By Dat Winning
For the first time since 2007, two Chinese players were selected in the NBA draft. Zhou Qi was the first to go, taken in the 2nd round by the Houston Rockets with the 43rd pick. Wang Zhelin was later taken by the Memphis Grizzlies with their 57th pick.
Zhou received more coverage entering into the draft based mostly on his upside, namely the combination of his youth (20 yo), height (7-2), and offensive skill set. He is mobile, with a jumper that must have the Rockets dreaming for shades of Kristaps Porzingis, and his 7′ 7 3/4″ wingspan was second only to Rudy Gobert in combine history.
In 2015, Zhou did not begin as a starter in his first year in the CBA, but he led the league in blocks with 3.29 bpg, and eventually took over the starting center position for a Xinjiang Flying Tigers team that reached the playoff semifinals. But, the CBA is hardly a respected league in its overall level of talent.
Which speaks less of Wang, who is less about upside and more what-you-see-is-what-you-get. Wang is much stronger than Zhou, listed at 243 lbs, just take a look at the video below and you can see a considerable difference in the two Chinese centers’ respective styles.
Wang is a physical banger, not super athletic, but decent. He might remind you of a Thiago Splitter, but he plays with a competitive fire that Zhou has as of yet not shown.
Maybe that’s a result of his three years as a CBA pro compared to Zhou’s one, but despite career averages of 21.6 ppg and 11.9 rpg with the Fujian Sturgeons, his team did not reach the playoffs during any season he was there. Wang was actually China’s best prospect to enter the NBA until Zhou came along.
Here’s a somewhat eerie 2014 interview in which then teammate Delonte West describes Wang’s game:
West says that Wang has an “it” factor, and whatever that is, he certainly suggests that Wang is suited for the NBA in terms of physicality and drive. Perhaps more so than Zhou.
With Wang’s size and motor, his kind of toughness could be useful in a league that just saw Oklahoma City and the Cleveland Cavaliers physically beat up the Golden State Warriors with bigger players. There are few better places than Memphis right now to learn how to be an NBA center.