The 7-foot-2 Chinese giant Zhou Qi has declared for the 2016 NBA Draft, and many wonder if the 20-year-old center is ready to make a splash in the world’s most competitive basketball league. I have a different, question, however.
Without a doubt, Zhou is the best young big man in China, if not the entire Asian continent. He was named to the All-Star Five in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship, and he played a pivotal role in China’s undefeated romp in that same tournament. He played better than compatriot Wang Zhelin, Korea’s Lee Jong-Hyun, India’s Amrit Pal Singh, and Iran’s Mohammad Hassanzadeh — other promising young Asian bigs.
One other promising young Asian frontliner who wasn’t around, though, was our very own June Mar Fajardo. It would have been a great sight to see him play against Zhou Qi in the championship game, if only to see how our own reigning PBA MVP would hold up against one of the consensus top slotmen in the continent.
And now that Zhou is entering the 2016 NBA Draft, I cannot help but wonder about whether Fajardo has the chops to make it that far as well. I have no doubt JMF can be competitive when he meets Zhou again on the court (they already played each other in the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea), but how does our “Kraken” really stack against the man the Chinese call “Big Devil?”
First, let’s look at their first and only meeting so far in international competition.
2014 Asian Games Quarterfinals, China over Philippines, 78-71.
Zhou Qi – 6 points, 9 rebounds, 4 blocks, 2/3 field goals, 28 minutes
June Mar Fajardo – 0 point, 1 rebound, 0/2 field goals, 4 minutes
Not exactly promising for our boy, eh? Granted, he played only four minutes, but, come on, the reigning PBA MVP still could have done more than 1 rebound and 2 missed shots, right?
Zhou 1, Fajardo 0
Next, let’s look at how Zhou and Fajardo have done in terms of their club competitions. To make things a little easier (and because reliable stats are hard to come by online for both the PBA and CBA), let’s just compare their most recent performances.
Zhou Qi (Xinjiang Flying Tigers – 2015-2016 CBA season): 15.8ppg, 9.8rpg, 1.5apg, 1.1spg, 3.2bpg, 60.3 FG%, 42 games played
Zhou led the entire CBA in blocks for the second straight season and helped his team finish second overall after the regular season. They lost in the semifinals to eventual champions Sichuan Blue Whales, which featured Iranian big man Hamed Haddadi.
June Mar Fajardo (San Miguel Beermen – current 2015-2016 PBA season): 20.1ppg, 11.9rpg, 1.2apg, 1.4bpg, 56.9 FG%, 35 games played
Fajardo is the reigning MVP and was the Best Player of the 2015-2016 Philippine Cup. He led SMB to the 2015-2016 Philippine Cup crown, rallying from a 0-3 series deficit in the championship series to to make history and win in 7 games.
Right off the bat, it’s clear that Fajardo seems to be the better offensive player, while Zhou is the much better defender. Of course, the qualifier there is Zhou plays with Andray Batche on Xinjiang. One could perhaps make the point that if Blatche weren’t around, Zhou’s scoring and rebounding would probably be much higher. Also, it would be reasonable to say that the CBA has a higher level of competition compared to the PBA. Still, based purely based on statistics and professional accolades, let’s call this a draw and give both guys a point.
Zhou 2, Fajardo 1
Lastly, let’s look at their international exposure, which is very important because NBA scouts don’t necessarily go out of their way to look for prospective players in far-flung places, especially if that far-flung place is traffic-ridden Metro Manila. For any Asian player to concretize his dream of playing in the NBA, he has to put himself out there instead of waiting for the NBA to knock on his doors. That’s why guys like Yuta Tabuse, Yuki Togashi, Arsalan Kazemi, and Ray Parks tried playing in the NBA Summer League or D-League. They know that they have to get a lot of exposure before the Association’s scouts even pay any attention. That’s also why youngsters like Yuta Watanabe, Lin Ting-Chien, and Kobe Paras have gone stateside for high school or college. To get a rough feel of Zhou’s and Fajardo’s international exposure, let’s see how many international tournaments and games they have played in.
2011 FIBA Asia U16 Championship – 9 games
2012 FIBA U17 World Championship – 8 games
2012 FIBA Asia U18 Championship – 9 games
2013 FIBA U19 World Championship – 7 games
2014 FIBA Asia U18 Championship – 9 games
2014 FIBA Asia Cup – 7 games
2014 Asian Games – 7 games
2015 FIBA Asia Championship – 9 games
2015 Nike Hoop Summit – 1 game
TOTAL International Games = 66 games
June Mar Fajardo:
2013 FIBA Asia Championship – 7 games
2014 FIBA Asia Cup – 5 games
2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup – 5 games
2014 Asian Games – 7 games
TOTAL International Games = 22 games
Very clearly, Zhou takes this. Even if he hasn’t played in the US NCAA or Europe, numerous NBA scouts know of him because of the number of world-level tournaments he has played in. That one Nike Hoop Summit game is also huge in terms of exposure in the American market. In contrast, Fajardo plies his trade almost exclusively in the PBA and, on occasion, plays for Gilas Pilipinas. It doesn’t take an expert to say Fajardo needs to put himself out there a lot more, and time is not on his side since he’s already in his mid-20s.
Zhou 3, Fajardo 1
As things stand, Zhou Qi certainly has the advantage, but that doesn’t mean June Mar can’t catch up. As long as Fajardo gets more international exposure and is able to more constantly and consistently prove himself against the continent’s and the world’s best, he should be able to make scouts pay attention and evaluate for themselves if our “Kraken” can also crack the NBA. – By Enzo Flojo
Follow this writer on Twitter: @hoopnut