Zhou Qi is said to have agreed joining the Houston Rockets for next season. The terms of the deal haven’t been reported yet but it’s rumored to be a four-year pact.
The seven-foot-two center arrives from China after helping Xinjiang win the CBA title last season — averaging 32.8 minutes per game, posting a 20.3 PER and often finishing games.
The 21-year-old wasn’t given much opportunity to show substantial improvement to his skill-set, though. Zhou had no shot creation responsibility, wasn’t fully utilized as a floor-spacer or vertical threat and generally didn’t have a meaningful role on offense – logging a 19.9% usage rate in his 1,443 minutes, according to RealGM.
He also hasn’t improved his physique much. In fact, sina.com lists him at 209 pounds, down from the 218 pounds he measured at the 2016 NBA Combine. As was the case, Xinjiang continued to hide him on the lighter opposing big man and he remained a liability in post defense and in the defensive glass.
Nonetheless, Zhou’s combination of length and agility continued to help him create many events, which led to the team defending better with him on the floor rather than on the bench, despite the limitations caused by his lack of strength.
He has the resources to develop into a very good defender down the line.
Zhou is very agile and bouncy for someone his size, able to rotate off the weak-side in help-defense quickly and get off the ground off two feet in a pinch to protect the basket — averaging 2.8 blocks per 40 minutes last season.
He wasn’t stressed to extend pick-and-roll coverage way above the foul line but doesn’t seem uncomfortable hanging out way high on the perimeter and showed some flashes of terrific pick-and-pop defense.
Zhou also proved to have enough foot speed to keep pace with smaller players attacking downhill so he is within reach to use his massive standing reach to block shots or deflect passes chasing them down at the CBA level, which is full of guards with recent NBA experience.
But, overall, his defense was quite disappointing.
Zhou blocked a lot of shots when he found himself well positioned or had simple rotations to make but hasn’t yet developed into the type of center who can anticipate rotations and prevent the opponent from getting to the rim in the first place. He also consistently sells out for blocks.
Zhou is almost always flat-footed, which makes him slow reacting to what’s going on around him. When he was put in the pick-and-roll and the ball-handler played with pace, Zhou often seemed lost, just standing there, which could be an effective strategy, except for the fact he doesn’t position himself well enough and isn’t active enough to take away the pull-up or the pass away from the opponent.
As he pretty much never bends his knees to get down in a stance, he is not an option to pick up smaller players on switches either, since he’s vulnerable to getting shook side-to-side.
The biggest issue is below the foul line, though.
Zhou’s massive nine-foot-four standing reach is an asset for him to contest turnaround jump-shots effectively in the post but he lacks to strength to hold his ground, consistently getting knocked back and giving up an easy short look.
That problem also manifested itself in the defensive glass. Zhou collected 23.3% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor but that’s not being a particularly impressive mark for a seven-foot-two player who can get off the ground with ease. And those were mostly of the uncontested variety, given he didn’t always seek a body to box out and was consistently pushed out of the way when matched up against opposing behemoths.
Zhou just existed out there on offense, without much of a purpose other than crashing the offensive glass.
Xinjiang let Andray Blatche do pretty much whatever he wanted. Zhou set some ball screens for him on the side of the floor from time to time but Blatche either slowly moved into an isolation after them or kicked out to the perimeter. Despite his willingness to pass, hitting the roll man isn’t a part of his game.
When Blatche was off the floor, usually in the beginnings and ends of games, Zhou set quite a few ball screens as well but his teammates never really looked for him as a vertical threat. He is a so-so screener whose thin frame isn’t a chore for on-ball defenders to navigate around but should be able to play above the rim as a target for lobs, given how easy he gets off the ground for blocks or rebounds and his massive standing reach, if not necessarily in traffic, at least sneaking behind the defense.
Zhou still doesn’t post up much either, even against smaller players on switches, as he’s unable to set deep position. When he manages to get the ball down low, he still relies on his rip-through move to draw contact, which remains effective, as he averaged 7.1 foul shots per 40 minutes based for the most part on that and his involvement in scrums on the offensive glass. Zhou also flashes a reasonably well coordinated face-up drive here and there.
He has gone farther away from the basket over time, which helps explain why his effective field goal percentage has declined season over season in his three years of pro experience — down to 58.1% last season. That said, Zhou didn’t get many looks out of pick-and-pop or played a role as a pure floor-spacer either — as he averaged just 1.5 three-point shots per 40 minutes.
His unorthodox release, with the guide hand coming down very quickly, is a bit quicker but he still takes a while to load up his near standstill shot, featuring a very pronounced dip. Nonetheless, he’s proven himself capable to hit open shots, nailing 36% of his 55 three-point shots last season.
The passing skills he’s flashed in the past remained underutilized, as he assisted on just 5.2% of Xinjiang’s scores when he was on the floor last season, not given much chance to show his ability to pass out of the short roll and used very little as a hub to facilitate offense from the high post.
Overall, Zhou’s most substantial contribution on offense was crashing the offensive glass, where he’s shown a knack for chasing the ball off the rim and can use his seven-foot-seven wingspan to rebound outside of his area — collecting 11.2% of Xinjiang’s misses when he was on the floor last season.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara