2022 Draft Watch: First Look at Fanbo Zeng

April 27th, 2021

By Alan Lu

Recently, China’s 6-9 forward, Fanbo Zeng recently decided to sign with the G-League Ignite, as he will be teammates with Michael Foster to play in the NBA G-League for the 2021-22 season.  He is a talented prospect that is rated as a consensus 4-star recruit.  He played for Windermere Prep during the 2019-20 season as a high school junior. However, he then ran into difficulties as he was unable to play for them this season because he had traveled back to China, and he was unable to return because of the travel ban that was placed by the previous presidential administration

Therefore, Zeng has gone a full season without playing in meaningful basketball games, so he wasn’t really able to improve his recruiting rank.  I decided to take the time to watch Fanbo Zeng play for Windermere Prep against Orangewood Christian that took place on February 12th, 2020, as I saw this with thanks to YouTube via Windermere Prep Athletics.  Here are my thoughts on how he fared, as well as how his game may translate to both the G-League and the NBA.

6-9 forward, Fanbo Zeng will join Michael Foster to play for the G-League Ignite in the 2021-22 NBA G-League season.
Brandon Berry/Brandon Berry Photography, via The West Orange Times & Observer)

Fanbo Zeng is an athletic, skilled combo forward whose versatility and ability to make plays on both ends of the floor could make him an intriguing prospect for both the NBA G-League and the NBA.  He is a versatile scorer that can make shots from anywhere on the court, he is a unselfish player that will look to find the open man, and he also is a gifted shot blocker that can consistently get stops when defending in the paint.

Zeng generally excelled at scoring on hustle plays.  He was able to catch a lob pass off of a backdoor cut to score on a reverse layup off the glass.  He also managed to score on a quick put back after leaping up to get an offensive rebound in traffic.  Plus, he also would run the floor to score in transition, and he also managed to throw down a powerful dunk on the break once.  On one play, he drove up court and used a Euro-step move to his right, but he ended up missing on a contested, off-balanced layup.

He also showed an adequate ability to knock down jumpers.  Zeng moves well off the ball, as he will run the floor and off ball screens to score on quick spot-up jumpers to provide floor spacing for his team.  However, he tended to miss on too many long-range shots from beyond the arc, as he wasn’t quite able to consistently knock down his three-point shots. He also was able to use a crossover to score on a right-handed drive to the hoop, but Zeng nearly lost the ball midway through the process, and he will need to tighten up his handles to be able to consistently score off the dribble at higher levels.

On the downside, Zeng was fairly turnover prone on offense.  For the positives, he is a tall, agile playmaker that can handle the basketball, especially in the open floor.  He is an unselfish player that can passes the ball well in the half court, and he would throw crosscourt skip passes to consistently find open shooters to set up scoring chances for them.  On the downside, he had some trouble handling the ball when pressured.  He was called for shuffling his feet that led to a traveling violation, and he also would sometimes over-dribble into traffic and either lose the ball or get it knocked away from him to commit other ball-handling turnovers.  He also threw a very long outlet pass, but he air-mailed it as it sailed out of bounds another time.

Also, Zeng was able to leap up to get his fair share of rebounds in this game.  He would look to crash the glass, and he was able to get boards on both ends of the floor.  He also managed to quickly push the ball up the floor after getting a defensive board once early on.  However, sometimes he wouldn’t box out or get rebounds in his area, and there was one play where he ended up allowing an opponent to score on a tip-in around the basket.

Plus, he also looked to play satisfactory defense against Orangewood Christian.  Zeng did a terrific job of blocking shots, and he would use his length, athleticism, and timing to often swat shots off of drives and in the paint, and he would sometimes direct balls to himself or his teammates.  He also showed solid recovery skills when guarding opponents off the dribble, as he can make chase down blocks, especially when defending slower-footed ball handlers.  He was active in contesting shots in the paint to force misses, but he also showed some ability to defend out on the perimeter.  While he would sag off of shooters to give them plenty of initial space to shoot, he would use his length to close out on shooters to force misses.

He didn’t really play against high-level high-school players or athletes in this game, so it may be tough to tell how well he would consistently hold up when playing against upper-echelon athletes.  The other team didn’t really have a big man that could test him in the post.  They also didn’t have very quick ball-handlers, so it may have allowed Zeng to rack up higher block totals because he could play weak-side help defense and roam to swat shots in the paint.

On the downside, his strong tendency to sag off his man and over-help in the paint would usually lead him to be late to rotate back, as he would give shooters too much space, which would lead him to allow them to score on three-pointers.  He also struggled to defend out on the perimeter early on, as he would tend to commit reach-in and hand-checking fouls in unsuccessful attempts to slow opposing ball-handlers down and to try to force turnovers. Overall, Fanbo Zeng is an athletic, skilled combo forward whose skill set and versatility could make him a very interesting prospect for the 2022 draft.  He may have a considerable amount of upside, but that he was prevented from playing this season may have hurt him from an experience standpoint.

Regardless, it seems like it was probably a good decision for him to sign with the G-League Ignite, given that he will get paid to play in a high-level professional league that will be monitored and watched closely by NBA scouts and teams, and there will be playing time available, especially with the a handful of the 2021 draft prospects entering the 2021 NBA Draft to play in the NBA.  Also, Gonzaga had just added the very talented 7-0 center Chet Holmgren, who projects to be the top pick of the 2022 draft, and with Drew Timme and Anton Watson likely coming back, it would have been uncertain as to how much playing time would have been available for Zeng there, though that would likely have been his next best option.

Fanbo Zeng is an interesting project player, and if he plays well next season, he could really move up draft boards.  He will need to improve his outside shooting and ball-handling in the meantime.  Currently, he projects to be a second round prospect in the 2022 draft, and he could end up being a solid role player similar to current Oklahoma City Thunder forward, Isaiah Roby in the NBA.

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