Five Thoughts On The Cleveland Cavaliers Nba Summer League Experience

Five Thoughts on the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA Summer League Experience

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Danny Cunningham covers the Cleveland Cavaliers for 850 ESPN Cleveland and You can follow him on Twitter at @RealDCunningham.


On Monday night the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Summer League Championship for the first time in franchise history. Is this a gigantic deal? No, not really. But, there are things that are certainly worth noting from the six games played by the franchise’s younger, less experienced players out in Las Vegas over the past 10 days.


1.     Isaiah Mobley is an NBA player


The elder Mobley brother spent his rookie season as a professional spending most of his time with the Cleveland Charge in the NBA G League. He was named Third-Team All-G League and only appeared in 12 games with the Cavs, mostly in mop-up duty.


While in Las Vegas, Mobley looked to be in complete command in most of his minutes he was on the floor. He looked like the type of player that was almost a little *too* good to be out there at times. He showed off terrific floor vision and basketball IQ, even if there were a few times when it looked like he was forcing his offense a little bit too much.


Mobley won’t ever become the star player the organization is banking his younger brother Evan will become, but he does look like a guy that can be a serviceable backup on an NBA roster. If that happens eventually with a guy that was draft No. 49 overall, as Mobley was in 2022, then that’s a big win. That might or might not happen this year, but Mobley showed enough in summer league to think that it is in the cards for the future.


2.     The potential is there with Emoni Bates


Speaking of No. 49 overall draft picks, this year’s selection Emoni Bates was one of the more naturally gifted guys to ever fall that low in the draft. It’s hard to think that the Cavs could have found someone with more raw potential than Bates when they selected 49th overall this past June.


But there were plenty of warts with Bates, both on and off the floor, that led to him falling as deep as he did. The Cavs taking him in the draft was a gamble, and one that very well could pay off.


Only so much progress can be made in a six-game window out in Las Vegas against teams filled with guys that won’t be on NBA rosters next season. But Bates did make progress from the time Summer League tipped off to the championship game. 


At the start of Summer League, Bates was playing with an ultra-green light that former Cavs swingman J.R. Smith would be jealous of. It was rare for Bates to have his hands on the basketball and not attempt a 3-pointer. He finished with 16 points on 5-of-18 shooting and 4-of-13 from 3-point range in the opener against the Nets. Some of the shots he took that night were good, clean looks. Others were very much the opposite. In a true ode to Smith, a couple of the threes Bates made were of the “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” variety.


By the championship game on Monday night, Bates was making the correct play in a team construct much more frequently. In his first five summer league games, Bates had three assists total. He had four on Monday night alone.


More importantly, the shot selection dramatically improved throughout the week. After the 13 attempts from deep in the opener Bates didn’t take more than eight threes in a single game. That’s still a high number, but over the final five games he shot 43.7 percent from beyond the arc. That’s partially a result of weeding out bad shots as time went on.


Bates being in a situation where he won’t be the star player, nor be asked to be, is the best thing that could have happened for his career. It shouldn’t be a surprise if much of his rookie year is spent with the Cleveland Charge, but if he can prove to be coachable, he has a bright future awaiting him in the NBA.



3.     How did Craig Porter Jr. go undrafted?


After watching how undrafted guard Craig Porter Jr. played throughout the Summer League the first question that came to mind was “how did no one take a flier on this kid in the second round?”

Sure, he’s a 6-foot-2 guard that enters the league after his 23rd birthday. But when he’s on the floor, all he seemingly does is make winning plays. Everything in Summer League needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but when Porter Jr. was on the floor, the Cavs outscored their opponents by a total of 44 points across six games.


He's got a feel for the game that was impressive and despite being a smaller guard finished with five blocked shots in the six games. He also rebounds the ball really well for a guard of his size, averaging 7.3 rebounds per game for the Cavs.



4.     Sam Merrill can shoot


There’s a reason that Sam Merrill played in the Summer League for the Cavs, but there’s also a reason that he was the only guy on the Cavs roster that’s on a standard NBA contract and not a two-way deal.


Merrill is fighting for an NBA career. He’s 27 years old and has seen his time in the league derailed by injuries after he was the 60th and final pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. He’s only appeared in 41 games in his three seasons in the NBA, with 30 of them coming in his rookie year.


The reason that Merrill is the guy on the NBA contract is that he can shoot the lights out from distance. Merrill played in five games and made 25 3-pointers for the Cavs, the most that has been made by a single player in the Las Vegas Summer League since 2017. He spoke prior to going out to Las Vegas about being in the best shape of his life, and it sure looked like it.


His deal with the Cavs is non-guaranteed, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him on the floor for Cleveland is some capacity this season.


5.     The Draft-and-Stash of Luke Travers


Luke Travers was a draft-and-stash pick by the Cavaliers with the 56th overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. He’s going to turn 22 years old in less than two months and will be spending this upcoming season playing for Melbourne United of the National Basketball League in Australia. He may never be a guy that has a significant impact on the Cavs, but it’s conceivable he attempts to make his way to the NBA within the next two years to give it a shot.


During the Summer League he looked similar to Mobley in terms of being in control and the game not being too fast for him. He does a little bit of everything at a solid level but may not be exceptional at any one thing.