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NBA Draft Profile: Emoni Bates

Emoni Bates
Photo by Eastern Michigan University

Emoni Bates graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as a tenth grader in an article titled “Born For This,” written by Michael Rosenberg in 2019. Bates, who was 15 years old at the time, finished his freshman season averaging 28.5 points and 10.5 rebounds. He was also named Michigan Gatorade player of the year and MaxPreps National Freshman of the year. The high school phenom was even mentioned in the same breath as NBA greats such as Kevin Durant and LeBron James

Almost four years later, Bates has become an afterthought in a stacked 2023 NBA Draft class which features generational prospects such as Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson, and Brandon Miller.

But how did we get here? Let’s take a deep dive.


High School Phenom (2018-2021)

Emoni Bates

After an impressive freshman season, Bates followed up with averages of 32.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 2.1 steals on 50 percent shooting overall and 37 percent shooting from three point range. Bates, at 16 years old, became the first male sophomore to win Gatorade National Player of the Year.

In 2020, the rising junior transferred to Ypsi Prep Academy, a school founded by his father Elgin Bates. The 2020-21 season turned out to be Bates’ last season of high school basketball. As a junior, Bates averaged 23.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 2.2 steals in an abbreviated ten game season. Ypsi Prep finished the season with a 7-3 record.


College Recruitment

On June 29, 2020, the Michigan native announced he would stay in-state to play for Tom Izzo at Michigan State. However, Bates re-opened his recruitment and narrowed his options to Memphis, Michigan State, NBA G-League Ignite, and Oregon.

Bates decided to join AAU teammate and Detroit Piston Jalen Duren at the University of Memphis. Both players reclassified to the high school class of 2021 which made them eligible to play during the 2021-22 season.

In an interview with Shams Charania, Bates explained his decision to reopen his recruitment and eventually commit to Memphis.

“I didn’t really explore any other options….Michigan State is right up the street from me. So I feel like I wanted to explore my options more,” Bates said.

Bates also expressed that the Memphis Tigers coaching staff of Penny Hardaway, Larry Brown, and Rasheed Wallace played a role in his commitment.

“I just felt like there wasn’t a better coaching staff at that time. That’s why I made that decision – to be able to grow my game,” Bates added.

Memphis (2021-2022)

Bates entered the University of Memphis as one of the most anticipated freshmen in recent memory.

But there was one dilemma – Bates was only 17 years old and was turning 18 in January of 2022 which meant he wasn’t eligible for the 2022 NBA Draft. 

Throughout his freshman season at Memphis, the once highly-touted prospect looked like a boy amongst men in terms of his physical profile (6’9”, 190 pounds) and his style of play. Bates struggled with scoring the ball efficiently with fewer shot attempts. Through 18 regular season games, Bates averaged 9.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.3 assists, on 38/32/64 shooting splits.

After Memphis’ victory against their conference rival East Carolina, Bates missed the rest of the regular season with a back injury. In Bates’ absence, the Memphis Tigers clawed their way to a 21-10 record and a 9th seed in the 2022 NCAA Tournament. Bates returned for the Memphis Tigers’ short-lived tournament run in which he scored a combined eight points in 15 total minutes. The Memphis Tigers were eliminated in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in a close 82-78 loss to the Gonzaga Bulldogs.

Eastern Michigan (2022-2023)

Bates returned to his hometown of Ypsilanti, Michigan for his sophomore season and transferred to Eastern Michigan, a program that has failed to make the NCAA Tournament since 1998.

However, on September 18, 2022; Bates made a mistake that could’ve cost him his career. Bates was pulled over after failing to stop at an intersection. He was arrested on felony charges for carrying a concealed weapon in his car and altering its ID markings. Police also found marijuana in his car. His lawyer Steve Haney claimed neither the weapon nor the weapon belonged to Bates.  

Approximately a month later, Bates pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of attempting to transport a loaded firearm in a vehicle. Consequently, his felony charges were dropped.

Bates took to social media to apologize and acknowledge his mistake.

“I hold myself accountable for making a poor decision, and hope you can forgive me as I grow because this will not be my last mistake, however; a lasting stigma to remind me of the severity of such a mistake,” Bates said.

Bates also encouraged others to learn from his mistake. 

“I hope my mistake can inspire others to think before acting. Growth is a lifetime experience, I will harness the value within this lesson and continue to be of service to my community,” Bates added.

Bates was briefly suspended from the Eastern Michigan program but was reinstated on October 13, 2022. 


Redemption Tour

On November 11, 2022, Bates made his Eastern Michigan debut against the University of Michigan which featured fellow draft prospects Jett Howard and Kobe Bufkin. Bates looked every bit like the prospect that was once projected as a surefire top-five pick. Despite the loss, Bates scored 30 points on an efficient 12-of-19 shooting to go along with five rebounds.

His next 30-plus point performance happened on December 30, 2022 against the South Carolina Gamecocks which featured fellow prospect Gregory “G.G.” Jackson. Bates scored 36 points on 13-of-25 shooting along with six rebounds. However, Jackson and the Gamecocks escaped with a 74-64 victory over the Eagles.

On January 24, 2023, Bates had the game of his college career when scored 43 points against the Toledo Rockets, including 29 straight points in the first half. Despite his performance, the Rockets came out on top with a 84-79 victory.

Bates finished the season averaging 19.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists on 40/33/78 shooting splits. Unfortunately for the team, Eastern Michigan finished with an 8-23 record, failing to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for a 25th consecutive season.

