We’re alive and well, and back with one of the oldest columns on this blog: The real, devastating impact of…, this time coming with a distinct American flair.
Yes, it is finally official: Zhou Qi will move stateside to the Houston Rockets.
This site has covered his growth to the pro levels extensively, often with a grain of salt, and we have been privileged to see him make huge strides in terms of character, attitude, enjoyment of basketball, ability to fit in with a number of high-character teammates like Andray Blatche and Xirelijiang (a true fan favorite for almost every Chinese Basketball Association blogger). His improvement as a shooter and ability to throw his skinny body around, paired up with an athletic and coordination improvement that has made him one of the most mobile and fluid players you’ll see at 7’2″, have made him an exciting prospect Rockets fans have every right to be looking forward to. Throw in the general decrease in average body weight required for NBA big men and all of a sudden his highs look higher, and his lows not so low anymore.
It is today relatively safe to say his career in the NBA projects to be at least as long as Yi Jianlian’s, albeit without the lottery pressure that Yi was forced to endure.
But what can the lanky Chinese provide to the Rockets, specifically?
The Houston Rockets have recently acquired Chris Paul, who is a huge offensive improvement in the half court, a relative weakness of last year’s Houston team that barely ever strayed from the Harden ISO path when unable to find a shot in 7 seconds or less. It is unlikely that Paul will refuse to play off the ball (multiple sources stated his willingness to share the court with the equally ball-dominant Harden), and it is just as unlikely that he’ll be relegated to off-the-ball duties exclusively (if the Rockets had wanted another faux point guard they could have easily talked to George Hill in free agency without resorting to a 7-player trade off that sacrificed a first team All-Defense player). Rockets fans should expect some early growing pains as Harden and Paul find their balance sharing the rock, but provided that Paul is able to sustain the neck-breaking pace that characterizes D’Antoni’s teams – that, personally, is the biggest concern fans should have, as Paul often shines when he can slow the tempo down – or the Rockets prove solid enough to survive those slower tempo games that they often struggled with last season just by virtue of having CP3, the Texan squad should be fine.
Zhou Qi will be a tall target in a two-men game, one that neither Paul or Harden have quite played with (DeAndre Jordan is 6’11”, Capela is 6’10”) recently, and his length, finishing ability and shooting make him a viable option for every type of ball screen, as he can prove just as useful in the paint or fading for a mid-range (or a three, although his shooting from deep is still a work in progress). In Xinjiang he’s often been deployed as a PF/C side by side with either Andray Blatche (very much a perimeter threat on offense and an inside player on defense) or Sun Tonglin (substantially a short C on both ends), frequently sliding on to guards and forwards out to the three-point line on defense.
His switching ability and fluidity at 7’2″ will be especially intriguing in a team that is bound to make the playoff out West, where teams like the Warriors and the Jazz regularly exploit opposing big men on the perimeter (whereas teams like the Spurs are keen on searching for the other half of the mismatch, punishing smaller guards in the post with their big men).
The Rockets have drafted Isaiah Hartenstein in the second round as a PF/C prospect, but there’s no indication so far he will be moving to Texas this year. Nenê was entering free agency after having apparently made no progress on a new contract with the Rockets, but has now signed a 3-year deal and this leaves Houston with three center prospects in Nena, Zhou and Capela, who will be the starting C.
Unless Morey provides more splashes in free agency, Zhou Qi is going to play at least some rotational minutes, and it is confirmed he will be playing Summer League basketball these days.
Rockets fans, there’s a new Chinese big man in town.