For some teams, the NBA Draft ends after the 60th pick gets announced. For the Toronto Raptors and their fanbase, this is where it gets exciting: when a whole bunch of undrafted names gets thrown around. This is, after all, the Fred VanVleet range, and the Raptors organization takes pride in finding gems outside of the draft.
When news broke that Justin Champagnie was signing with the Raptors as a two-way contract player, I had to go back to the tape as I’ve seen some of his games before. It was while watching higher draft prospects like Scottie Barnes and Jalen Johnson play against Pittsburgh. Looking back at my notes, I had him as a common denominator who stood out against the prospect that I was watching at the time.
Despite having a solid NBA Draft Combine scrimmage (I could be wrong, but he was the only player to average double-double), Champagnie’s name was not called by Mark Tatum during the second round of the draft. Looking back at all the mocks that I was following, he barely registered on most top 60 picks. Part of why Champagnie’s stock was low was the knee injuries each year at Pittsburgh. Another is his projected role in the NBA. He pretty much played as a small-ball four, and his game screams of a power forward trapped in a shooting guard’s body.
However, Champagnie is only 20 years old, and the Raptors organization is sold on investing in his development. Apparently, the feeling is mutual.
As many as 16 teams had showed interest in Justin Champagnie but he only wanted to be a Raptor.— Amit Mann (@Amit_Mann) October 6, 2021
He explained why pic.twitter.com/CkPoOn38Oc
Champagnie stands a better chance of getting a look with the main club of the two two-way contract players on the roster. He’s already got the things required from an end-of-the-roster innate to him: his energy and willingness to do the dirty things, crashing the boards, and moving off-ball for scoring opportunities. With the Raptors turning positionless, there could be an occasional use of Champagnie’s skill set, position, and role as an agent of chaos off the bench.
Champagnie had an “OK” Summer League run. He showed us flashes of what he’s good at and also his areas of improvement. However, it was his preseason debut against the Philadelphia 76ers that got everyone excited. Champagnie dropped an all-around game of 17 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals while hitting 2 three-pointers. He was part of that agents of chaos mob that overwhelmed the 76ers who probably thought it was a walk in the park for them.
Unfortunately, it’s been a little bit of downhill for Champagnie since then, as his minutes and performance gradually went down as the preseason games went on. He managed to average 7.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game in the preseason. His PER 36 numbers looked good, too, a double-double average of 14.5 points and 11.3 rebounds. Not bad for a guard. But is he a guard?
For Champagnie to have staying power in the NBA, he would need to transition as a 3+D player. This corner of the internet won’t question whether he can do the “D” as there’s enough tape from his time in Pittsburgh that he fits the Raptors’ “crazy-running-around-like-a-headless-chicken” aggressive defense. It’s his shooting that he would need to work on offensively this season.
Champagnie shot just 1/6 from the perimeter during the combine scrimmage, 3/13 during the Vegas Summer League, and 3/11 during the preseason. The silver lining here is that it’s trending up, much like how his three-point shooting percentage improved from his freshman to sophomore year (26% -> 31%). Luckily for Champagnie, it looks like he went to the right organization. The Raptors have had success developing perimeter shots of their prospects like Pascal Siakam (17.6% at New Mexico State), Norman Powell (31.9% at UCLA), and Chris Boucher (34.4%). As you can see from the video below, Champagnie’s shot is not broken, so I expect him to be a decent three-point shooter (he shot 74.5% from the freethrow line despite shooting only 28% behind the arc at Pittsburgh).
Champagnie’s situation reminds me of former Raptor Oshae Brissett. He started the season with the Raptors 905 with an offensive game that was rough around the edges. His perimeter shot and overall shot creation were never there to start the season. Still, you can count on him with his energy, hustle, defense, and activity. Brissett got his number called midway through the season, leveraged the things he’s good at, and was given a chance to showcase his offensive progress. Long story short, Champagnie brings a lot of similar things to the table that makes him playable. If he develops a perimeter shot, he might be knocking on the back-end of the rotation. After all, the Raptors are thin on wings that can hit a perimeter shot.
For all of these to happen, expect Champagnie to stay with the Raptors 905 for this season, where he should have the green light to shoot at all times. Expect the occasional call-ups, especially on days where there’s a chance for Champagnie to dress up for both the Raptors 905 and the main club. We will be monitoring his progress through the Raptors Prospect Report every week.