Let’s face it: talking about NBA castoffs now playing in China is too easy sometimes. They get all the shots, be it on the floor, in the photo sessions or from the critics. Heck, my first column for this site focused on a few of them, including MarShon Brooks and Michael Beasley, putting up ridiculous numbers.
But what about the locals? And above all else, who is the next big thing – the next Great Wall, if you will – bound to make the NBA?
Well, there’s a guy playing in Xinjiang with Andray Blatche and Andrew Goudelock, a.k.a. mini-Mamba and Kobe’s personal protégé from his Laker days.
His name is Zhou Qi, he’s a projected lottery pick at No. 13 per DraftExpress.com, and nobody is better suited for that Great Wall nickname that’s been available since the great Yao Ming retired (by the way, he’s the president of the Shanghai Sharks in the CBA, now) for good in 2011.
Here is my scouting report:
1 – Size
The first obvious thing you notice when you look at Zhou Qi is size: At this year’s Nike Hoop Summit he was measured at 7’2″ in shoes with a 7’6 1/2″ wingspan that allows him to regularly host mean block parties in China, as seen in this video:
The second video shown below comes in handy to give a taste of what a 9’6.5″ standing reach looks like when protecting the basket. Just nowhere to go for the opponent.
To put that in context, only one rotation player in today’s NBA has a longer reach, and that is Rudy Gobert, also known as the Stifle Tower from the Utah Jazz, at a 9’7″.
If we widen the research to all players currently under an NBA contract the list bulks up big time: Rudy Gobert and Boban Marjanovic, a 27-year-old rookie donning the Spurs jersey every now and then when he gets to take his warmups off.
JaVale McGee, the hyper-athletic and hyper-inconsistent NBA juggernaut currently at bay in Dallas, is tied with Zhou Qi in terms of standing reach, but is listed at 7’0″ in shoes, 2 inches shorter than the Zhou.
In short, that size is a load to shoot over.
The negative side to all of it is his thin frame. He looked frankly scary when he turned pro in 2014; now a mixture of him being more aggressive and getting a couple more pounds on him gives a much less child-among-men impression to fans, but he’s still barely north of 200 pounds. He doesn’t look weak, in all honesty, and has good posture when defending post-ups.
His size, again, will help him deter a lot of shots even when he does get bullied to the rim. But getting by with post defense in China, the Nike Hoop Summit or the FIBA-Asia Tournament is one thing, the NBA is another: Will he either bulk up a bit or just prove he’s long enough to stand for himself in that regard?
2 – Defense
With 4 per game, Zhou Qi is leading the CBA in blocks for the second straight season as a second-year player, a 2-for-2 that is pretty resounding, considering that the Chinese league certainly lacks many things other major competitions have, but not size.
We’ve already seen a couple of blocks from him in the section above, and some dude on the internet even bothered to compress each and every block he registered last season in a 5-minute video – watch it at your own risk.
But he also averages a steal and a lot of deflections per game and is very active defensively, especially off the ball. Newer NBA fans will see some Kristaps Porzingis in his off-ball defense, and generally lanky guys are encouraged to go for the steal more frequently than others; a higher chance of at least deflecting the ball is enough to convince coaches in that regard, as deflections do disrupt an offense’s rhythm and discourage audacious passing.
When involved in pick and roll defense as a big man, his size and mobility allow him to stay with ballhandlers by being able to back off a bit without losing his shot-blocking (or at least altering) potential. By no means he’s a pure perimeter defender, but he won’t be a liability.
We’ve already talked about his post defense above, so we don’t need to touch the subject here again; however, it’s notable how above-average length is an advantage in post-up defense, just as much as weight is – the reason why Porzingis, since we’ve already mentioned him, was supposed to be a liability defending the post but has looked OK so far.
3 – Offense
Despite being primarily a defensive deterrent, it’s Zhou Qi’s offensive potential that really sets him apart. Already a 14 points-per-game rookie on 70% shooting last year, he’s picked up his production this year with a nice 70%, 16.4 ppg and 9.5 rpg start while shooting a promising 4-of-5 from three.
While he’s not a consistent 3-point shooter and shouldn’t be regarded as a Frank Kaminsky/Spencer Hawes/Meyers Leonard type of stretch-5 anytime soon, he’s paired up a nice looking stroke that got YouTube highlight makers drooling with a renewed aggression off the dribble he wasn’t always able to showcase last year.
That’s something Blatche might have chipped in on, too, as the American-Filipino star is an excellent and willing ballhandler for his size.
Another thing he’s been working on is his passing. There are moments in his games where he seems to be willingly showing off his good vision, probably as a byproduct of the hype surrounding him (that’s even more frequent in high-end college players), but there’s always been in him a natural understanding of whether the ball should be in his hands or someone else’s. He’s not a Marc Gasol type of passer, but he knows what to do with the rock and has improved especially on his drive-and-kick and outlet passes.
As we all know, 19-year olds with amazing size, good defensive instincts and a respectable outside game on the offensive end don’t grow on trees, which is why there’s so much hype around Zhou. Of course, he’s got so much to prove both this year and in 2016, when he’ll presumably leave the CBA for the Association.
The NBA, however, has already bet and lost on Yi Jianlian in the lottery a bunch of years ago, mainly because he was too young to know what his best attributes really were and wholeheartedly thought he should have been the stretch 4/5 player he was mistakenly believed to be.
Now that Yi’s in his prime (and he’s definitely not a pure stretch player, although he does have a mid-range/long 2-pointer game), he’s already had – and missed- his chance.
This begs the question: is Zhou Qi going to adapt to the NBA?
But, most of all, is Zhou Qi going to adapt to himself?
Marco Catanzaro is a blogger and a CBA analyst at Shotsuey!, Shark Fin Hoops and, of course, Sheridan Hoops. You can follow him on Twitter @Arnstrad.