When you stand just over 7-foot-2, can shoot 3’s and possess a 7-foot-7 3/4-inch wingspan, the longest at the 2016 NBA Pre-Draft Combine, chances are you’re going to move from relative obscurity to mainstream prospect in the blink of an eye. That’s what’s happening to Zhou Qi, a 20-year-old Chinese basketball prodigy who has decided to make the leap to the NBA this summer.
Hailing from Henan, China, Zhou signed with the Xinjiang Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association in 2014, and he led the league in blocks during the 2014-2015 season. For a man of his size, he’s gifted with superb agility, and his shooting range stretches beyond the 3-point arc. Add that to his alien-like measurables, and you can see why scouts are intrigued by his NBA potential.
Still, when young prospects, especially ones from overseas, measure over 7-feet tall, they are usually somewhat raw. Zhou takes that to the extreme. Though he towers over opponents, he weighed just 218 pounds at the NBA’s Pre-Draft Combine—an alarmingly low number for someone of such height. Until he puts on significant weight, Zhou has no shot at playing anywhere underneath the rim at the NBA level.
Even so, Zhou’s potential is hard to ignore. He posted a vertical leap of 32 inches, a whole lot of air for a man of his stature. Many mock drafts have him going in the late 20s in next month’s NBA Draft, but even if he’s picked, he’ll probably need to spend a year or two developing his body and game overseas or in the D-League.
Zhou has already elicited comparisons with the NBA’s last great Chinese player, Yao Ming, though more in cultural impact than similarities in their game. Whether Zhou will ever rise to Yao’s lofty standards remains to be seen, but Zhou believes he’s ready for the NBA right now. Stay tuned to see where he falls in the Draft next month.