HOUSTON – Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey conducted a conference call with his newest draft pick late Thursday night.
Morey was speaking with Zhou Qi, the 43rd pick of the NBA draft, who just so happened to be in Italy playing for the Chinese national team. The interpreter on the call was legendary Rocket and newly elected Hall of Famer Yao Ming.
“Yao Ming was acting as a very expensive translator for us,” Morey said with a smile.
When Zhou will play for the Rockets is uncertain given his contract status with the Chinese Basketball Association. The Rockets hope it’s soon, because they’re getting a 7-foot-2, 218-pound center who averaged 15.8 points while shooting 60.3 percent from the floor last season for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers.
“He has as high an upside as anyone in the draft,” Morey said. “He’s a skilled, high-basketball-IQ player. He can shoot the ball, rebound the ball, block shots, very mobile for his size. When he makes the NBA, he will have one of the top two or three wingspans in the league, so he has potential on both ends.”
That wingspan Morey mentions indeed is impressive: Zhou measured 7-foot-7, the best mark at the NBA draft combine. There were two concerns regarding Zhou: body type and age.
At 218, Zhou probably will have to add bulk, something that won’t happen overnight. When the Rockets drafted current center Clint Capelathree years ago, he was a rail-thin 7-footer. Now Rockets officials joke that you can see the muscles form on his body.
“He’s a very thin player, very similar body to Tyson Chandler when he came out [in the draft],” Morey said of Zhou. “A lot of players come in thin and develop over time. It’s not uncommon. He has a thin frame right now and [it’s] something obviously as he gets older will change.”
Zhou is 20, but there were reports he was much older.
“The stuff Qi can do at that size, if he really is just 20 years old, is crazy,” former NBA guard and Chinese Basketball Association veteran Bobby Brown told Bleacher Report in a story about Zhou. “Our translator said he was like 24, 25, though. He needs confidence and guidance. He reminds me of Kristaps Porzingis but not as good.”
Morey said he’s not concerned about Zhou’s age, joking that the birthdate, Jan. 16, 1996, is listed on his passport.
One of the biggest positives regarding Zhou is his shot-blocking ability. He led the CBA in blocks the past two seasons and led China in rebounding (10.1) and blocks (4.0) at the 2012 FIBA Under-17 World Championships. In a game against the U.S. team featuring future NBA players Stanley Johnson and Jahlil Okafor, Zhou scored six points, blocked two shots and grabbed three rebounds in 14 minutes.
Of course, Zhou’s game progressed, and outside of the averages this past season, he led the Flying Tigers to a 25-13 record, scoring 20-plus points 14 times and blocking seven shots in a game twice.
Zhou’s outside shot is one of the more impressive things about his game. In two pro seasons, he shot 64 percent from the field and averaged 15.1 points.
“We see a guy with a ton of upside, with physical tools and a high basketball IQ,” Morey said.