In an age where every single bit of information is only a finger tip away, it seems unthinkable that anything would remain a mystery. However, one of the lone bastions of intrigue and mystery surrounding basketball deals with the international scene, especially over in China. While the country gave the NBA Yao Ming, one of the most popular players in the 2000's, the results have been extremely mixed since he was drafted in 2002.
Since that selection, the most successful Chinese player was Yi Jianlian. Selected by the Bucks with the 6th pick in the 2007 draft, Jianlian was a solid role player during his time with the Bucks and Nets, as he averaged 9.6 points and 5.8 boards per game on 40% shooting. However, after rough stints with the Wizards and Mavericks, Jianlian decided to head back to China to play with Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers. Aside from Jianlian, Chinese players like Sun Yue and Mengke Bateer were out of the NBA shortly after they arrived.
Despite those mixed results, the NBA's intrigue in the Asian market is still alive and well as teams around the league have their eyes set on 7'2 big Zhou Qi. At least for NBA teams, Qi hasn't exactly come out of nowhere as he's been an elite international prospects for the last few years. Coming into the scene with a solid performance in the 2012 U-17 World Championships, where he averaged 14 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocks on 47% from the field. In that tournament, Qi impressed the masses by displaying his mobility and potential to be a versatile offensive player.
After another solid performance in the 2013 U-19 world championships, Qi decided to join former NBA player Andray Blatche and the Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers who were just coming off an appearance in the 2014 CBA (Chinese Basketball Association) championship. For the Flying Tigers, Qi really impressed as he instantly became one of the better front-court players in the league as he averaged 14.1 points, 7 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game on 69% from the field. That output was impressive as the then-18 year old Qi was in a league surrounded by former NBA players and ex-college standouts.
That consistent play carried over to Qi's 2nd season with Xinjiang Guanghui, as he put up 15.8 points, 9.7 boards (3 offensive) and 3.2 blocks per game on 60% from the field. One of the most appealing parts of Qi's 2015-16 season was how he made progressions as shooter. While he always was able to hit the 18-20 jumper, he started to evolve into shooting some perimeter shots. On 15 attempts, Qi shot 60%. Although that's an extremely small sample size, it should be an appealing for NBA teams that Qi could potentially become a perimeter threat as he continues to progress. Qi's able to accomplish that as he has an extremely smooth shooting stroke with a high release point.
That progression as an outside weapon would be huge for Qi's chances to be an NBA rotation player. While he shows plenty of potential due to his size, shooting and mobility, there's one big flaw that's holding Qi back: his frame. Although standing at 7'2 with a huge 7'7 wingspan would immediately make him one of the longest players in the NBA, there are various concerns surrounding his extremely skinny frame. At the NBA Draft Combine, Qi weighed in at 219 pounds with a 4.85% body fat, which is less than point guards Tyler Ulis (5.2%), Wade Baldwin (5.2%) and Kay Felder (5.8%). The sheer fact that Qi's slimmer than prospects that are a foot shorter than him is a definite cause for concern.
Despite the various positives that Qi would bring, his frame raises doubts if he'd not only be able to handle the rigors of an 82 game season but if he'd start to break down after a month or two. Because even in the modern NBA landscape where there's more reliance on speed and spacing, there's still a certain amount of physicality involved with being an NBA big. Qi's quickness and length could still allow him to occasionally make plays, veteran bigs would eventually eat him up with box outs and pressure inside the paint.
If Zhou Qi is able to get picked by an NBA team with a solid strength and conditioning system that's able to add some bulk to his frame, he could turn into a solid NBA player. Qi's quickness, perimeter shooting and length are the ingredients that modern teams would love in a big. Offensively, Qi shows a ton of versatility as he can both cut to the point and knock down the perimeter jumper. That ability to take the ball on the floor is evident in the play below as Qi's able to quickly maneuver his past a defender and make a tough shot at the rim.
While Qi has an immense amount of offensive potential, his main strength in the NBA would likely be his work on the defensive end. With that incredible 7'7 wingspan mixed with solid mobility, Qi has continued to make his mark as just a scary shot blocker. Averaging 3.2 blocks per game with Xinjiang Guanghui, Qi's mobility allows him to occasionally work towards the perimeter and defend against cutters.
Zhou Qi is one of the most intriguing but yet frightening players in this year's draft. With his length, mobility and perimeter potential, Qi definitely has the tools to become a solid NBA big. However, the concerns regarding his extremely slim frame and the past health problems that players his size has gone through might outweigh those potential strengths.
Whomever picks him in June's draft is going to have to be extremely smart with how they treat his development. Because there's definitely a chance that he'll either turn into a solid two-ways bigs in the NBA or just flame out in the same way that so many promising players have done in past years. No matter which NBA team decides to take that challenge on, Zhou Qi will undoubtedly be one of the most intriguing players to watch for years to come.