With the Houston Rockets signing talented 2016 second-round pick Zhou Qi to a four-year contract and bringing him into the fold, the obvious question is when will he be able to contribute.
After Qi's first summer league game, the question got even louder as the 21-year-old, scored 17 points (7-13 shooting) and grabbed 6 rebounds while playing in 25 minutes (tied for a team high)
It's clear the 7-foot-2 power forward from China is a very interesting prospect as he had Houston and the NBA buzzing after just one game.
"On the offensive end, his shooting is really coming on. He’s been working very hard, both in China and back here on that," Rockets general manager Daryl Morey told The Dream Shake. “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.”
With the need for a Ryan Anderson backup, hopefully one who has a predilection for defense, it does seem like there is a fit for Zhou, but it might be too soon to trust him with meaningful minutes on an NBA roster.
A game after impressing the NBA world, Zhou followed up his 17-point performance, with only two points on 0-6 shooting.
Of course, having a poor outing in the summer league means very little in the big scheme of things, but this is Zhou’s first taste of NBA action. It'd be crazy to believe the 210-pound big man is ready to play against the size and strength of NBA players on a nightly basis.
While the Rockets wouldn't be asking for Zhou to do very much in this offense other than spread the floor right now, it's better for him to spend a year in the G-League learning the system and getting stronger.
Rockets center Clint Capela, who was a first-round draft pick, spent nearly his whole first season in the NBA with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. After two seasons with the Kentucky Wildcats, one of the best college programs in the country, Terrence Jones, who was a near lottery pick, even spent his first season in the NBA primarily with the Vipers.
It's not out of the question that Zhou could see some time with the Rockets this season in a very limited role — probably when Nene sits on back-to-backs — but expecting him to have more of an impact than Capela, Jones, or any other of team's recent draft picks in their first year is hoping for a little too much.
You'll be hard pressed to find a raw rookie playing a big time role on a playoff team, let alone one of the best teams in the Western Conference.
It just doesn't happen.
Sam Dekker, whom the Rockets picked up in the first round of the 2015 draft, looked like he could have been one of those rare rookies to contribute in year one, but he certainly wasn't raw, after three years for the Wisconsin Badgers he has ready for the NBA. Unfortunately, a back injury ended those chances, but this past season was pretty much a rookie year for Dekker, and he gave the Rockets quite a bit.
Zhou might turn out to be a very good, maybe even great player for the Rockets, but he's not ready to give the team anything meaningful this season.
"Defensive Player of the Year in China, 7'2, 7'7 wingspan, he's got a ton of potential," Morey said while speaking with NBA TV during the Rockets’ first summer league game. "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."
Zhou’s first season with the Rockets will likely be spent going back and forth between Houston and the Rio Grande as he'll take part in a lot of team practices.
Zhou Qi has a bright future in Houston, but it will start in year two, not year one.