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What's the skinny on China's Zhou Qi?

Zhou Qi will try to be more like Yao, less like Yi.

Paul Kane/Getty Images

Prava88's note: A friend of mine in China would like to share some thoughts on 7'2 NBA prospect Zhou Qi (周琦). Our Jacob Kuyvenhoven mentioned Qi in this NBA draft prospect post last month. Zhou Qi could be a first round pick, could be a second round pick -- no one really knows. So, he may end up a Detroit Piston! Make no mistake, the timing of this post is just a coincidence, nothing at all to do with Detroit’s recent struggles. Or that’s at least what I’ve been telling myself in the past couple of days.

You might not have heard so much about him, but the 20-year-old very gangly Chinese prospect known as Zhou Qi (first name Qi) has drawn attention from NBA scouts for more than two years now. About a month ago on January 20, several noticeably foreign faces, reportedly the scouts from San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns, New Orleans Pelicans and Houston Rockets, attended a CBA (Chinese Basketball Association) basketball game between top teams Xinjiang and Guangdong in southeast China. Zhou Qi's team, Xinjiang, lost to Guangdong by 17 points. Despite the loss, Qi gave a performance of 14 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks. His main matchup, Yi Jianlian, had a better night with 26 points and 11 rebounds.

Zhou Qi started his basketball career as a guard. After he grew 40 inches in six years, Zhou quickly became one of the best centers on China's Youth National Team. It was 2011 when I first read about him in newspapers. The tall and lean kid made his name in the U-16 FIBA semi-final against Germany with 41 points, 28 rebounds and 15 blocks. Averaging 20.9 points 10.3 rebounds and 5.4 blocks, Zhou led China to the U-16 FIBA tournament championship. Zhou's length, agility, shot blocking skills and silky soft long-range shots made him stand out in every game. Also, different from most other young prospects, Zhou shows high basketball IQ and excellent psychological qualities on the court.

The major weakness is his physical fitness. He is now 7'2" bare foot with a 7'6" wingspan and weighs only about 210 pounds. That is probably why he is a much better defender in the weak-side post than one-on-one. Additionally, Zhou Qi seems to be a poker-faced player on the court, as he rarely shows any facial expression during the game. It sometimes confuses the audience that he might be a player lacking passion.

Zhou Qi joined the Xinjiang Flying Tigers in 2014 as a professional player with a contract of six years at nearly 7 million dollars. The team supports him to enter the NBA when he is ready. Xinjiang hired Li Qiuping, who was the head coach of Shanghai Sharks while Yao Ming was playing in China. Fans always make comparisons of Zhou and Yao but Coach Li doesn't see much similarity. They are different in many ways. Yao's will power, excellent footwork and textbook turnaround jump shot made him one of the most unstoppable forces the basketball world has ever seen. Zhou Qi might never be a juggernaut like Yao, yet his unique skill set matched with his size makes him such an intriguing player. The 7'2 kid says he is a huge fan of Kevin Durant. The fundamental skills he got when trained as a guard make him a versatile offensive player. Zhou is solid at catching and shooting at a high release. I have seen him dribbling the ball from the three point line all the way to the basket and finishing with contact many times thanks to his quickness and guard-like handles.

It is not an easy task to find an NBA player that Zhou Qi resembles the most. For comparison sake, a skinnier John Henson is what Zhou is currently considered to be like. When Zhou Qi participated in the Nike Hoop Summit 2015, scouts and sports journalists showed plenty of curiosity on how Zhou is going fit in an NBA team with such a frail body frame. It is hard to imagine what type of effort he needs to put in to stop guys like DeMarcus Cousins or Andre Drummond. However, if Zhou makes the most of his privileged long arms and quick steps, his defensive range can  still be horrifying for opponents.

Last summer in the FIBA Asia Championship, Zhou was the starting center of China's National Team. In a 20 point comeback win against South Korea, Zhou took over from the third quarter. He was dominant on both ends of the court. Every time Zhou touched the ball the crowd wanted him to finish the play, which reminded so many fans of Yao's play in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

As I'm writing, Xinjiang is in a battle as the 2nd seed against the 7th seed (winners of 3 out the last 4 CBA finals) Stephon Marbury led Beijing Ducks. Zhou Qi is making his presence known all over the court. It won't be a big surprise if Xinjiang wins the Championship for the first time in team history this year (they have former NBA player Andray Blatche on the roster, as well as newly added former NBA point guard Bryce Cotton).

After the season ends, will Zhou Qi continue his development in China, or will he knock on the door of the NBA to a much bigger stage? Either way, the future is bright for Zhou Qi. And, Chinese fans surely won't let you forget about him.

- Xuan Li

For good measure, here's a Zhou Qi highlight video - one of many you can find on the net.

Why not post a video of Yao Ming's supposed 10 best plays too..? Pistons fans, you may want to skip play no. 4.