Updated: Jul 7, 2022
Emoni Bates had a turbulent freshman season on the court loaded with scrutiny and criticism, but the flashes seem to be little discussed and overlooked. Shot selection was a big piece to the strengths and struggle that Bates faced at Memphis. In the first of two parts examining Bates, let’s explore his shot mechanics, mindset, and what we can learn from their impact on his first NCAA season.
In the latest edition of ‘P.I. Pulse’, Pro Insight contributor Bjorn Zetterberg continues ‘Data Tracking,’ a new series that explores some of the nitty-gritty nuances surrounding different groups of NBA Draft prospects. Up next in part-one of this examination, recent Eastern Michigan transfer Emoni Bates.
Freshman year of college can be a tough time in a person’s life. You move away from home, make changes to your lifestyle, meet many new people, and have to adjust in a short amount of time, all while in a new environment. It can be even tougher doing this a year earlier than most, given you're technically a high school senior and everyone else is a year older. To compound that further, what if the college environment you entered carried expectations for you ever before you arrived, and that everyone already knew who you were and that you had a reputation to live up to as being a ‘generational talent’ in whatever you were doing there. On top of that, the expectation further stipulates you are going to be so good there that you’re likely ‘one and done’ and should take your college to new heights. Sounds like a recipe for a difficult situation that’s likely going to end in a disappointing outcome for most parties, and Emoni Bates went through it all in the 2021-2022 NCAA season as a 17-year-old. There’s more to this than him just not being ‘as good as was thought.’
When you’re an outlier talent ranked at or near the top of your class and have played however you wanted throughout the course of your youth career, it’s not unusual to expect wanting to play the same way at the next level. This is especially true given you’re coming into that program a year early and likely aren’t as matured yet mentally and emotionally as your teammates. On the court, you would expect to have your number dialed just as often, get away with things at the NCAA level that you could in high school in terms of style of play, and get the shots you’re used to. When faced with further resistance than you’re used to and things don’t go your way, how do you adjust and respond? Watching all 152 of Bates non-heave field goal attempts at Memphis, it’s apparent that this context likely played a part in the shots he took, as the first half of the season was a much different story than the second, and this showed up his stat production.
Without going too deep into the philosophy of the situation, and without having been there to know what was going on behind the scenes, playing seven fewer minutes per game in the second half of the season, compared to the first half, is tough. Significantly less playing time is likely going to mess with your role, psyche, mindset and confidence, especially if it’s the first time you’ve gone through this type of tribulation. Bates took almost two less shots per game and saw his efficiency drop 11% on those attempts. Emoni also saw his free throw percentage drop nearly 20% as well, while getting to the line at a rate almost half that of the first half of the year. The start and finish to his seasons were telling as well, as he opened the season shooting 9 of 18 (50%) from three-point range through the first few games, but ended on 4/18 (22%) 3FG shooting. It’s also interesting to note that he was second on the team in field goal attempts per game, yet ended up fifth in points per game. This is a lot of reading into circumstances affecting production, so how does looking at his shot mechanics offer a clue as to why?
Emoni Bates is a 6’9” wing with the size to shoot over defenders and showed himself to be a polarizing streak shooter: the highs can be scorching hot, and the lows can be deeply frigid. Despite having minimal length (wingspan reportedly 'even to negative' relative to his height), he has a high release point on his stroke. He’s more of a ‘shot maker’ than pure shooter, but has a lot of poise in his ability to hit tough looks, at times almost to the point of overconfidence. Despite showing some talent as a creator off the dribble, he is very reliant on his jump shot to get him going as a scorer, and can end up settling more than he should for tougher pull-up looks. Good shooting mechanics traditionally tend to be compact, repeatable and consistent to find success, but with Bates, there are times where he can complicate this by adding more moving parts to his process, making it tougher to line up and hit shots with accuracy.
Fundamentals in Bates’ stroke come and go, as he has a bad habit of prematurely withdrawing his hand (or wrist flexion) after his release instead of leaving it up throughout the shot. Oftentimes, his hand is down at his waist before the shot even reaches the apex, or the halfway point, in the air. Tracking the 100 eligible perimeter shots he took as a freshman, 67 of them saw him withdraw his shooting hand before the shot hit the rim, and he actually shot slightly better (about +2% FG%) this way than with leaving his hand up through the shot. This is where I’d suggest the ‘J-Curve’ plays a part in his game, where he’s at the tip of the lower part of the ‘J’ currently, but with time and investment in repetition of stroke, could lead to the greater peak in time.
The famous Mike Tyson quote “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face” feels like it rings true in this case. At the start of the season, Bates showed a concerted effort to ‘leave it up’ with his ‘wrist in the cookie jar’ on his shot post-release, but as the season went on, showed a proclivity to fall back on old habits. He’s a talented shot maker, but in the flow of the game when he puts up a shot, he’s likely only noticing if the shot goes in or not and feeding off that in the moment, not ‘why’ it is or isn’t a make. To his credit, when he returned to Memphis for the NCAA after his hiatus, leaving up a consistent wrist flexion seemed to be a point of emphasis in his mechanics that he had addressed, it just didn’t show up in his perimeter accuracy (i.e. bottom valley of the ‘J-curve’). This won’t solve all his problems, but it should help smooth out a significant shooting issue he has over time.
Bates also has a propensity to have his shot base (feet position) a bit wider than shoulder length, going against conventional wisdom that those two pieces (feet to shoulders) should be roughly equal. In not being equal, he brings his knees together on the gather of his shot pre-release, an unusual but not uncommon quirk. On another note, while his shoulders remain relatively square to the basket throughout his perimeter shots, he does have a tendency to let his body momentum move to the left in mid-air and let his feet drift to the side. As the discipline improves in his shot mechanics (hold the follow through, stay squared in air, even out shot base, etc.), that’s a reasonable fix that most shooting coaches should be able to remedy out with reps and practice to take his shot to the next level.
This article is neither an indictment or defense of Bates’ freshman year at Memphis, but rather to help possibly explain the ‘why’ from a shooting perspective. Confidence and mechanics naturally play a big part in shooting, and there’s unquestionably plentiful shot making talent in Bates’ game that he has yet to fully tap into. If you watch the end of the individual clips after his makes, you can notice him getting in the face of the defender who challenged his shot on some of them, presumably to talk trash. Many players like to talk, and there’s nothing wrong with it, but it adds a further element of pressure to your game when you’re not performing.
In part two of his data tracking shot analysis, we will explore what kinds of plays he got his shots out of, where he got his shots, types of shots, spot-up vs. off-the-dribble, and efficiency in those areas.
Bjorn has worked in the NBA for about a decade as an Associate Analyst with the Orlando Magic, Video Analyst Manager for the Portland Trail Blazers and Advance Scout for the Idaho Stampede. You can follow him on twitter @bjornzetterberg and reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.