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Houston Rockets Draft Prospect Series: Zhou Qi

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Red Nation, are you ready for the second coming of Yao Ming? That could very well be the case as the Houston Rockets are predicted to select 7’2″ Zhou Qi with the 37th or 43rd overall pick in the upcoming draft.

With Clint Capela and Montrezl Harrell as the only big men the Rockets have signed through next season, drafting a center is something the front office needs to consider. It’s no secret that the Dwight HowardJames Harden experiment has floundered in just three years, with Howard expected to exercise his player option for next season and opt out of the $23.3 million he would make with Houston. Thus leaving the Rockets with a need down low.

Although Michael Beasley came into the league in 2008 as a power forward, his 6’9″-235 lb. build can usually be found on the perimeter, as he does little work in the post these days. He’s never been much of a rebounder (4.8 reb/game career) and in 20 games with the Rockets last season, he was often used as a stretch-four, playing on the outside with midrange to three point attempts, or slashing to the basket.

Unless the Rockets make a trade, there is no immediate fix for their center position. It’s an issue most NBA teams have nowadays. With the emphasis going to flashy, coast-to-coast wings and seven-footers who can knock down treys, the age of traditional big men is all but over. Which is why the Rockets need to begin to look long term for their center problem.

The Skills:

At over seven feet tall, size alone makes Zhou Qi hard to pass up, but it’s also enough to keep Daryl Morey on his toes with suspicion. Qi comes in at a lean 218 lbs. which has allowed him to be mobile for his size with quick feet. He also is one of the best rim protectors this year’s draft has to offer. In 42 games in the Chinese Basketball Association, Qi registered just under double-digit rebounds per game (9.8) and blocked 3.2 shots per contest. At the draft combine, Qi registered at 7’7.75″ wingspan, only three active NBA players have a longer reach (Alexis Ajinca, Rudy Gobert and Boban Marjanovic). It was the first time in over a decade that a Chinese player was invited to the combine.

As of now, Qi is a primarily defensive specialist.  According to Lukas Peng, Director of Scouting/Basketball Analytics at Foshan Long Lions Basketball Club in China, Qi is an “elite help defender and rim protector with great timing, quick feet, mobility, and length, covers a lot of ground defensively.” In today’s NBA, where most stretch post players like Ryan AndersonKristaps Porziņģis and Channing Frye offer primarily offensive contributions, it’s rare to find a player who’s big enough to be a center with the shooting ability of a guard and can be an elite defensive stopper as well.

That player could be Qi. While his offensive game still needs a little work, that’s not to say he can’t get buckets. The 20-year old is listed at either center or a massive power forward and has exhibited smart decision making on the offensive end.

“elite help defender and rim protector with great timing, quick feet, mobility, and length, covers a lot of ground defensively.”

When it comes to shooting, Qi already possesses a strong midrange shot that several scouts expect him to extend to the three-point line. But most of his scoring in the CBA came above the rim due to his size. He often finished strong at the rim and has little trouble taking on double teams in the post. When double teams come, he has several options with his ballhandling skills, strong passing ability and quick footwork with strength at the basket.

Qi has shown he has great passing ability for a big man. While he didn’t tally up the assist numbers, he still found ways to get his teammates involved, which is something you hardly see out of a center. In addition, his ball handling skills rivals that of guards. Qi is more than capable of grabbing a rebound and bringing the ball all the way up the court with ease if the outlet pass isn’t immediately available.

Specifics:

  • Height: 7’2″
  • Weight: 218 lbs
  • Country: China
  • Position: Power Forward/Center
  • Age: 20
  • Standing Reach: 9’4.5″
  • Wingspan: 7’7.75″
  • College or Pro League: Chinese Basketball Association
  • Stat line: 42 Games, 15.8 Points Per Game, 9.8 Rebounds Per Game, 3.2 Blocks Per Game, 1.1 Steals Per Game, 60 FG%, 60 3P% (9-15), 76 FT%

Current Rank:

Draft Express: 31

NBA.com: David Aldridge ranks Qi as the 8th best center available in the draft and says he’ll go within the top five to 10 picks in the second round.

