*Zhou Qi hasn’t progressed as much as one could hope in his second season as a pro. His statistics are roughly the same as they were a year ago, he hasn’t improved his physique and there are no tangible improvements in his game one can point to with certainty.
*What makes Zhou Qi an appealing prospect is the fact he is quite agile for someone who stands at seven-foot-two and has a seven-foot-six wingspan. The NBA has gone further and further away from plodding seven-footers who can’t defend in space. Zhou Qi fits the profile of what the league is looking for in its seven-footers these days, possessing lateral quickness to move side to side and cut off dribble penetration, aside from length to protect the rim. Then on offense, his ease leaping off the ground and his standing reach make him an asset to score out of pick-and-roll.
*Not much is asked of Zhou Qi. His team, Xinjiang, also has Andray Blatche, who either shoots or attacks off the dribble whenever he gets the ball. Blatche is not necessarily a selfish player (he actually looks to pass a lot off the bounce) but when he is in the game, almost everything they do on offense involves him. Andrew Goudelock was the American who subbed in for Blatche most of the season when he rested (Americans can only share the court for a limited amount of minutes in the CBA) and he was replaced late in the year with Bryce Cotton. Neither is a pass first point guard who looks to create for others as his first priority. Xinjiang also has some Chinese veterans who are also above Zhou Qi in the pecking order, as Andrew Crawford mentioned to me on twitter. As a result, Zhou Qi is seventh on the team in usage rate, according to RealGM. I don’t think I’ve seen them run a single play for him in the five games I’ve watched.
*It’s rumored some NBA teams doubt Zhou Qi’s listed age. According to Draft Express, Zhou Qi was born on January, 16th, 1996 – making this 2015-2016 his age-20 season. Personally, I have no clue. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. His real age is important to try assessing his potential development curve. If he is older than 20 and his body still hasn’t developed much, then it’s likely he will stay this skinny for most of his young adult life. I don’t think any team would take him with a first-round pick then. Maybe there are tests to estimate his true age by analyzing his bone structure. But it’s more probable that the only way to truly find out is hiring a Chinese private investigator and having him go to the hospital where he was born, seek a birth certificate or figure out when he first started attending school. I can’t do any of these things, so for the purpose of this review, I’ll assess Zhou Qi as a 20-year-old.
*Andrew Crawford wrote on ‘The Classical’ a couple of years ago that “the CBA has a longstanding rule stopping Chinese players from registering for the draft before they turn 22”. So it’s still up in the air if we should expect Zhou Qi to declare for this year’s draft. Wang Zhelin didn’t when his stock was at its highest, immediately after appearing at the 2012 Nike Hoop Summit, and now he is expected to go undrafted after missing most of this season with injury. Maybe that could impact the decision, which will surely need to be negotiated with CBA officials.
LACK OF STRENGTH
*The first thing that stands out about Zhou Qi is his physical profile. He has a very weak 209-pound frame in the context of his seven-foot-two height.
*Due to his lack of strength, Zhou Qi can’t establish deep position in the post to force his teammates to get him the ball, even when wings pick him up on switches. He also possesses no power moves at this point of his development, relying on the high point in the release of his hooks and turnaround jumpers to get his shots off.
*The biggest issue comes on defense where Zhou Qi is unable to hold ground in the post, contain face-up drives through contact or even keep the opponent from finishing through when he fouls them. Zhou Qi was hopeless to stop the momentum of former NBA journeymen such as Randolph Morris, Yi Jianlian, Shavlik Randolph and Ike Diogu or the Chinese Shaq Han Dejun when these fully developed men posted up or drove at him.
*That weakness also manifests itself in the defensive glass. Zhou Qi is inattentive to his boxout responsibilities by nature but even when he tried getting physical with these opponents, he simply lacked the force to win many battles for contested rebounds. According to RealGM, Zhou Qi collected 23.7 percent of opponents’ misses in his 1,295 minutes on the floor this season but based on the games I saw, those were mostly uncontested boards obtained due to his positioning close to the rim.
MOBILITY & LENGTH
*Zhou Qi is likely to be a first round pick if he were to declare for the draft, though, because of his combination of mobility and length.
*Even if he can’t keep anyone from getting to the basket, Zhou Qi’s nine-foot-six standing reach is very difficult for guards and wings to finish over – averaging 3.5 blocks per 36 minutes.
*He is also been taught to elevate vertically, often able to alter shots even when he doesn’t fully block them and protect himself from foul trouble – averaging just 3.7 personal fouls per 48 minutes this season.
*Zhou Qi is not yet a consistently great help-defender, sometimes rotating off the weak-side a step too late. But his quickness and ability to leap off the ground with ease make it that if he is within a couple of steps from the rotation, he’ll get to the driver and block the shot.
