Kurt Helin

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Zhou Qi’s potential could lead to much NBA draft intrigue

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MIAMI Zhou Qi needs someone to help him communicate at workouts with NBA teams, simply because he does not speak English well enough to understand most instructions.

His game, however, translates just fine.

In an NBA draft class that will likely have LSU’s Ben Simmons and Duke’s Brandon Ingram as the first two picks and then much uncertainty with the remaining 58, Zhou may draw plenty of intrigue. He stands just over 7-foot-2 in sneakers, has a wingspan just shy of 8 feet and can nearly touch the rim while standing flat-footed.

He is a big man with shooting-guard skills, China’s next NBA hope, a 20-year-old who’s already a pro at home and now wants to get on the game’s biggest stage.

“I am ready,” Zhou said at the NBA draft combine earlier this month.

Time will tell if NBA teams agree.

Some draftniks say he could be a late-first-round pick. The Boston Celtics – who have eight draft picks, including three first-rounders and the No. 3 selection – brought him in for a workout this week, as did the Memphis Grizzlies. He’ll audition for more NBA teams in the coming weeks, as everyone figures out their plans for the June 23 draft.

“I think his basketball English was good enough that it didn’t impede us from doing anything on the court,” Grizzlies vice president of basketball operations John Hollinger said after their workout. “I mean, obviously, we weren’t having detailed discussions about politics and economics or anything. … Very skilled for his size, very long frame, knows how to play.”

Executives seem to like what they’re seeing. Miami assistant general manager Adam Simon said Zhou made an impression even going back to last year at the Nike Hoop Summit – which annually brings together the best international players age 19 and under.

“He held his own against the top high school players in the country,” Simon said. “For him, here’s what you base it on: Big guy that can catch, has good hands and can run, especially for someone over 7 feet tall.”

Zhou is one of many intriguing overseas options in this draft class.

Forward Dragan Bender should be a lottery pick from Croatia, and countrymen Ivica Zubac and Ante Zizic are likely to get snagged in the first round by teams looking for centers. There’s also Turkish shooting guard Furkan Korkmaz, Serbian swingman Timothe Luwawu and Spanish forward Juan Hernangomez as strong first-round hopefuls. (And that doesn’t even include Oklahoma star Buddy Hield, a soon-to-be lottery pick who hails from the Bahamas.)

Fairly or not, each of the European and Asian draft entrants will be compared with Kristaps Porzingis, the 7-foot-3 Latvian forward drafted last year by the New York Knicks who was the NBA’s second-best rookie.

“I think the international portion of this draft has got a lot of potentially good players,” ESPN basketball analyst and former college coach Fran Fraschilla said. “But certainly nobody ready to make an impact, let’s say, like Porzingis did a year ago.”

Zhou will face another automatic comparison, that being to 2016 Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinee Yao Ming. Zhou said China’s most successful NBA player is already a resource for him.

“We have been in touch,” Zhou said at the combine, speaking in Mandarin. “He shared a lot of his experience with me, mainly about training. I observed (what he did) when he came here back then, he told me of what he went through when he came, such as things to which to pay attention, and that the competition here can be tough.”

The drawback for Zhou is his build. He’s tall, but not big. At the draft combine Zhou weighed only 218 pounds, which means he would get overpowered in the post by even average-sized NBA forwards.

“I am growing all the time,” Zhou said, pointing out he’s gained 10 pounds in recent weeks.

The list of pluses Zhou brings is far longer. His wingspan and agility help give him a strong defensive presence, and he moves well. But his biggest asset is his shooting ability – 18-footers often seem like layups to him, and he’s working on extending his consistent range out to the NBA 3-point line.

His favorite player is Kevin Durant, but Zhou bristles at any comparison.

“I think I have my own style of play,” Zhou said. “Who am I like? I’m not like anyone. I’m like myself.”


Stephen Curry’s elbow is “fine,” he will play in Game 3 Sunday

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After Stephen Curry had gone flying into the second row chasing a loose ball, he came out with a little bump on his elbow.

As the game wore on, there was nothing little about it.

That swelling — the Warriors said it got to the size of a tennis ball — didn’t impact his shots in Game 2 and it’s not going to keep him out of Game 3, as Ethan Sherwood Straus of ESPN reports.

Monte Poole of CSNBayArea.com has more details.

The Warriors on Thursday described the swelling as a “contusion” but did not place Curry on the preliminary injury report for Game 3 on Sunday in Oklahoma City.

Though Curry underwent treatment Thursday morning and “showed improvement,” according to the team, there are no plans to drain the elbow, general manager Bob Myers told 95.7 The Game.

“It looks like a tennis ball on top of it, but it doesn’t affect range of motion or anything,” Curry said Wednesday night after scoring a team-high 28 points. “It’s just some pain, so I’ll be all right.”

Curry was back to consistently hitting his shots and looking like the two-time MVP version of himself in Game 2. Which presents a host of challenges for the Thunder in Game 3.

Magic Johnson trash talked Michael Jordan once. Once.


Jim Croce tried to warn us, you don’t tug on Superman’s cape.

Magic Johnson did once — he trashed talked Michael Jordan during the legendary 1992 Dream Team scrimmages.

Magic was on Jimmy Kimmel Live this week and told the story, admitting he learned his lesson the hard way.

Magic — still my favorite player of all time — also told the story of playing basketball with Prince.

LeBron James passes Shaq for fourth on all-time playoff scoring list


That is a milestone.

In the third quarter of the Cavaliers comfortable win over the Raptors in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron James hit a layup that moved him past Shaquille O’Neal into fourth on the all-time NBA playoff scoring list. LeBron now has 5,255 playoff points (and he did it in 28 fewer games and fewer minutes than Shaq). It speaks to LeBron’s durability and how long he has played at a high level — Shaq was a dominant playoff force, to pass him is an impressive feat.

Next up on the list is Kobe Bryant, but LeBron has 385 points to go to get there.

Kyle Lowry walks back to locker room during game to “decompress,” faces crititicsm


After a first half where the Raptors had hung close with the Cavaliers, things were starting to unravel a little. You could feel Cleveland was starting to take control of Game 2, more than that as they got hot there was nothing Toronto could do about it.

With 2:35 left in the first half, the ice-cold Kyle Lowry subbed out of the game — then went on walkabout back to the locker room.

It ended up being during one of the most critical stretches of the game, and Lowry just walked off — not injured, not followed by training staff, just by himself. Lowry was criticized on the ESPN broadcast for it, while the NBA Twitter reaction ranged from confused to ripping him (online this, combined with former Lowry mentor Tyronn Lue saying Lowry wanted to get together with him Wednesday to watch the Thunder/ Warriors game, led to a lot of questioning of Lowry’s priorities and toughness).

After the game Lowry was asked about his walk.

“Just to kind of decompress, get back there, kind of relax my body and relax my mind,” Lowry said. “And knowing that we had a chance to kind of make some things (happen). I wanted to get myself going and get my teammates going and get the team going. It was nothing more than just kind of to decompress, breathe and get back out….

“I’ve done it plenty of times. It’s just now with the magnitude of the situation, it shows a little bit more.”

It was an odd thing to do at an odd time. Clearly Lowry was frustrated — he was 1-of-8 from three in Game 2, and he has 18 points on 8-for-28 shooting through two games against the Cavaliers — but leaving the court to gather oneself at a critical juncture of the game doesn’t seem the most supporting thing a teammate can do.

Toronto isn’t going to win a game in this series without All-Star level Lowry playing, and so far that guy has been missing.