Toronto Raptors: Is Justin Champagnie earning a role in the rotation?

Oct 4, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors forward Justin Champagnie (11) Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 4, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors forward Justin Champagnie (11) Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Toronto Raptors are looking for anyone that is willing to step and assert themselves in what looks likes a very fluid rotation, and they aren’t excluding undrafted free agent Justin Champagnie from that mission.

The Raptors might’ve used their three selections in the 2021 NBA Draft on some studs with potential on both ends in Scottie Barnes, Dalano Banton, and David Johnson, but they wasted no time in snatching up the former Pitt star. He was signed to a two-way deal minutes after the draft ended.

Considering that Champagnie earned a First-Team All-ACC nomination (Barnes was Third-Team) on the back of averaging 18.0 points, 11.1 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, and 1.2 steals per game during his final season, his production can’t be questioned. It’s rare to see a player with his stats in that conference be passed over 60 times.

Champagnie was identified as a player that could spend a large chunk of his time with Raptors 905 in the G League, but he’s been so impressive in the eyes of Nick Nurse that Champagnie has averaged 21 minutes per game in the preseason, while his two-way mate in Johnson has averaged 8.4 minutes per game.

Champagnie averaged 7.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game in the preseason, flexing his muscles on both ends. Champagnie is playing so well that it may be hard to keep him out of the rotation.

Will Justin Champagnie make an impact on the Toronto Raptors?

Champagnie, who has already been identified as a potential rotation player by Nurse, went undrafted due to his unusual player profile. While he isn’t a great jump shooter at this point in time, the fact that he is listed at 6-6 and barely over 200 pounds had some questioning if he could be a full-time post player in the pros.

So far, Champagnie appears to be answering those questions, making plays as a rim-runner, defensive scrapper, and scorer inside the paint. The energy and hustle he brings to the game is palpable, and if his offense is further along than anticipated, he could easily boost that frontcourt with Pascal Siakam and Chris Boucher on the mend.

If Nick Nurse takes on the challenge of making him an above-average shooter, as he made just 28% of his 3-point attempts in college, he could carve out a very long career with the Raptors as a frontcourt sparkplug off of the bench.

Champagnie has already endeared himself to Raptors fans by claiming that he wanted to play with Toronto right after his workout despite interest from over half the league. He wants to be here, and he’s showing that he’s already an NBA-caliber player.

Justin Champagnie is not a perfect player, but he has shown some very intriguing flashes of defensive skill, tenacity on the boards, and offensive skill. Nurse clearly has a soft spot for him, and should he continue to make some incremental additions to his game, he could become a rotation mainstay by the end of the year.

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