Is 16-year-old Emoni Bates the superstar the Spurs have been looking for?

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 20: The first round draft board is seen during the 2019 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center on June 20, 2019 (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 20: The first round draft board is seen during the 2019 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center on June 20, 2019 (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

He’s been compared to Kevin Durant and just won National Player of the Year as a sophomore, is Emoni Bates the superstar the San Antonio Spurs need?

You can only take so much away from the spliced together highlight reels of a physically imposing young man dominating the smaller competition. For every John Wall highlight tape, there’s a Thon Maker. But so far Emoni Bates looks like the real deal. He’s young, but he needs to be on the San Antonio Spurs radar.

A 30 point per night scorer, Bates recently took home the Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year award as a sophomore. He is the youngest player ever to receive the award. A 6’9 scoring fiend, Bates is grouped in with LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, and Zion Williamson among high school basketball’s most exciting prospects.

As he’s just wrapping up his sophomore year of high school it might seem a bit premature for NBA franchises to start jockeying for draft position but he’s worth it. And given that the NBA has considered ending the one and done rule, Bates could be at the top of draft boards as soon as 2022.

He’s already got offers from blue-blood programs like Duke, Michigan, and Michigan State but if making the jump to the NBA is a possibility it’s hard to imagine him not taking it. Comparing a 16-year-old kid to Kevin Durant is unfair 99 percent of the time. Bates might be that 1 percent kind of special.

Much of Bates’s mixtapes feature the same things you’ve seen in dozens of highlight films before. But look past the easy transition dunks and shamelessly hunted crossovers. Watch the tight handle at 6’9, the way he hunts for contact even as one of the scrawniest players on the court, look at his Durant-like jumper.

Given his length and athleticism, Bates can be a defensive presence similar to what Durant was on Golden State. He can use his wingspan to protect the rim from the weakside and should be able to guard most players on the floor. If he can lock-in and make defense a priority he could be a serious two-way force.

What stands out just as much as the rim-shaking dunks and deep three’s are the sneers, mean mugs, and shoulder shrugs that come immediately after. Bates plays with a fire that’s akin to Durant and the late Kobe Bryant. It’s not enough for him to beat you, he wants to destroy you.

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He’s been open to his admiration for the alpha mindset that great players like Bryant made part of their legends. It’s why, in an interview with Sports Illustrated‘s Michael Rosenberg, Bates listed Allen Iverson and Bryant as the two NBA greats he wanted to meet most.

Looking ahead to the 2022 NBA Draft, San Antonio can do a little maneuvering to better position themselves to snag Bates. They’ll have several expiring deals on their books next year, including one for LaMarcus Aldridge, that could be moved in exchange for assets to stock the war chest with.,

Given Aldridge’s recent back and forth with the Portland Trail Blazers on Twitter it’s not surprising to see the rumor mill firing up but we’ve talked about his appeal as a trade asset before. He, along with Patty Mills and Rudy Gay, could all be redeemed as trade assets from title contenders near the next seasons’ deadline. From there it’s just a matter of strategically positioning themselves or making a motherload of a deal to get the number one pick in 2022.

They’ve never been a team to tank or smash the reset button but the San Antonio Spurs need to be thinking about the future. While it might go against every instinct that the front office has, Emoni Bates has the talent where it just might be worth it to go all-in on getting him. At the very least he needs to be on their radar.

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All of that said, the San Antonio Spurs must first navigate the summer of 2020 before they start looking down the road. There is plenty going on over the coming months to keep them busy.