The Houston Rockets drafted Zhou Qi with the 43rd pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, and after he hung in China with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers for another season, the Rockets officially signed him this summer.
The 7-foot-2 Zhou is dripping with potential. His height and surprising athleticism make him a great shot blocker. He averaged 2 blocks per game in the Summer League, and he’s blocked shots in each of the Rockets’ first two preseason games.
That athleticism should come in handy at the NBA level when running the floor in transition. Zhou is far from your stereoptypical 7-footer plus.
He’s also got a pretty good shooting stroke, though he admittedly didn’t show much of that in the Summer League, when he shot just 30.3 percent from the field. But he’s shot 4-5 combined so far in the preseason, and even knocked down a smooth-looking triple in Houston’s victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the preseason opener.
Rockets GM Daryl Morey had this to say about Zhou back in July:
"On the offensive end, his shooting is really coming on. He’s been working very hard, both in China and back here on that. He just knows how to play, he makes the right pass, he makes the right shot, he can handle the ball even at 7-2. We’re pretty excited about him.”
That’s not to say there aren’t also some glaring weaknesses in Zhou’s game. By now, everyone’s well aware of his slender, 210-pound frame. He’s going to have trouble banging down low with some of the NBA’s bigger players and will get pushed around until he gets a year or two of big-time strength work and conditioning under his belt.
That’s going to affect his rebounding (although he has snagged 5 boards so far in his limited preseason minutes), and especially as a defender. Shot blocking notwithstanding, Zhou’s going to have a hard time when push comes to shove underneath the bucket, and while he’ll be able to counter with swiftness, shooting and his height away from the bucket, he’ll need some serious man strength to not take a beating from many of the much wider guys in the Association.
He’s also been foul prone so far, as is the case for most rookie big men. He’s racked up 6 in just 17 total minutes played in the preseason, and while one or two of those weren’t the cleanest of calls, that’s likely how he can expect to be officiated, at least initially, at the NBA level. It’ll be on Zhou to adjust accordingly.
To that degree, barring injury, don’t expect to see too much of Zhou this season, except maybe in garbage time and possibly in the G-League. Morey had this to say over the summer about Zhou’s prospects of playing this season:
"Defensive Player of the Year in China, 7'2, 7'7 wingspan, he's got a ton of potential. Probably is going to take a little seasoning, coach (Mike) D'Antoni doesn't play more than eight guys anyways, so we're probably working the young guys around some opportunities during the year."
And then just recently, head coach Mike D’Antoni seemed to reaffirm that belief in some comments he made to the Houston Chronicle two weeks ago:
"He's 7-2. He can shoot threes, run the floor, knows how to play. There's no reason other than strength and bulk and things that come naturally. I'm looking forward to having him up here all year and working with him. We'll play him when we can. We're not going to rush him. It probably won't be this year when he makes a mark. But everybody keeps going, 'Wow, he can be pretty good.'"
So while the splashes of potential are tantalizing enough to not ignore, unless we see something happen to Clint Capela or Nene during the regular season, we’re most likely going to have to wait on Zhou Qi until next year. But stay tuned. The organization is very high on his long-term development.