As I profiled in the summer, Zhou Qi has become sort of a legendary prospect with his appearances in junior national tournaments over the last couple of years. But the 18-year-old is already starting to transform all that future promise into present performance as his first pro season in the Chinese league has been a very productive one. Xinjiang is contending for a postseason berth and Zhou has been part of the reason why.
Zhou’s team has Andray Blatche and Sebastian Telfair on it, and used to have Jordan Crawford, so possessions have been a scarce resource. He rarely ever gets touches in the post, in part because opponents can easily front him and deny entry passes due to his lack of strength. His frame hasn’t improved much from the summer, and he remains a very skinny type in the context of his seven-foot-one height. He also barely looks at the rim when he touches the ball outside the lane.
The vast majority of his scoring has come as a finisher out of the pick-and-roll and off of putbacks. Zhou has improved as a screener, extending his legs wide to set position. He moves very fluidly diving down the lane, has soft hands to catch the ball on the move and plays above the rim as a target for lobs. He’s unable to finish through contact and lacks strength to elevate with power to finish strong around length with consistency. Even so, Zhou has finished his 215 two-point shots at a 72 percent clip, according to RealGM.
His lack of strength also keeps him from establishing inside position under the glass but his length and jumping ability help him reach the ball at a higher point than the average competition and rebound outside of his area as well, collecting 10 percent of Xinjiang’s misses. As such a constant threat around the goal, he’s drawing lots of shooting fouls, averaging 5.1 free throws per 36 minutes and converting them at a 73.2 percent clip, which is unusual for a player his height.
The combination of a .717 true shooting percentage and volume offensive rebounding has resulted in Xinjiang averaging 139 points per 100 possessions with Zhou on the floor, the fourth highest offensive rating among players in the Chinese league.
He also impacts the game through his length and jumping ability on the other end. Zhou has good quickness rotating to the front of the basket in help-defense and is able to play above the rim both as a shot blocker and by using verticality to alter opponents’ balance through body contact. He’s blocked 10.5 percent of opponents’ attempts in his 806 minutes, a mark that leads the league.
Zhou is coached to guard the pick-and-roll by dropping back, which is probably what’s best suited for him. He has shown decent lateral mobility and isn’t slow footed by any means but is simply not built to defend in space — he doesn’t bend his knees much and gets run around easily by smaller players. Even by playing with a cushion, Zhou manages to contest mid-range shots rather effectively due to his length and has flashed good closing speed by proving able to block three-point shots.
He looks to boxout with some consistency but does not get very physical (an issue in post defense as well), at times locking arms with the opponent rather than putting his body on him. Blatche is a prolific rebounder and cuts his opportunities some, but his 18 percent defensive rebounding rate is nonetheless a bit underwhelming. It’s only an average mark, yet good enough that combined with his volume shot blocking, Zhou’s individual 107.1 defensive rating ranks seventh. With an improvement in that area, he’ll soon become the most impactful defender in the league.