Emoni Bates set the college basketball and NBA world on fire on Monday afternoon when he announced that he has committed to Michigan State.
If you don’t know that name by now, it’s time to familiarize yourself.
A 6-foot-9 forward from Ypsilanti, Michigan, Bates is 16 years old and a member of the Class of 2022. He’s also widely considered the best prospect in high school basketball today. He’s the youngest player to ever with the Gatorade National High School Player of the Year award, doing it as a sophomore. According to one long-time high school scout that I spoke with at last summer’s Peach Jam, Bates was hands-down the best freshman that he had evaluated since a guy named LeBron James.
Heard of him?
I am steadfastly against comparing high schoolers to the best players in the NBA because it feeds the hype, but it is impossible to watch Bates’ elite mix of handle and shot-making ability at 6-foot-9 and not come away thinking that you just watched the second-coming of Kevin Durant.
And this is where I switch up the tone of this column.
This is where I urge the rest of my colleagues in the media and content creation business to tone it down, to keep the hype train from going totally off the rails.
Two words: Andrew Wiggins.
The last player that had this level of national hype this early in his high school career was Wiggins. The Ben Simmons bandwagon didn’t really fill up until his freshman season started. Zion Williamson wasn’t ranked as the No. 1 prospect in his own recruiting class by any of the reputable outlets. There’s a case to be made for Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III, and there’s a conversation needs to be had about Harry Giles and his knees, but for my money, the answer here is Wiggins.
He was the clear-cut No. 1 prospect in a recruiting class that many expected to change the future of the sport, and he was considered the consensus best prospect in high school basketball starting his sophomore season.
Today, he’s widely considered somewhere between a flop and a bust despite the fact that, as a 24-year old six seasons into his NBA career, he’s averaging 19.7 points and by 2023 will have banked $170 million. Nothing about that is unsuccessful, and to be frank, the way his career has played out justified the hype he had in high school.
I’d argue that, barring catastrophic injury, Wiggins today is a bottom-10th percentile outcome for the player that Wiggins was as a 16-year old. He’s an elite athlete that has never been able to figure it out defensively. He’s a very capable scorer that has never developed into more than an average shooter at best. He never learned how to be a playmaker. The lack of a killer instinct that came to the forefront during his one-and-done season at Kansas turned out to be a real concern in the NBA.
And despite all of that, he’s still, at an absolute minimum, one of the 75-best people in the world at doing his job.
I’d argue that’s evidence the hype was legitimate. He’s still this good despite being at the bottom of his range of outcomes.
I’d also argue that’s evidence that the hype is the reason Wiggins will never be viewed as a success.
Which brings me back to Bates.
I do think there’s a world where Bates follows a similar career path to Wiggins. He’s a slender, 165 pounds with a frame that doesn’t look like it can support all that much more added weight. How will he develop as a defender? We know what he is as a scorer right now, but how will he develop as a playmaker? More importantly, he measured at 6-foot-9 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan at the Nike Top 100 camp last summer. I mention this because Durant has a wingspan that checks in at 7-foot-4, and while he’s listed at 6-foot-9, everybody with a pulse knows that he’s a 7-foot shooting guard.
Is Bates “simply” an elite prospect that just so happened to grow, maintain his coordination and develop his skill-set at an earlier age than anyone else?
Put another way, is Bates the best freshman prospect or the best freshman player since LeBron? Because there is a difference.
Point being, Bates’ floor in the NBA is a bucket-getting wing. I’d be shocked if he didn’t end up averaging 20 points, if not much more, at the next level. I wouldn’t be shocked if he turned out to be a perennial NBA All-Star, either; at the very least, I don’t think anyone is going to question this kid’s killer instinct. And yes, there is a real chance that Emoni Bates is one day discussed as the best basketball player in the world.
These are all in his range of outcomes.
When you can say a 16-year old’s floor is a career-20 point scorer that is on track to earn upwards of $300-million in his NBA career, it’s clear we’re dealing with someone special.
But that’s not the way this story is going to be told. The narrative will be one extreme or the other. Either Bates lives up to the hype and enters his name in the race for the GOAT, or he’s a bust that was completely overhyped by click-bait artists trying to garner some YouTube subs.
The truth, however, is this: Bates could be Durant. He could also be Wiggins. The most likely outcome is that he’s ends up somewhere in the middle. That’s the way these things usually work, and until we, the media, are able to talk about prospects like this and think about players in this manner, we should avoid crowning high school sophomores as the best in the world.
Hype in dangerous when it cannot be kept in context.
Andrew Wiggins is the proof.