Once upon a time, Emoni Bates was the next big thing. With a Sports Illustrated cover prior to the start of his sophomore season in high school, Bates already drew comparisons to LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and the high school version of Michael Porter Jr. thanks to his height, scoring ability, and the accolades that came with it.

Bates was initially poised to enroll at Michigan State University, but he decommitted from the Spartans and ended up joining the University of Memphis, where a promising start with the Tigers turned out to be a flash in the pan after the competition got stronger and the defenses adjusted to the 2020 Gatorade National Player of the Year. Seeking a fresh start, Bates then transferred to Eastern Michigan University, where he only managed to lead the team to eight wins despite averaging 19.2 points.

Bates’ fate in the 2023 NBA Draft was uncertain given his up-and-down college career and some off-field issues, but the waiting ended when the Cleveland Cavaliers selected him in the second round with the 49th overall pick.

The Cavs provide Bates a brand new environment, one that won’t come with heavy expectations given that he already signed a two-way contract with Cleveland right before summer league. All he has to do now is play his game.

Through three games, Bates has been averaging 16.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 1.3 blocks, and an assist in 26.9 minutes of play. The scoring may not stick out as compared to the likes of Jabari Smith Jr. and fellow rookie Keyonte George, but that Bates is scoring with better shooting percentages than in his two years in college is a great starting point.

Part of it comes as Bates has been more comfortable with his role thus far, picking his spots and letting the game come to him. It doesn’t feel like he’ll take over the game, but the 19-year old nonetheless does his damage. If he can get these shots off with this kind of talent surrounding him, one could imagine what he can do with an even better lineup to play with. There have also been some decent defensive moments from Bates, who has shown abilities to alter shots and stay disciplined.

There will be those that will say that summer league is different from the regular season, but how a player approaches the game regardless of the stakes deserves some merit as well. Bates has been getting better with each game and even with nothing much to play both from his and the team’s perspective, you have to love how the focus has been on getting better, with the 3-0 record the Cavaliers currently have in the NBA 2K24 Summer League being gravy.

One can also forget that Bates just turned 19 back on January 28 and was once the youngest player in college basketball. In fact, he’s the youngest player on the Cavs’ summer league roster by nearly two years. A two-way contract allows Bates to be immersed with Cleveland while also getting the necessary developmental reps with the Cleveland Charge, the Cavaliers’ NBA G-League affiliate. Eventually, the goal could be integrating with the Cavs core of Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen, and Darius Garland, forming a potent and potentially dangerous group.

Right now, he’ll have a much longer leash there and his learning curve won’t be as steep with the weight off his shoulders. Besides, it’s better that Bates makes all his mistakes at this stage rather than potentially letting it derail his career later on.

It may be quite early to say, but we may very well be at the start of the Emoni Bates redemption tour. Producing solid numbers would be a great goal, but seeing Bates becoming a regular contributor to the Cleveland Cavaliers (two-way contract be willing) would bode well for this coming season and in the long run.