Clippers NBA Draft Targets: China’s Zhou Qi worth targeting

LA Clippers NBA Draft Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
LA Clippers NBA Draft Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

The Los Angeles Clippers need to make their picks count in the 2016 NBA Draft, and 7’2″ Chinese big man Zhou Qi could be the big man they need.

The Los Angeles Clippers need to make the most of their picks (25th and 33rd overall) in this year’s NBA Draft. Unlike last summer when Doc Rivers revamped his bench by acquiring a host of veterans on minimum deals, reuniting himself with Paul Pierce, too, the Clippers are left with minimal cap space to make minor adjustments in comparison to last year. With the salary cap leaping to $92 million, the Clippers will likely have the lowest cap space in the league, being forced to stick with most of their current players unless they want to trade.

Along with the simple fact of their bench not realistically being up to scratch to overcome teams like Oklahoma City or Golden State in the playoffs — especially after Pierce lost to Father Time, Cole Aldrich may leave and Jeff Green being inconsistent as always — the lack of spending money is why they need to make the best with what they’ve got.

This year, that means two solid draft picks.

First, in order to address those weak perimeter players, an athletic, two-way wing such as DeAndre Bembry could be an ideal pick at 25. But when looking to the start of the second round at 33, a big man to address the already shallow frontcourt — plus the possible departure of Aldrich — seems almost essential.

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In fact, the benefit of taking a slight risk with a young player benefiting from great upside could be worth it for the Clippers. For instance, why not a 7’2″ big man with a 7’7.5″ wingspan like Zhou Qi from China?

You will likely have missed that the Clippers have actually taken interest in Qi already, giving him a workout on May 23 according to Chinese media while the team themselves kept the workout secret (h/t ClipsNation for finding out). It’s strange for the Clippers to do so, but with the secrecy aside, Qi has plenty to offer in whatever developmental minutes Doc could find it in himself to give.

Beyond DeAndre Jordan and Aldrich’s surprising 3.1 blocks per 36 minutes this season, the Clippers lack any real rim protection. They ranked 29th in the NBA in rebounding rate as well, prompting them to take another big for extra depth. Even if Aldrich stays, the Clippers need all the help they can get to put forward a well-rounded effort for a championship next season, giving Doc more incentive than ever to actually give his rookies a little playing time.

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Yes, the immediate glaring issue with Qi is his incredibly slim, 218 lbs frame. As soon as possible, he’ll need to ramp up his weight training and gain the kind of muscle mass that will allow him to hold his own down low against NBA big men (thankfully, the threat of post centers continues to decrease) and fight through contact for rebounds. However, with such ridiculous length to build upon, the foundation is there to thrive defensively and on the glass.

Already, Qi has shown that ability with his shot blocking. He’s seriously quick on his feet for someone his size, and beyond his impressive speed when running the floor (which he does to great effect), that quickness and reaction speed allows him to contribute as a help defender to fly over with those albatross-like arms and reject shots. And on the boards (at both ends of the floor), Qi can still be aggressive despite his slender build.

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That agility applies to his offensive game, too. With a surprisingly solid handle for someone with such gangly arms, utilizing the threat of his jump shot has shown the chance for Qi to grow into a player who can continue to create off the drive a little. He won’t be flying past opponents for poster dunks, but he can shift his feet to penetrate past slower defenders as they close out.

Plus, the real element of his offensive game that has scouts excited is his smooth shooting stroke, which he’s showcased well from mid-range and most importantly from the three-point line. Over time as he adjusts to NBA defenses and hones his stroke, Qi can well and truly space the floor.

Thankfully for the Clippers, should they wish to take a shot with Qi and opt to take him in the first round, he’s largely projected in mock drafts to fall somewhere in the mid to late 20s. Because, as is always the case with players who have a lot of room to grow from overseas, there are always question marks.

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Zhou Qi has the general skill set of a modern big man in today’s NBA, possessing the shot blocking, passing and smooth shooting that every team longs to have in a stretch four or five. To make him even more intriguing to a team like the Clippers who have him lined up in their range of the draft, he has remarkable size and fluidity to raise his potential even further.