Justin Champagnie’s Inherent Magnetism

A superhero of minute skills.

8 mins read

The art of attraction, only this time it’s for basketballs.

The Toronto Raptors have struck out into new territory in an attempt to trailblaze a way forward with the advantages and limitations of their current roster. A bench that almost refuses to score the basketball has created an environment where Nick Nurse and the starters have signed off on playing 40+ minutes every night. The NBA’s highest scoring bench, San Antonio, provides nearly 17 more points every game than the Raptors. The scoring differential between the Raptors bench and the second worst bench in the NBA is roughly the same gap between teams 29 and 23.

The style of the bench has been set, overwhelmingly, by Precious Achiuwa and Chris Boucher. If the bench does anything well – defend, grab offensive rebounds – it aligns with their game. The Raptors bench has the best defensive rating in the NBA, and the highest ORB-percentage by a wide margin. The goal? Defend like hell, and grab extra rebounds to support the stars on the roster with extra possessions. They didn’t sign scoring talent, or trade for it, or draft it. They’ve been betting on different types of players, and Justin Champagnie is one of those players.

From Joe Wolfond’s terrific piece about the Raptors and possession differential earlier this season:

“We’re always in a possession battle, right?” Nurse said last month. “So, just making sure we get more is always our No. 1 goal. Whoever has more possessions, more shots, is a huge determinant in winning. So, yeah, I would like the differential to be the focus.”

Nurse said the Raptors’ goal is to be plus-five in shooting possessions.

Champagnie was grabbing over 3 ORBS a game at Pitt – that was his outlier, elite skill – and at only 2.3 rebounds per game at the NBA level, he might be the league’s best rebounder that no one talks about. Let’s cut out the garbage time and the meaningless minutes, because no one cares about those types of uncontested rebounds. If he played less than 3 minutes in a game? Forget about it.

18 games (11 minutes per game) with meaningful minutes. Champagnie has grabbed 33 offensive rebounds. Nearly 2 per game (6 ORBS per-36). Per Cleaning the Glass’ ORB-rate, no wing player grabs a higher percentage of their teams misses (14.2-percent).

Champagnie in the 100th-percentile for wings, Scottie Barnes the 99th-percentile for forwards, and Dalano Banton the 93rd-percentile for combos – hmm, a pattern emerges from the Raptors draft class and playstyle.

So, it’s pretty clear that he’s good at rebounding, but it’s important to know why. If we’re not going to entertain the idea that Champagnie is some sort of basketball magnet, we need to explore further.

Yes, my tweet came before Blake’s. We all know my commentary informs his.

Two hands, to grab things

Smaller players are going to have less opportunities to grab boards than big players. That’s a fact of the game, and so it stands that smaller players have to make good on their opportunities and squeeze the orange. Champagnie has excellent hands, the plurality is the important part. Incoming basketballs are corralled by both hands whether it’s off the glass or off the pass. Champagnie’s willingness to never contort his body in a way to lead with his right, but to always approach a ball in play holistically, using whatever hand is best at that point in time, that’s unique. The fact that his left hand is just as capable as his right means that his wingspan is far more functional than most players.


So, this one is related a little bit more to scheme, but Champagnie freestyles well within it. The Raptors rarely ever position him anywhere other than the corner or the dunker spot. His interpretations of the rebound and the developing play are what’s important. As a shorter player, you have to supplement your rebounding numbers by grabbing some of the longer ones, and Champagnie has an uncanny ability to spring towards the bucket for the short hoppers, and burst into the mid-range for the longer ones. This is how he manages to grab as many ORBS in the 6-10 foot range as he does in the 0-3 foot range.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way. He really has a knack for it, and he just really believes he can get them all. And he will. He’ll get his hands on them and tip them to himself, tip them to other guys. He’s tough, man. He’s tough.” – Nick Nurse on Champagnie’s rebounding ability

Most people have heard about Dennis Rodman’s obsession with making reads off the rim. How he would have his friends shoot thousands of shots from different spots on the floor with different arcs on them, and in doing so his brain began to log what type of shot created what type of rebound. There’s no quote from Champagnie claiming he’s emulated this strategy, but based on the reads he makes off the rim, his brain has been logging shot attempts from a very young age. These proactive reads are how Champagnie has gobbled up the majority of his ORBS from shots that come from 19+ feet out.

Champagnie creates the terms and the environment to succeed at this skill in the NBA. His endless hours of work to get to this point, his foresight to choose the Raptors as his destination coming out of the draft knowing this was the island of misfit toys where he could come to succeed, that’s why he’s successful.

So, it seems wrong to call him a basketball magnet. The ball doesn’t find him, he finds it. It seems more accurate to call a basketball a “Champagnie magnet”. Wherever the ball goes, he shows up.

Have a blessed day.


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