Champagnie shows off a different skill set at NBA Summer League


Image courtesy of Matt Hawley, Pitt Athletics

Former Pitt forward Justin Champagnie signed a two-way contract with the Toronto Raptors and saw his first professional action last month at the Las Vegas Summer League.

By Stephen Thompson, Sports Editor

Former Pitt forward Justin Champagnie did not hear his name called on the night of the NBA Draft like he expected. But his disappointment didn’t last long. Shortly after the end of the second and final round, he signed a two-way contract with the Toronto Raptors and saw his first professional action last month at the Las Vegas Summer League, every rookie’s first stop after signing.

Champagnie put together a couple of impressive performances, even showing flashes of some improved skills that weren’t necessarily his strong suits in college. He was a sudden threat from deep in one game and a solid defensive force in all five of his appearances. His last game in Las Vegas was a vintage Champagnie performance — a double-double — and the best of his first nine days in the NBA.

In his first professional game against the New York Knicks on Aug. 8, Champagnie appeared to have dramatically improved his 3-point shot. He knocked down a pair of triples in the first half, one of which came in transition. Champagnie was still drifting towards the edge of the far corner when he caught the pass, but collected his feet and nailed the open attempt.

But that burst was short-lived. He made just one of 11 3-point attempts over the remaining nine halves of the Summer League. Still, he finished with 10 points on 4-7 shooting from the field and a couple of assists over 15 minutes on the floor. He also made both of his free throws in the 10-point win over New York.

After sinking a couple of open jumpers in the first half of game one, he went 1-11 from distance, including a pair of misses in the second half of that same game. And from the field he was not much better, just 40% over the course of the five summer games.

He was never a tremendous shooter — if anything, he was streaky. Champagnie played a total of 53 games at Pitt. In 13 contests, he hit two or more triples and in eight of them he hit three or more. But in 24 games he either didn’t make or didn’t shoot any. He finished his college career a 28% shooter from distance.

After struggling offensively for a few games, he started on Aug. 17 against the Nets and rediscovered what made him so dominant at Pitt. He posted an 11-point, 11-rebound double-double in nearly 23 minutes of action. Champagnie added an assist and two steals for good measure in an 86-72 win for Toronto.

Inconsistent on the offensive end, yes, but Champagnie was a menace on defense, which was not necessarily considered one of his strong suits coming out of college. He was a solid but rarely spectacular defender at Pitt. He was a good athlete who could recover well, even after mistakes happened, but his technical skills on that end didn’t stand out like they did with former teammate Au’Diese Toney, for example. 

But in his five Summer League games, Champagnie averaged 1.6 steals and a block per game over just 17 minutes per contest. For reference, at Pitt he averaged 1.1 steals and a block over 33.4 minutes a night, the latter of which almost double what he has seen in the pros. 

At 6-foot-6 and 200 pounds, Champagnie is strong enough to hold his own against bigger wings and in the first professional action has demonstrated an ability to keep up with smaller, quicker guards when targeted on a screen and roll.

Champagnie will almost definitely swing between the Raptors and their affiliate of the G-League, professional basketball’s development league, Raptors 905, throughout the season. How often and for how long he is on an NBA roster depends on the health of the team in Toronto.

Keep an eye on their injury report throughout the 2021 season, because if injuries or COVID-19 sideline take a serious toll on the Raptors, Champagnie and fellow two-way contract signee David Johnson, a guard from Louisville, will be the first up to provide depth.