Pre-Draft Process

Bates was projected to be selected as a late-second rounder or go undrafted prior to the NBA Draft combine. However, Bates raised his stock with his performance in individual drills and the 5-on-5 scrimmages. The 19-year-old finished tied for first in the shooting off the dribble drill with Penn State forward Seth Lundy (25/30 shooting, 83 percent), second in the three point star drill (20/25 shooting, 76 percent), and fourth in the spot up drill (17/25 shooting, 68 percent). 

Performances in the 5-on-5 scrimmages by the Eastern Michigan product averaged 10.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists, and 1.5 blocks, through two games. Bates also demonstrated his ability to fit in and play with other talented players which has been a main criticism about his game throughout his career.

Bates explained that he wanted to prove he’s more than a scorer.

“I’m trying to show other skills other than scoring,” Bates said.

Bates also made it his mission to prove he can play with other great players.

“Defensive-wise, I feel like I was more engaged and I’m just trying to showcase more of an all-around game and really that I’m a good teammate and get other players involved,” Bates added.

Stan Heath, the head coach at Eastern Michigan, believes Bates’ performance at the NBA Draft Combine reminded scouts and analysts why he was once touted as a generational prospect.

“He has always been a talented player and shows out and there was no question that he was going to stand out in a situation like the combine. I think a lot of people are taking notice of who he is and what he has done in the past,” Heath said.

Heath also explained that Bates’ one year at Eastern Michigan allowed him to tap into the abilities he showcased in high school.

“I really think this year has gotten him back in that position of being the guy they thought he could be. I am excited for him and I think he will continue to turn heads as he continues to perform in some of those (pre-draft) workouts with individual teams ahead of the draft,” Heath added.


The main strength of Bates’ game is he’s a natural scorer and has been the go-to scorer at every level he’s played. He also has a case for the best isolation scorer in the entire 2023 NBA Draft class. Bates averaged 6.5 points per game on pull up shots alone, which tends to be a go-to shot for many isolation scorers.

Bates is also able to make difficult shots under duress thanks to his height (6’9) and quick shot release. Bates also shows potential as a catch and shoot threat, shooting 39 percent on catch and shoot threes. If given space, he won’t hesitate to fire from deep three point range either.


Although a good athlete in space, Bates is a below average athlete in the half court which affects his shot selection. The root of the problem is his ability, or lack thereof, to create separation from his defender. When he is able to create separation, he has trouble finishing at the basket, especially in traffic which can be attributed to his slight frame.

Bates has also struggled in terms of his efficiency scoring the ball. He’s shown improvement from his freshman season but still shot on 40%/33%/78% shooting splits. 

Defensively, Bates doesn’t demonstrate a lot of effort, focus, or discipline. Whether it’s on or off the ball, he gets beat and opponents tend to salivate at attacking him in the paint.

There are also question marks about whether Bates can play within a team system after being the go-to guy his entire career. He showed it at the combine, but can he make the same adjustment once he makes it to the pros?

Player Comparisons

From a physical standpoint, Bates compares favorably to New Orleans Pelicans star forward Brandon Ingram who also possesses a lanky 6 ‘9”, 190 pound frame. However, Bates possesses a much shorter wingspan than Ingram at 6’9” compared to Ingram’s 7’ 3” wingspan. 

In terms of play style and role, Kyle Kuzma is a more realistic comparison. Both players are tall microwave scorers with quick shot releases who are capable of shooting off the catch and off the dribble. However, neither player shows consistent focus on defense and have the tendency to fall in love with taking jump shots rather than driving to the basket.

Bates’ career also draws similar parallels to Golden State Warriors forward Patrick Baldwin Jr., who was selected with the 28th pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. Similar to Bates, Baldwin was a former five-star recruit out of high school who played at a mid-major school (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) that saw little success in terms of winning (10-22 record). These decisions for both players caused them to fly under the radar and consequently for their draft stocks to slip.

Draft Projection

Bates is projected to be selected in the mid to late second round of the 2023 NBA Draft. However, there is a possibility he can sneak into back half of the first round which isn’t a crazy idea for the team that hypothetically decides to go that direction given Bates’ track record. On one hand Bates could be this year’s Peyton Watson, a high-profile recruit with underwhelming stats who snuck into the first round as the 30th pick in last year’s draft based on potential. He could be this year’s Jaden Hardy, a lottery talent who slipped to the 37th overall pick in last year’s draft. The latter is more likely to take place based on intel around the NBA. 

In terms of his next destination, Bates doesn’t have a preference and wants to block out the outside factors.

“I’m just trying to get through the door and get a chance at this point. I just want to go into my rookie year and show that I belong. I feel like I’ve been waiting for this my whole life, so for me, I’m just going to continue to stay in the gym and work and not worry about any noise or expectations people have for me anymore,” Bates said.


Meyer McCaulsky is a contributor on Back Sports Page. Along with receiving his Master’s degree in Magazine, News, and Digital Journalism, he has over a year in sports journalism, and has interviewed a variety of people in the sports industry such as Chris Williamson, Cameron Thomas, Jimmy Boeheim, and Jeremy Pope. McCaulsky has been a guest contributor on a YouTube podcast called Cut The Nets within BSP’s network . For more on Meyer, his Twitter is @meyermccaulsky and Instagram (@m.mccaulsky).

For more articles by Meyer, click here.


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