2023 NBA Draft: Cavaliers could take a low-risk gamble on Emoni Bates

When it’s time for the Cleveland Cavaliers to pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, Emoni Bates could be a low-risk, high-reward option.
draft emoni bates
YPSILANTI, MI – DECEMBER 18: Emoni Bates #21 of the Eastern Michigan Eagles celebrates a three-point shot in the second half during a college basketball game against the Detroit Mercy Titans at the George Gervin GameAbove Center on December 18, 2022 in Ypsilanti, Michigan. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

The 2023 NBA Draft is now less than ten days away, and while the Cleveland Cavaliers still need a first-round selection, they do have some decisions to make next Thursday evening. Nearly midway into the second round, the Cavaliers have the no. 49 overall pick and it presents three options:

  1. Should Cleveland trade the pick to acquire a player that can contribute immediately?
  2. Should Cleveland draft a player, sign them to a two-way contract and then develop them with the Cleveland Charge, their NBA G League affiliate, to become a rotation piece for the 2024-25 season?
  3. Should Cleveland draft an international prospect that may not join the NBA right away but could be a valuable rotation piece that isn’t developed in-house?

You can make a valid argument for all three options for the Cavaliers. Currently, it makes the most sense to trade the pick for someone more NBA-ready – like Brooklyn Nets swingman Royce O’Neale. Sources can confirm the initial reporting that Cleveland was close to acquiring O’Neale, a close friend and former teammate of Donovan Mitchell, in the final moments of the annual trade deadline. The same source believes that the Cavaliers and Nets will likely re-approach these talks this summer, with Brooklyn rebuilding and having a surplus of veteran wings and Cleveland contending in dire need of veteran wing players.

Sure, the no. 49 pick, or the player taken with it, could be moved by the Cavaliers to the Nets in a possible O’Neale deal. Brooklyn could also be more interested in other players or assets Cleveland has, and the sole Cavaliers draft pick ultimately doesn’t come up in conversations. Cleveland will consider all options even if they don’t acquire O’Neale through a trade. Thankfully, the Cavaliers are doing their due diligence leading up to the 2023 NBA Draft and have been conducting interviews and workouts with prospects that could be within that range.

Various sources, agents and player representatives have shared with Right Down Euclid that Cleveland has either interviewed or worked out Houston’s Jamal Shead, Akron’s Enrique Freeman, North Carolina State’s Isaiah Miranda, Eastern Michigan’s Emoni Bates, Wichita State’s Craig Porter Jr., Illinois forward Terrence Shannon Jr. and Washington State’s Justin Powell. As of today, Shead, Freeman, Miranda and Shannon have all withdrawn their names from consideration in the 2023 NBA Draft, electing to return to college for another season of play. 

That means Bates, Porter and Powell could all be in the mix for the Cavaliers with the no. 49 overall pick or could even join the team in Las Vegas for Summer League play as undrafted free agents. But, by the time Cleveland picks, there’s a ton of uncertainty on who could be available in the 2023 NBA Draft. That’s why Right Down Euclid reached out to its audience to get an idea of names they think could be a good fit for the Cavaliers come draft night. While Porter and Powell will likely go undrafted or be fringe second-round selections, Bates was a name that came up quite a bit. So, let’s first dive into Bates, the Eastern Michigan prospect who has the physical attributes of an NBA forward, and why he could or could not be a good fit for Cleveland.

draft bates michigan
DETROIT, MI – NOVEMBER 11: Eastern Michigan Eagles forward Emoni Bates (21) drives from the outside on Michigan Wolverines guard Jace Howard (25) during the Eastern Michigan Eagles game versus the Michigan Wolverines on Friday November 11, 2022 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, MI. (Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

After a tumultuous season in Ypsilanti, Bates is considered a high-level talent but not a sure-fire star or even a starter at the NBA level. At one point, he was once viewed as a generational type of player and widely considered the top prospect in his class. But, Bate’s progression has slowed, and his ceiling appears much lower than initially thought. He specializes in scoring the ball and can get his shot from the perimeter. Unfortunately, Bates doesn’t have excellent blow-by speed or explosiveness into the lane. This caused Bates to have inefficient scoring numbers on the interior and, more often than not, had him settling for outside shots.

Bates seems like the kind of untapped potential that needs structure and an environment to grow and develop. Bates sometimes conducts himself with a competitive edge, so there is reason to hope he can put everything together at the next level. But that edge also borders on arrogance at times, which goes hand in hand with Bate’s overall maturity issues. He talks a ton of trash despite being a player with so many existing flaws, which reeks of a high school player resting on his laurels. Unfortunately, those laurels on top of his current potential can only take Bates so far and, in turn, could cause teams to cool on him during the NBA Draft process.

If Cleveland drafted Bates, he could be a long-term investment and a possible long-term depth piece at small forward. Again, he has the size to handle the rigors of the position, measuring in at 6’8″, all while carrying a 6’9″ wingspan. But he was so passive at times on the defensive side of the ball that it’s more than fair to question how committed Bates was toward playing defense. That’s a non-starter for most NBA teams, especially under a defensive-first tactician like Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff.

Thankfully, for Bates, there are two sides to the court in basketball, and on offense is where he can make a legitimate case. Bates has deep range and gets into his release quickly, even from awkward angles – which is something the Cavaliers desperately need from the wing position. If he were to develop into a movement shooter under Charge head coach Mike Gerrity, it could unlock things for Bates and his fit within Cleveland’s offensive scheme.

In the two games he played during the draft combine, Bates recorded nine points on 4-of-9 shooting with five rebounds, two blocks and a steal, followed by 12 points on 3-of-5 shooting with two rebounds, two assists, and a block. More than anything, he showcased an ability and desired to play more within himself and limit risky decisions, which is a small sign of positive growth. As always, actions speak louder than words, which could back up Bates interviewing well with teams during the pre-draft process, the Cavaliers included.

Again, this all hinges on what Bates can become as a player at the next level. Somewhat similar to the fall from grace former star prospect Patrick Baldwin Jr. had, Bates could be a player that’s better suited for the NBA. After putting up a ghastly performance for a mid-major, Baldwin put up strong numbers for the Santa Cruz Warriors, the NBA G League affiliate of the Golden State Warriors, and could be a rotational piece going forward. The Warriors felt comfortable enough to take the gamble on Baldwin and allowed him to develop at his own pace on a two-way deal. The Cavaliers could take a similar bet with Bates with the no. 49 pick, who could be a low-risk, high-reward option.

It could hinge on whether or not Cleveland believes the culture they’ve built is strong enough to mold and develop Bates into the prospect many hope he can still be. Bates could be an Americanized Cedi Osman that isn’t afraid to shoot for the Cavaliers whenever he touches the ball. He also could become a player in a similar vein to Eddie Jones, especially if Bates locks in on the defensive end of the court. Again, everything with Bates will be a gamble for any team that takes him on draft night. But, considering where Cleveland is picking, and how they are built as a team, they could be willing to take the risk and further develop Bates as a player.

Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at evan@downeuclid.com. He can also be found three to five times weekly on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.

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