NBA Draft.net: 43

NBA Draft Room.com: 32

The Questions:

While Qi possess an extraordinary amount of raw talent, the last thing Houston fans want to see is a relapse of the Yao MingTracy McGrady years. Years of potential and excitement deteriorated due to nagging injuries. That’s what you have to worry about with players of this size.

Now, Qi may be well over seven feet tall, but his body so far has not had to maintain the stress of a big frame. Unlike his country man Yao, who stood at 7’6″ and 310 lbs, Qi is so far the biggest beanpole to ever step on a basketball court. So his health may not be an initial issue for the Rockets, but it is definitely something to keep in mind if you’re looking at this from a long-term perspective.

And speaking of his body, his weight and lack of muscle is the biggest issue Qi faces as he tries to make it into the NBA. In a league where players run like Olympic sprinters, dribble like globetrotters and have the strength of body builders, physical excellence is a must if you want to be successful. Qi did add 20 lbs of muscle in preparation for the combine, but he still is extremely light for the next level.

Rebounding is also an area of weakness at the moment, which seems ridiculous to say for a guy who averaged nearly 10 boards a game. Qi relies heavily on his height to grab loose balls, rarely showing glimpses of great rebounding work under the basket. He lacks many necessary rebounding skills to be successful in the NBA, such as boxing out, positioning and an instinct to know where the ball is headed. In addition, his vertical is concerning, as height alone will not get the job done when you have point guards averaging five to six rebounds a game because of leaping ability.

Mental toughness is another facet hindering Qi at the moment, which is not uncommon for young players. In the big moments, Qi often failed to show up and even shrinks when his team needs him. It also worries scouts that he has not truly dominated the game in his two years as a professional like other CBA stars Yao and Yi Jianlian. As of now, he has tons of potential, but he raises a lot of the same questions other great CBA players do.

The Fit:

If the Rockets were to take Qi, they would need to understand that this would be a long-term investment. He has more raw talent than perhaps anyone in the draft this year, but size and physical ability alone makes him worth a shot. But don’t expect him on the NBA roster for the first year at all.

Capela should be the starting center for the Rockets for next season. He’s shown he can play and offers plenty of upside as a young talent. Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas could split time at the enter position as well, barring they sign with another team this offseason.

Mar 9, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) and forward Clint Capela (15) talk during a break in the second half against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. The Houston Rockets won 118-104. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

This would allow Qi to polish his skills in the Development League and get accustomed to the size and strength of players. While there, he could also see about expanding his shooting range, ultimately giving Mike D’Antoni another three-point option in his seven seconds or less offense that I’m sure we’ll see very soon.

It would also give Qi time to put on weight and build strength. If Qi was able to get to 240 or 250 lbs, he would still be able to keep his quickness on the perimeter, but he wouldn’t get knocked around on the inside, becoming a one man do-it-all for the Rockets, but that’s optimistically speaking.

Above all, Houston, or any team that drafts Qi, has to give him time to develop. He’s not ready for the best the NBA has to offer. But if he builds confidence, and muscle, while getting adjusted to the speed and style of the game at this level, he could become a very reliable player. With his skill set, he has the opportunity to be an All-Star, but realistically, he should make for a very productive starter for any future team.

Awards and Honors:

More from Space City Scoop

  • 2X Chinese Basketball League Blocks Per Game Leader (2014, 2015)
  • 2015 FIBA Asia Championships Gold Medal
  • 2015 FIBA Asia Championship All-Star Team

Update:

As of June 10, Qi reached an agreement with his Chinese team, the Xinjiang Flying Tigers, that will allow him to buy out his contract and join the NBA in 2017, according to his agent Alex Saratsis. Qi will spend another year in the CBA in hopes of securing a more favorable draft spot in the future.

Make sure you check out the current Space City Scoop series including the rest of our year end player analysis, draft prospects worthy of Rockets picking or trading for, our best of reader/fan posts  and our end of season Rockets Round Table:

Next: Complete list of 2016 -2017 Free Agents

Next: Rockets Fans Speak - the Series

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