Could Zhou Qi be the answer for the Lakers?
The 2016 NBA draft will be held in New York City on June 23rd, and the Los Angeles Lakers currently hold the number 2 overall pick in the first round, and the number 32 overall pick near the top of the second round. Much has been written on Duke’s Brandon Ingram (including an excellent piece by our own Daniel Bishop that can be read here), who remains the likely selection at second overall, but there is far less certainty regarding which direction the Lakers front office will go with pick number 32.
One intriguing option is 7’2″ Center Zhou Qi (Chinese: 周琦, pronounced Joe Chee) of the Chinese Basketball Association. Several sources estimate Qi may be available for the Lakers at 32, including NBAdraft.net. However, his draft stock has been steadily rising, with ESPN’s draft
revisionist specialist Chad Ford placing Qi in the mid to late first round. If it appears that Qi won’t last into the 2nd round, the Lakers may also look to trade a package including a vet currently on the roster (perhaps Lou Williams), and the 32nd overall pick for a late first to move up and secure Qi’s services.
Measurables and Experience
Despite being over 7’2″ tall, Qi weighs a paltry 218 pounds, and has an extremely thin and lanky body type. His 7’7 3/4 inch wingspan and 9’4 1/2 inch standing reach are virtually unprecedented, and his lateral quickness and foot speed are much more developed than past prospects with similar height.
Qi played 2 seasons of professional basketball as a member of the Xinjiang Flying Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association in 2014 and 2015. He lead the CBA in blocks both seasons, and averaged approximately 16 points, 10 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game in 2015 (for highlights click here).
Zhou Qi has elite height at 7’2″, yet he is tremendously light on his feet and active on the court. Analysis of film shows that Qi, despite his youth and lack of experience, has excellent court vision and is a willing and accurate passer. Watching a player with such enormous length run the court in the fast break and make touch passes to teammates cutting to the lane is surprising. Generally, thinner players over 7 ft. are “plodders” and are primarily employed as shot blocking specialists to clog up the lane. However, Qi’s ability to move in the low post, defend off ball, and effectively attack players driving to the rim make him an extremely valuable anchor for the defense.
Offensively, Qi is a work in progress. However, there is some evidence to suggest that he has developed a midrange game in recent years, and may be effective in a catch and shoot role at the NBA level this season. His height gives him a significant advantage on the offensive and defensive glass, and his above average court vision give him valuable as a post facilitator.
A comparable player is difficult to come by for Qi, due to his unique size and skill set. He currently has equal size and (arguably) better foot speed than Knicks Center/PF Kristaps Porzingis, but lacks the physical strength, aggressiveness and outside shot. When compared with famous 7’6″ countryman and NBA veteran Yao Ming, Qi demonstrates many similarities (Height, elite shot blocking skills, rim defender with some basic offensive moves that focus on size). However Qi is shorter, much weaker, and has a far less polished offensive game than Yao did coming into the league.
The single most significant weakness preventing Qi from being a lottery pick in this year’s draft, is his frail frame and lack of physical strength. At 218 pounds, Qi has been exposed by smaller players in isolation sets, and tape demonstrates Qi can be moved around the post at will by stronger players. Some other weaknesses in tape and cited by draft experts include that Qi lacks an on-court motor, can become confused on set plays (offensively) causing problems with spacing, and fatigues easily.
The Lakers have a gaping hole at the center position, and Zhou Qi’s youth, athleticism and sky high ceiling make him an intriguing option for the Lakers at this year’s draft. Zhou has a large following in China already, and his home country represents a valuable opportunity for teams in the media and marketing realm. A true “boom” or “bust” candidate, Qi will have to find a way to develop strength and gain 50-75 pounds in order to have a realistic chance at staying on an NBA roster. However, if developed properly, his freakishly elite size, and extraordinary court vision could end up making a franchise altering impact on the team that picks him this June.