The Houston Rockets used one of their two second-round draft picks to select Zhou Qi, a 7-foot-1, 210-pound center from the Xinjiang Flying Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association. Zhou has one more year remaining on his contract with the Flying Tigers, which are owned by newly elected Hall of Famer and former Rocket Yao Ming. The Rockets will be patient with Zhou, who projects to be a stretch 4 in the NBA. There is some controversy regarding his age; he’s reportedly 20, though some have said he is older. Age aside, he averaged 15.8 points and 9.8 rebounds last season for the Flying Tigers. He also led the league in blocks for the second consecutive season at 3.2 a game.
ESPN spoke with Weiping Zhang, the former Chinese national team coach (1985-88) and current basketball analyst for China Central Television and NBA Tencent, to break down Zhou's game. Here’s our conversation with Zhang during the NBA summer league games.
ESPN: Zhou is a fantastic shooter and a shot-blocker. Give us some more details about his game.
Zhang: Very talented, he can move and he can run and jump and sprint and everything. The biggest problem is improving his body physically if you want to play in the NBA. So he needs to take on contact and become physical -- that’s the challenge for him. He can shoot but he doesn’t have the body to work in the blocks. He needs to develop those strengths.
ESPN: So what’s his position in the CBA?
Zhang: He’s a 2 guard over there but the problem is the point guard will only pass you the ball when you have nowhere to go and he has to force a lot of shots. I think right now the coaches in the NBA have to give him structure. What kind of player you’re going to be? A stretch 4 or a traditional center? Even over [in China] somebody has to tell him and train him to make him the player he wants to be. On defense, he blocks shots and on offense he plays whatever and that hurts. [On] the national team he goes inside, but he can’t physically do that. That’s why he plays outside. Somebody has to give him structure.
ESPN: So he’s mainly a stretch 4 on offense. On defense, who can he guard?
Zhang: He can block shots, but I don’t think he can guard one-on-one. But he can help defensively. But if you post him up, he doesn’t have the body. He can move, very smart, high basketball IQ. He can move and play help defense, but one-on-one he needs help.
ESPN: What’s the goal for him this upcoming season in the CBA?
Zhang: Right now, I think for him and the Rockets, it’s best he stays there because right now he couldn’t survive if you put him [in the NBA] and everybody guards him and gives him a hard time. It might affect his confidence. Maybe the Rockets can send somebody to China and monitor him and help him with the structure of the game. He’s a good kid but he gets frustrated. He needs help growing.
ESPN: There’s been disputes about his age.
Zhang: I don’t know how old he is but it’s a problem they have over there; not just basketball but other sports.
ESPN: Whose game is he supposed to have down the line? Who does he project to be?
Zhang: I think maybe Kevin Garnett. He was a stretch 4, can shoot it and play defense, something like that.