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Julian Champagnie talks chasing space and getting comfortable in San Antonio

A midseason arrival and Summer League standout, Champagnie enters the second year of his career with a new contract, a deeper comfort level, and a chance to make a bigger impact with his low-maintenance two-way game.

NBA: Summer League-Portland Trail Blazers at Charlotte Hornets Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

On the court, Julian Champagnie doesn’t stay in one spot for long. “Back cuts, chasing space — that’s where I think I make my bread and butter,” said Champagnie in an interview on Spurs media day. “Being a movement shooter. A guy who moves around, who helps his teammates get buckets. And I’m here to help with that.”

The numbers back it up: no Spur held the ball for less time on a per-possession basis than Champagnie, who has found quick success in San Antonio fitting into its offensive system with quick decisions, outside shooting, and a frame built to play multiple positions.

Off the court, Champagnie is happy to be settling into his basketball home here in San Antonio. After going undrafted in 2022 and latching onto the 76ers on a two-way deal, he was waived and subsequently picked up by the Spurs mid-way through last season, also on a two-way. Opportunities in the rotation allowed Champagnie to show out more than in his previous stop, finishing the season with averages of 11 points, 4 rebounds and 40.7 3-point shooting in 15 games as a Spur.

In July, Champagnie re-signed in San Antonio for a reported 4-year, $12 million deal, a rewarding bookend to a roundabout rookie year. “It just feels good to know that my work paid off. I don’t think I’m where I want to be at yet [but] just knowing that they took notice of all the things I tried to do to make a statement, it just feels good.”

Where Champagnie is now is still a valued piece in today’s NBA: a big wing who can shoot the three at a high level, defend multiple positions, and make quality decisions while on ball.

“I think it’s a piece of everything,” he said when asked to describe his game. “A little piece of passing, a little piece of handling. Obviously shooting the basketball is my strongest attribute. Defensively I’m long, tall, so doing my job at that end. But just a piece of everything is what I try to bring to the table, and really whatever you need that night is what I’m willing to give.”

What goes into chasing space so effectively? It’s something Champagnie has shined at since his days at St. John’s University, where he earned First Team All Big East in his sophomore and junior seasons.

“Coach [Popovich] always preaches to move without the basketball. When I was in college, my coach preached the same thing. Back cuts all the time — in college I think I got 10 points on back cuts. So, I think just reading defenses, seeing where everyone is at. Obviously I’m not the an on-ball guy in the league, so the defense tends to ball-watch.

While Champagnie says his game isn’t analytically-friendly by design, his shot chart looks like one you might cook in a lab for a complementary player, or an Excel sheet. Per the league’s shot tracking data, he took just 8 mid-range shots all of last season, hitting 4. The rest? In the paint or beyond the arc.

“I like shooting 3s, I’ll be honest. A lot of the time I either get 3s whether they’re contested or open, or I get back cuts. So I’ll just keep moving and they either find me at the 3 point area or I get layups. I’m not saying I don’t want to shoot midranges, but the game just doesn’t usually flow that way for me sometimes.”

It all makes for an interesting springboard for Champagnie heading into his first full season as a Spur. The stats may or may not be there as they were in the waning months of 2022-23, but it’s hard to imagine a cleaner fit alongside heavier-usage players like Victor Wembanyama, Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson, or players who could benefit from the spacing and off-ball activity, like Jeremy Sochan and Tre Jones. Consider Champagnie’s 6-9 frame and mobility, and you have a strong case for a rotation spot on a team leaning into positionless ball and ready to make noise. It’s handy that he fits the young core’s timeline, having recently turned 22, and is now on a long-term deal that seems like a win for both sides.

“I’m comfortable. That’s the biggest part is that I’m comfortable with the guys, the coaching staff. For the most part I know they’re asking of me, so I don’t have too many questions about it. Obviously it’s my second year so it’s still a learning process and I’ll continue to grow in those spaces. When I’m comfortable, I’m able to do a lot more and show a lot more.”

There’s a path to a more realized Julian Champagnie out there (he mentions developing his handle and already demonstrated some on-ball chops this summer) but he doesn’t seem to be getting ahead of himself. When asked of his focuses for this season, Champagnie’s response reflects an attitude that will likely serve him well in his nascent NBA career: appreciably practical, but with a meaningful end goal in mind — not unlike one of his cuts to the basket.

“[I’m] making sure that if I’m asked of it, I can do it. Staying ready in all those other categories that I could possibly be called on... [I hope to] just stick around. I love San Antonio — the organization, the city, the fans, the people. My goal is to stick around a long time.”