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After a disappointing playoff run, the Cleveland Cavaliers have already addressed most of their needs during the offseason. They signed Mx Strus and Georges Niang to add some much-needed shooting and wing depth. Although overshadowed by those two additions, they also brought in Ty Jerome to provide some backup point guard minutes in place of, or with, Ricky Rubio, who somewhat struggled last season.
The Cavaliers look like a much deeper team now and expectations are that they will have a more successful appearance in next year’s playoffs. Despite being without a first-round pick, their summer league squad understood the assignment and kicked off the new season with a big success, winning the summer’s championship. So, let’s look at three takeaways from the Cavaliers’ summer league success and what it could mean for some of the developmental prospects.
ISAIAH MOBLEY LOOKS READY
Isaiah Mobley dominated summer league. He averaged 22 points on 55 percent shooting, 9.7 rebounds, and 3.8 assists over the team’s undefeated run. Nevertheless, he was left off the all-tournament team and seemed to take it personally. In the final game against the undersized Houston Rockets, he mercilessly exploited mismatches, scored all over the floor, and showed his size on defense as all as on the boards. He showed no fear handling the ball, setting up his teammates, or attacking the paint and deservedly took home the title game MVP trophy.
Last season, Mobley spent a lot of time in the G League, developing and growing his game, and it showed. Granted, he was not facing top NBA-level competition, but he displayed versatility, confidence, and skill that could earn him some decent NBA minutes. Mobley is once again on a two-way contract with the Cavaliers, and player development outside their core four and maybe Isaac Okoro will not be a priority. The Cavaliers want to compete at the highest level and while Mobley looks ready to test the NBA waters, he won’t be ready for that and that’s okay.
Cleveland does not need another star. They could use some frontcourt depth, however. In addition to letting go of Kevin Love last season, they have also lost Robin Lopez and Lamar Stevens now. Neither one played much, leaving heavy minutes to cover for Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, but it was nice to have someone there in case of emergency. To address that need, the Cavaliers acquired center Damian Jones from the Utah Jazz, where he averaged 4.6 points and 3.5 rebounds in 19 games. Jones is already 28 and has experience manning the backup center position in the NBA but their frontcourt is still incredibly thin, especially if Dean Wade plays like he did last season.
If injuries come up, or some of the fits just don’t click, Mobley could very well see some limited frontcourt minutes and explore his game at the next level in the upcoming season.
EMONI BATES LOOKS LIKE A DRAFT STEAL
Before reclassifying, Emoni Bates was touted to be the number one prospect coming out of his high school class. Now, he is in the NBA at only 19 years of age. After some struggles adjusting to the college game, Bates fell to the 49th pick and into the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers. So far, that selection looks like a steal.
Bates scored double-digits in every summer league game during his team’s championship run. He shot well and without fear, handled the ball, dropped some pretty dimes, and showed off his speed and athleticism in transition. It looked like he was thoroughly enjoying the games and that is one of the most important things for anyone who wants to make it in the NBA.
Bates won’t make a big splash right away. He won’t come in and wow the entire league in his rookie season. For now, he is on a two-way contract and will mostly develop in the G League where he can work at his own pace and without pressure. He could very well see some NBA minutes, too, to explore and expand his scoring against some tougher competition but right now, the focus should be on the long-term. Yes, Bates has immense potential as a high-level scorer in the NBA but his defense and shot selection could use some work as is to be expected from such a young player.
Few guys come to the league as teenagers and are ready to contribute to a playoff team. It takes time, and right now, Bates has all the time in the world to get better. If that time is used correctly, he could become extremely valuable to the Cavaliers in the future.
SAM MERRILL DESERVES A SHOT
Sam Merrill was one of the veterans on the Cavaliers’ summer league team, and he came to play. The 27-year-old was ready to fight for an NBA deal. Not only was he scorching hot from three, breaking the summer league’s record for most threes that was set in 2017, but he also showed poise, good decision-making, and maturity. His two-man game with the Cavs’ big man Isaiah Mobley almost guaranteed a bucket every time, and he worked hard on defense.
In today’s NBA, every team needs shooting, particularly the kind of movement shooting Merrill can provide. By now, Merrill already has three NBA seasons under his belt with the Bucks, the Grizzlies, and the Cavaliers. He could come in and have an impact right away on any team that gives him a shot. That team might not be the Cavaliers, as his contract from here on out is not guaranteed and they already signed Strus and Niang, but he deserves a shot to be in the NBA. After all, no team can technically have too much shooting if there is room on the roster.