3 pleasant surprises on the Toronto Raptors roster in 2021-22

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 23: Fred VanVleet #23 and Justin Champagnie #11 of the Toronto Raptors drives against the Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 23: Fred VanVleet #23 and Justin Champagnie #11 of the Toronto Raptors drives against the Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images) /
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Justin Champagnie, Toronto Raptors
WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 21: Justin Champagnie #11 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Raptors have overcome the absence of Goran Dragic, the lack of a traditional center, and a young roster without a player over 30 to assert themselves as a viable postseason contender in the East. Names like Scottie Barnes and Gary Trent Jr. have stepped up and supported the two stars in Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam.

The Raptors might be fighting for a postseason spot, but the front office has been very clear about the fact that this season is also about making sure that young players have enough time to develop. Based on the early returns, Toronto is well on its way to accomplishing both of those goals.

While everyone expected VanVleet and Siakam to do their things in the starting lineup, fewer anticipated that so many players would emerge as reliable secondary and tertiary options. The growth we’ve seen from this team has been genuinely impressive in some areas.

These 3 players had some realistic goals set in front of them when the season started, but they have shattered those expectations. If they keep this up, they could give Toronto enough support behind their two lead stars to help guide them to yet another postseason push.

3 pleasant surprises on the Toronto Raptors roster.

3. SF Justin Champagnie

The Raptors signed Champagnie with the expectation that he would develop his offensive game in the G League. Halfway through the season, Champagnie has already leapfrogged over established veterans like Yuta Watanabe and Svi Mykhailiuk in the Raptors rotation.

The Raptors are much better when Champagnie is on the floor, likely due to his skills as a rebounder and ability to hustle on both ends. While not an amazing shooter at this juncture, he’s more willing to put the rock in the air than he was during his college days at Pitt.

Justin Champagnie keeps getting better for the Toronto Raptors.

Until recently, Dalano Banton was essentially excommunicated from the rotation. David Johnson has been almost entirely 905-exclusive this year due to performance, injuries, and the health and safety protocols. Champagnie can be argued to have been the second-best Raptors rookie this season.

The next steps in Champagnie’s development are related to his scoring ability. Getting putbacks on offensive rebounds is a huge boost for this team, but that can’t be the only arrow in your quiver. If he improves there, don’t be surprised for a second if his two-way contract gets converted into a standard NBA deal.