*But despite his ability to move side-to-side fluidly, Zhou Qi does not do well when asked to defend pick-and-rolls high in the perimeter at this point of his development. That potential to cut off dribble penetration hasn’t materialized yet. He does not get in a stance, standing flat-footed and not in a position to make an athletic move in a pinch. Guys like Lester Hudson and Will Bynum were able to drive around him without much struggle.
*He has also not shown to be a real asset to pick up smaller players on switches at this point.
*Zhou Qi’s length does make an impact in a couple of other areas when he is asked to defend in the perimeter, which happened with some regularity this season because Xinjiang’s coach often hid him on the less physical of the opposing big men. His long arms help him pick up steals and deflections making plays in the passing lanes, collecting 1.2 takeaways per 36 minutes – which is a good mark for a center. He’s also shown able to closeout to stretch big men and contest outside shots effectively.
*Offensively, Zhou Qi’s rim running is underutilized. Xinjiang fails to use his vertical threat enough. He is an iffy screener whose thin frame doesn’t make it all that difficult for on-ball defenders to navigate around and has so-so hands to catch the ball on the move and finish strong in traffic but can play above the rim as a huge target for lobs.
*Zhou Qi doesn’t have enough strength to set inside position in the offensive glass regularly but does play with good energy, can rebound outside of his area thanks to his seven-foot-six wingspan and can often reach the ball at a higher point than most of his opponents. He’s collected 11.4 percent of Xinjiang’s misses, which isn’t particularly impressive but is nonetheless something positive he brings to the table. Zhou Qi hasn’t, however, proven explosive enough to turn most of these second chances into immediate putbacks.
*The upside of drafting Zhou Qi, aside from hoping his frame can fill out, regards his skill level.
*He has shown the ability to handle the ball in space fairly naturally when left unguarded; grabbing a defensive rebound and bringing the ball up the floor, sometimes even attacking from end to end in transition, and as a face-up driver from the elbow area. It’s extremely unlikely Zhou Qi would be able to do this sort of dribbling in an NBA setting but it’s not nothing.
*He has also flashed the ability to pass off the bounce, able to find the open man when he is evident. But these drives tend to finish in more turnovers than assists. Zhou Qi’s handle is loose and he’s prone to getting the ball stripped in traffic due to high dribbling – resulting in a 0.89 assist-to-turnover ratio this season.
*With his back to the basket, Zhou Qi has no power moves to back down opponents but has shown decent touch on turnaround hooks and has even flashed a turnaround fadeaway jump-shot, hiking his off-leg Dirk Nowitzki-style. It’s hard to tell how good he is scoring out of the post, though, because Xinjiang doesn’t go to him much due to the issues already explained above.
*Zhou Qi has proven a clever player drawing foul calls via the rip-through move Kevin Durant uses to bait officials into awarding him free throws for simulating a shooting motion after bumping arms with the opponent. He averages seven foul shots per 36 minutes this season, which is impressive in the context of his low 18 percent usage rate, and has converted them at a 76 percent clip.
*Zhou Qi has converted seven of the 12 three-point shots he’s taken this season and a few more long two-pointers. He’s proven capable of hitting near-standstill outside shots but hasn’t been given much opportunity to do so at Xinjiang. His jump-shots tend to come late in the shot clock, as I didn’t see the team spot him up beyond the arc or have him pop off the ball screen at all.
*Zhou Qi doesn’t elevate much and doesn’t fully extend himself but doesn’t need to for a high point in his release due to his height and length. He can bend his knees fine to load his shot and elevates fluidly off the catch. His mechanics don’t look necessarily textbook as he is always in a hurry to bring his guide-hand down but he has exhibited pretty good touch.
*If Zhou Qi puts his name in the draft and keeps it all the way through, then transfers right away, I think only a team in the bottom third of the first round will consider him.
*He can block shots and finish alley-oops. That’s appealing. But he lacks strength to be considered an NBA-caliber athlete at this point. I don’t see how he would be able to box out or hold his ground well enough against this level of competition for a coach to feel comfortable putting him in an NBA game 10 months from now.
*Where I could be wrong (aside from Zhou Qi undergoing some massive body transformation and gaining something like 20 pounds in one offseason) is if Zhou Qi absolutely kills showcasing his skill in these workouts, with the perception of him then changing from a “rim runner/shot blocker” to a unicorn “stretch big/shot blocker”.
*I failed to see that Kristaps Porzingis could be good right away because I didn’t put enough importance in his ability to make shots. Obviously Zhou Qi doesn’t look to be the same caliber of shooter Porzingis had already shown to be. But the thing is he hasn’t been given enough opportunity to tell with certainty. His seven-of-12 three-point shooting this season isn’t enough for us to say he is definitely excellent at it, but it’s not something to be discarded either. Maybe it’s possible that he is one of those guys whose accuracy is better than the way he looks shooting. One could probably only tell by watching him workout and scrimmage.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara