Welcome to Pounding The Rock’s 2022-23 player reviews! The series will look at all 17 players that finished the season with the Spurs (minus Khem Birch since he never suited up), so we won’t be reviewing players like Stanley Johnson or Isaiah Roby. In the first edition, we will be looking back at the season Julian Champagnie had with San Antonio and his outlook for the future.
2022-23 Stats: 15 games, 11.0 points, 0.7 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 46.1% FG, 40% 3P
2022-23 Salary: Standard two-way contract
Contract Status: Unrestricted free agent
Around the All-Star break, San Antonio made a few moves to take a chance on some young players. Julian Champagnie was one of the beneficiaries of the roster reshuffling that saw more senior players like Stanley Johnson leave the team in favor of G League projects who could turn into long-term pieces.
Champagnie went undrafted out of St. Johns but was signed to a two-way contract by the Philadelphia 76ers before the season. He spent most of his time with the 76ers G-League affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats, playing only 7 minutes for the NBA club. His two-way was replaced by NBA Dunk Contest Champion Mac McClung just before the All-Star break, and two days later, the Spurs picked him up.
The rookie wing took a while to get consistent playing time in San Antonio. He appeared for the first time on March 4th in a loss to the Houston Rockets, but it wasn’t until the end of March and into April when he really got a chance to shine.
With the Spurs all but giving up on the season, the coaching staff decided to hand the reigns over to the guys on their roster that had the biggest question marks. Young players set to hit free agency were given bigger roles and a chance to prove they belonged in the NBA. Champagnie responded in a big way.
Over the last 5 games of the season, he averaged 20 points per game on 48% shooting from the field and 45% from 3. He scored over 20 points in three of his last five contests. Champagnie accomplished this scoring surge by getting hot from three-point range, and using his athleticism to fly to the rim on cuts and for offensive rebounds.
He profiles as a catch-and-shoot wing with defensive upside. He’s not very creative off the bounce, as 100% of Chapagnie’s threes were assisted, and 85% of his twos came off of a pass. The rookie was reliant on his outside shot falling to be an efficient scorer, as over half of his shots came at that range (63%.) Most of those shots were catch-and-shoot jumpers, rather than movement shots coming off of screens and handoffs. With San Antonio, he hit threes at a high rate, and being given a higher volume going forward could lead to some real gravity opening up lanes for drivers when he’s on the floor.
The defensive output is what elevates Champagnie from a chucker on a bad team to a legitimate 3&D prospect. He allowed opponents to shoot 49% from the field during his time with the Spurs. From deep, opponents shot just 34% while being guarded by the wing. San Antonio was a bad defensive team this year, but Julian showed good instincts and the athleticism to hold his own on that end. As he develops, the defensive end of the floor will be what makes or breaks him as a prospect.
Champagnie hits free agency after finishing the season on a high note. Strong play put him in a position where the Spurs will have to think long and hard about bringing him back next season. They will have three two-way spots to fill this offseason and could offer one of them to the second-year wing. They also reserve the right to extend him a qualifying offer, which would make him a restricted free agent.
The question for Champagnie is can he get a guaranteed spot on an NBA roster in San Antonio or elsewhere? If Tre Jones re-signs, Zach Collins’s contract is converted to a guaranteed deal, and a first round rookie joins the team, the Spurs will have three available roster spots outside of their two-way contracts. They will also have two picks in the second round. Champagnie’s competition for a roster spot next season is going to be stiff, and given the need for 3&D wings around the league, he may be a buy-low target for teams around the league.
Some have wondered if Champagnie could replace Doug McDermott as the team’s 3-point specialist off of the bench if the veteran were to be traded for draft assets. McDermott is a more diverse three-point shot maker than Champagnie, but it would fit the team’s rebuilding strategy to flip an asset for picks while opening a spot for a developing player in the process. The question for San Antonio will be: is he ready to take on a bigger role after a hot end to the season?
April 2nd vs. the Kings: 26 points, 6 rebounds
Final Grade: B-
Up next: Gorgui Dieng