great sign for Cleveland.

The Cavs added Max Strus in a sign-and-trade with the Miami Heat this offseason to give themselves some more shooting on the wing, but Bates may be able to help the team in that department too. Plus, he gives the Cavs a little more size than Strus on the wing if he’s playing alongside Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell.

It’s early, but Bates’ shooting numbers are extremely promising.

2. Right place, right time

Bates’ pedigree speaks for itself.

In high school, he was compared to LeBron James, and one assistant college coach called him “the best player I’ve ever seen.”

That kind of praise doesn’t come lightly, but Bates’ struggles at Memphis cooled the comparisons to NBA legends.

Without that pressure, Bates may finally be living up to the expectations that were once set for him in high school.

Since the Cavs made such a low-risk move on Bates, they stand to reap the benefits of the 19-year-old potentially developing into the player many thought he’d be.

There is still a ton of room for Bates to grow, and players aren’t handed high-profile rankings like he received without having a ton of talent at some point in their careers. If he can just tap into some of that, he can become a productive player for Cleveland.

3. Similar timeline to others Cavs youngsters

The rookie’s age is an important piece of the puzzle for Cleveland, as he fits with the timelines of some of the team’s other young stars like Evan Mobley, Garland, Mitchell and Jarrett Allen.

Bates doesn’t have to be ready to contribute from day one, but he should be able to develop alongside some of the team’s young pieces.

Unlike teams such as the Golden State Warriors or Los Angeles Lakers who have stars in their 30s, the Cavs are one of the younger rosters in the NBA when it comes to their best players.

That should give the team some time to see if Bates truly is the right fit, and it should allow him to blossom as a player. There won’t be as much desire for Bates to be an instant success, even though the Cavs would love it if he were to help them make a playoff run this season.

If Bates does end up being a rotational piece, he would slot in nicely alongside Garland, Mitchell Mobley and Allen, and he could be a key contributor for years to come.

4. Wing help

There’s no doubt that the wing and forward spots were places of weakness for the Cavs last season.

The team re-signed Caris Levert, traded for Strus and signed Georges Niang this offseason to help fix those issues.

In the playoffs last season, Cedi Osman, Danny Green and even Isaac Okoro struggled to be consistent on the offensive end of the floor for the Cavs.

Adding a player like Bates, who was a volume scorer in college, could help fill a major need for the team. Bates has already shot the ball well in his limited NBA action.

Garland, Mitchell, Mobley and Allen are entrenched in their roles with the team, but the small forward wing spot has a bit of flexibility for Cleveland. The team may have struck gold by finding a player like Bates who fits right into what the team needs.

5. Value deal

Bates and the Cavs agreed on a two-way deal for the 2023-24 season, which could turn into a huge value deal for Cleveland down the line.

In high school, Bates was expected to be a top pick in the NBA draft, but instead he ended up slipping to the second round.

That allowed the Cavs to get him on a cheap deal rather than pay the salary of a top draft selection. That not only gives the team flexibility with adding other players, but it also could allow Cleveland to extend Bates on a cheaper deal in the long run if he does play a big role for the team.

That would help the team build around this young core for more than just the 2023-24 season.

It’s still early, but Bates is checking all the boxes for the Cavs early in his NBA career. The team may be looking at the steal of the draft if he can continue to improve.

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Peter is a graduate of Quinnipiac University where he covered the MAAC and college basketball for three years. He has worked for NBC Sports, the Connecticut Sun and the Meriden Record-Journal covering basketball and other major sports. Follow him on Twitter @peterdewey2.