Eye on the Draft: Zhou Qi, a draft and stash prodigy?
The Boston Celtics have eight draft picks in the 2016 draft, more than any other team and the most any one team has ever had in a single draft. And while such a plethora of picks bodes well for the Celtics chances of finding a diamond in the rough, there is a clear logistical issue at hand: with at least nine players holding roster spots (along with two unguranteed contracts in Jonas Jerebko and Amir Johnson) the Celtics either cannot use all of their picks, or need to draft a few prospects who are willing to mature their games overseas.
Enter the Hidden Dragon himself, Chinese basketball phenom Zhou Qi. At 7"2', Qi (pronounced Chi) certainly has the size of an NBA big, and the fact he is even on the NBA radar means his raw physical tools -- and not just his height -- have impressed scouts, who have already started to draw comparisons between Qi and Chinese basketball icon and NBA hall of famer Yao Ming.
Measuring over 7-foot-2 in shoes with a 7-7 ¾ wingspan that ranks among the longest ever seen at an NBA combine or predraft setting, Zhou has the interest of franchises selecting in the mid- to late first round because of his mobility, soft shooting touch and rim-protection ability. -- Jonathan Givony, The VerticalCurrently ranked at number 26 on draftexpress' big board, Qi is considered a first-round talent not only because of his impressive measurables but because of the potential for him to become something of a poor mans Karl Anthony-Towns -- a "modern" big who protects the rim and stretches the defense, providing a rare and deadly combination.
In the Chinese Basketball Association, Qi's numbers were certainly impressive. At only 20 years old, Qi averaged 15.8 points per game to go along with 9.8 rebounds and a league-leading 3.2 blocks per game, while flashing an above average touch from both the arc and the charity stripe. Obviously, the competition in the CBA is not the greatest measure of a prospect's talent; the greatest player in the league's history is a well past his prime Stephon Marbury, and various NBA failures such as Jerome Jordan and Jordan Crawford have been dominant against the lesser competition.
But when surveying Qi's production, his age and physical development provide the context for why Qi's production is so impressive. At only 218 pounds, Qi has plenty of room to bulk up as he enters his physical prime, but he has dominated in china without even fully growing into his body. While the comparison is not a perfect one (European clubs, as a rule, are hesitant to play young players big minutes unless they are unusually physically mature), fellow draft hopeful Dragan Bender has a comparable skill set and age but played less than 15 minutes per game as opposed to Qi's 32.4.
A. Ainge on 7-foot-2 Zhou Qi: “He’s so long, he’s got a good touch. He’s probably the 3rd/4th most recognized name in Chinese basketball."— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 18, 2016
The skill set is certainly enticing, especially with the way Brad Stevens has shown how he can use versatile bigs to their fullest potential. While it may be years away, a lineup with Qi and Kelly Olynyk at the two big man spots could be the sort of twin towers lineup that can combat modern NBA small-ball lineups, destroying smaller units on the boards while using their floor-stretching ability to bend defenses to the breaking point.
But the greater point remains that if the Celtics are going to hang on to the picks they have so painstakingly acquired since beginning the rebuilding process, Danny Ainge has quite a bit of finagling to do. Should they keep even two of their first round picks, the green will have only four roster spots open to re-sign their own players or bring in outside free agents.
Qi is nearly a national hero in China, where he will soon be returning to begin training for the 2016 Olympics. Much like Yao before him, Qi has to negotiate his release from the Chinese Basketball Federation before he can actually play for the team that holds his draft rights, which could take a few years. With the rare mix of talent and opportunity to bring a more finished product to the states who will still have to play out his four-year rookie deal, the Celtics may just be looking at the perfect storm -- or in Qi's case, the perfect typhoon.
Follow Brenton on Twitter @BBTruth8294
Photo courtesy of the FIBA youtube channel
Video courtesy of Draftexpress