Is China’s Zhou Qi ready for the NBA?

The next big thing from China could be Zhou Qi.
(image from FIBA.)
*This first appeared on my weekly column on FIBA.com.

Chinese giant Zhou Qi has declared for the 2016 NBA Draft, but is the 20-year-old center ready to make a splash in the world's most competitive basketball league?

After a sterling performance at the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship where he averaged 9.9 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game - good enough to be named to the tournament’s All-Star Five - the native of Xinjiang province probably feels he is ready to contend with the world's best players in the NBA.

And, to be quite honest, he may just be right.






When the curtain fails on the Draft this coming June 23 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, Zhou may just find himself having been picked by a bona fide NBA franchise. Heck, he may even be a lottery pick! It's possible, I tell you, especially after raising his level of play yet again in the 2015-2016 season of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA). Together with naturalized Filipino Andray Blatche, Zhou led his club, the Xinjiang Flying Tigers, back to the CBA Playoffs. He put up 15.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.2 rejections per contest, cementing his place among the very best big men in the league alongside the likes of compatriot Yi Jianlian and Iranian superstar Hamed Haddadi - both of whom played in the NBA earlier in their respective careers.

Let's take a look at a few things to evaluate whether Zhou, indeed, belongs in the NBA.

Upsides
Height and length: As if being 2.17m (7ft 2in) tall wasn't enough, Zhou also has a 2.28m (7ft 6in) wingspan and a standing reach of 2.80m/9ft 2in. What's not to like, right? One cannot find that combination of size and length just anywhere. In comparison, some of the NBA's best centers like Pau Gasol, Roy Hibbert and Dwight Howard have wingspans shorter than Zhou's.

Defensive timing: Without a doubt, Zhou's measurements lend themselves well to his being a terrific defender, but it's his timing that really makes him such an effective rim protector. At last year's continental championship, he was second overall in blocks only to Quincy Davis of Chinese Taipei while, in the CBA, he led the entire league with 3.2 rejections per outing.

Mobility and movement without the ball: For a guy his size, Zhou is surprisingly lithe and agile. This he showcased in Changsha-Hunan last year, especially against top Asian teams Korea and the Philippines. Against the likes of Lee Jong-Hyun (Korea) and Blatche (Philippines), Zhou impressed with his ability to run in transition and find open spots where he could get easy buckets.

Range: Zhou isn’t the most gifted at creating his own shot but he compensates for this by having a relatively extended range thanks to good shooting mechanics. He is a deadly mid-range shooter and can even make the occasional 20-footer. If his jump-shot becomes consistently good, he could be a solid big man in the NBA.





Downsides
Heft: The most apparent aspect of Zhou that he needs to work on is his heft, or lack of it. He looks a little too thin for a big man, and it's highly probable he will get bullied by guys like DeMarcus Cousins or Andre Drummond. If Zhou Qi can continue to pack more muscle, he should attract more interest.

Athleticism: Zhou has a lot of dunk highlights from the CBA, but when compared to NBA talents, his athleticism leaves much to be desired. This can be seen in his relatively low rebounding numbers. For a guy with his size and length, he should be racking up double digit rebounds on a daily basis.

Post moves: Zhou also does not possess a polished low post game. Yes, this isn't a game-breaker for NBA centers in this day and age where jump shooting and small ball reign supreme, but having a solid foundation in low post offense can make Zhou an even more dangerous offensive weapon. Think Tim Duncan, the Gasol brothers and even Cousins.

Dominance: It should not come as a surprise that Zhou has been compared to other Chinese big men who have made the leap to the NBA like Yao Ming and Yi. Unlike those two, however, Zhou hasn't been an outright dominant force in China. He's outstanding, yes, but he still hasn't reached the level where he can carry his team throughout an entire game.



Finding a near-exact player comparison for Zhou is a little tough. He blocks shots like crazy, so he could be compared to France's Rudy Gobert and Miami's Hassan Whiteside, but he's nowhere near as athletic as those two. Maybe a better comparison would be with naturalized Spaniard Serge Ibaka, whose skill-set mainly revolves around shot-blocking and jump-shooting, or even Milwaukee's John Henson. Those aren't bad comparisons at all, and if Zhou works hard enough, he may yet prove to be a quality center in the NBA.


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