From one resurgent run to another.
A few months after the Cleveland Cavaliers ended the 2022-23 season with a record of 51-31, their highest win total since the 2016-17 season, the Cavs are starting to lay the foundation for another promising run on a different level of NBA basketball.
The Cavaliers ended last year’s Summer League with a record of 3-2. Their run was capped off by a 94-90 win over the Atlanta Hawks in Cox Pavilion. They took wins over the San Antonio Spurs and the Detroit Pistons, but fell to the Christian Braun-led Denver Nuggets and the Charlotte Hornets.
Cleveland jumped to a 3-0 record in the NBA Summer League with wins over the Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors and Memphis Grizzlies. The Cavs have averaged 100 points per game in the Summer League, good enough for fourth in the league ahead of the Nets, Minnesota Timberwolves and Dallas Mavericks. The team has hit 40% of the 31.7 3-point shots per game it has attempted so far.
It didn’t take long for some of Cleveland’s Summer League additions to separate themselves during its July run. The team has already had its fair share of memorable individual performances, highlighted by two 27-point games from guards Sam Merrill and Sharife Cooper.
How are some of the Cavs’ roster additions playing in the NBA Summer League so far? Will they be able to carry over their play into Thursday’s game against the Chicago Bulls?
Merrill may have hit just 27.8% of the 3-pointers he attempted during his short stint with the Cavs last season.
But, considering the prowess from the perimeter he has shown in the past, he was bound to showcase his shooting ability eventually.
Merrill made 42% of his 3-pointers during his four years at Utah State, peaking at the 46.4% he hit during his sophomore season. He knocked down 44.7% of his tries from the 3-point line during his first year with the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2020-21 season.
Merrill has averaged 18.7 points per game during the three matchups he has suited up for. He seemingly could not miss from the 3-point line when the Cavs took on the Grizzlies on Monday, hitting eight of his 11 attempts as he fired quick catch-and-shoot and fadeaway tries from the perimeter.
Merrill is listed with a non-guaranteed contract that will run until 2025. The Cavs signed him to the multiple-year deal after he inked a 10-day contract in March following a successful stint with the Cleveland Charge.
The Cavs needed shooting heading into the offseason. Seeing Merrill’s improved performance this summer can be a positive sign before the start of next season.
Craig Porter Jr.
Porter Jr. has done well in his role off the bench for the Cavaliers in Cleveland’s first three games.
He is averaging 10 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 20.5 minutes played per contest so far. He scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds during the Cavs’ 100-77 win over the Grizzlies. The 6-foot-2 guard did a solid job at finding open teammates, ending the game with six assists while giving up three turnovers.
Porter’s Grizzlies game was highlighted by a move with his back to the basket, where he backed down Memphis guard Jacob Gilyard in the post near the end of the second quarter. He worked past Gilyard’s defense in the low post for a contested layup near the paint.
Along with forwards Isaiah Mobley and Emoni Bates, Porter Jr. was officially signed to a two-way contract earlier this month. Should Cooper return to the Charge next season and Porter Jr. can replicate his ability to be a solid glue player for Cleveland in the Summer League, the former Wichita State guard could be a needed spark for the Charge when the G League season begins in November.
Another run in the Summer League meant another opportunity to show why Mobley could be a productive player on a two-way contract.
Mobley showed signs of improvement from his 2022 run during his performances this year. The 23-year-old forward is averaging 12.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and five assists per outing in the Cavs’ first three Summer League matchups. He found ways to positively impact Cleveland even when he had inefficient shooting nights, highlighted by a nine-rebound and six-assist performance when the Cavs defeated the Nets on Friday.
Mobley worked well on the glass and gave extra opportunities to his teammates against the Raptors, ending the night with six boards and four assists. He threw down a dunk against two Toronto defenders about halfway through the first quarter, showcasing his ability to roll to the basket as he ended the night with 15 points while making three of his seven field goal attempts.
Hopefully, Mobley will be able to carry over the talents he has shown this summer into the NBA G League next season.
It took time for Bates to find his rhythm in the Summer League.
Bates fired confident jump shots seemingly every time the ball came his way when the Cavs took to Cox Pavilion to take on the Nets, hitting four of the 13 3-pointers he shot and five of his 18 shots from the field. Bates showed more signs of comfort as the Summer League season went on, taking bounds of improvement until he hit seven of his 11 shots and five of his eight tries from the 3-point line against the Grizzlies.
The 6-foot-9 forward is averaging 16.3 points, six rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks per game during this year’s Summer League. Bates is playing free, Cavs.com beat writer Joe Gabriele wrote in a Wednesday article.
“I’m the most happy I’ve ever been throughout my whole basketball career, because I feel like I can have fun right now,” said Bates, following Cavs practice before the team departed for Vegas, via Cavs.com. “There’s no expectations. And I’m around talented players.
“I can learn from everybody, like Donovan, Darius, Evan Mobley. Even a guy like Sharife (Cooper), guys in the G-League that have been here already. So, I’m just trying to learn as much as I can.”
Bates will need a few extra years to break the Cavs’ rotation. But, at least for now, he has shown plenty of positive signs during the NBA Summer League.
The Cavs will face the Bulls at 3 p.m. EDT on Thursday at the Thomas & Mac Center in Las Vegas, Nev. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN2.