Has Emoni Bates played his way back to the top of the 2023 NBA Draft?

Emoni Bates, Eastern Michigan Eagles - Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports
Emoni Bates, Eastern Michigan Eagles - Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports /

As long as someone has dribbled a ball, there’s been a tendency in basketball circles to hype up a young teenager to be the next big thing. Whether it was Lew Alcindor, Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain, or countless others, the hooping world is always looking towards the horizon, just like they did with Emoni Bates

That’s what makes it so jarring when a player like Bates, who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated at 15, falls out of the limelight. After playing a dreadful early year with the Memphis Tigers, where he looked nothing like an NBA player, Bates faced legal issues in the offseason and soon found himself replaced at the top of the 2023 draft class.

He returned home to Ypsilanti, Michigan, to play for his hometown Eastern Michigan Eagles, a perennial bottom-feeder in the MAC Conference. In half of a season, Bates has risen like a phoenix from the ashes to return to NBA draft boards.

But has he done enough to justify being top pick again?

What Emoni Bates has done well:

There are few players in the country at the Division I level who’ve had as massive as a jump as Emoni Bates. He went from averaging just under 10 points and 3 rebounds to putting up 21.5 points and 5.5 rebounds a game as the leading scorer for the Eagles.

Even though Bates is taking double the shots from the field and free throws per game as last year, he’s pulled off the rare feat of improving his efficiency while doing so. He’s gone from dismal splits of 38% from the field, 32% from three, and 65% at the line to 43% from the field, 36% from three, and 78% from the line.

His improved shooting efficiency is apparent in the moves that he is making, as he’s grown from a theoretical shot-maker at the college level to a dangerous offensive creator:

Bates has also flashed the same takeover ability as a scorer that made him famous in high school. Compared to having a season high of 17 points last year at Memphis, he has already blown past that mark 14 times this year, including scoring onslaughts of 35, 36, and 43 points, the last of which included a massive first half performance from him:


Although he hasn’t lifted the team to a ton of success, Bates has reasserted himself as one of the best individual creators in this NBA draft class, given his lanky 6’8” frame, quick handles, and prodigious shot making from any spot on the court.

Where Bates can still improve:

It hasn’t been all rainbows and butterflies for Bates, however.

As previously mentioned, the EMU Eagles are a mediocre basketball team, a fact that reflects somewhat poorly on Bates as a prospect. They play in the 17th best conference in the country and they are only 10th out of 12 teams there.

The lack of talent surrounding Bates partially explains their losing ways, but at some point, Bates’ transcendent scoring should transcend into the wins column. In all five of Emoni’s highest scoring games this year, the Eagles have come up empty.

That’s due to the one-dimensional nature of Bates’ game. He’s only averaging 1.3 assists, the same amount as last year, which is understandable given the talent differential between Memphis and EMU yet also would be a great step for Bates to take. Varying his pace on passes and using his skills as a driver to unlock offense would help his game to flourish even more:

With a great scoring package, it may be shocking that Emoni is considered closer to a net neutral on numerous advanced stats metrics, mostly due to his poor defensive numbers. Per Bart Torvik, one of the most in-depth college basketball statistics websites, Bates sits as the 209th best player in the country, ranking so low due to his defensive deficiencies.

If he were to get more active in passing lanes, use his length more, and start to create turnovers, Bates’ impact on the game would increase. Until then, he’ll be an incomplete player who could ultimately do more if he wasn’t so singularly focused on scoring:

Has Emoni Bates done enough to be in the lottery?

After looking like he had no NBA future after his lackluster year at Memphis, Emoni Bates has shot his way back into the draft conversation in a short period of time.

In regards to the top of the draft, Bates has watched Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson overtake him as “can’t-miss” prospects, while other young studs like Brandon Miller, Jarace Walker, and Amen Thompson have also emerged as likely lottery picks.

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It may seem like a disappointment that Bates only slots in at 42nd on ESPN’s draft board, but the silver lining of that placement is too important to overlook:

In a few short months, Bates has played his way back into the draft conversation after betting on himself in his hometown. With the evidence he’s left on the court of his scoring potential, there’s again an argument that Bates has a path to being a star, and while it’s dimmer than before, it shouldn’t be discounted for Emoni to become the next 2nd round star in the NBA.