Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
What to make of the Slovenian Cyborg
As part of Denver Stiffs’ transition from Denver Nuggets postseason coverage to offseason coverage, staff members will be conducting End of Season Reviews for all 17 players on the roster. There will continue to be news, NBA draft, free agency, and trade articles, but over the next three weeks, an accompanying End of Season review (or two) will also post every week day.
Today’s review: Vlatko Čančar
In all of the drama of the 2017 NBA Draft, the least discussed part of Denver’s nightly escapade was the selection of Vlatko Čančar at 49th overall. Čančar wasn’t expected to ever be a major contributor, but after a solid 2018-19 season in Europe, the Nuggets decided to bring him to the Summer League roster for a second time to see if he had an NBA future. The Nuggets must have liked what they saw as they extended a full-time contract to the Slovenian forward. Though his game was mostly unrefined, the Nuggets saw some glue guy potential in Čančar. They signed him to what amounted to a three-year minimum contract, and though he hasn’t made an impact on the floor yet, Čančar has made some fans with his hard work, good natured personality, and dedication to his craft thus far.
Vlatko Čančar Regular Season/Playoff stats
45 total minutes, 17 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, one extremely memorable moment.
As seen above, it wasn’t an extremely notable season from Čančar. He served as the team’s 15th man almost every night and rarely saw garbage time minutes because of Denver’s need to find extra playing time for Michael Porter Jr. wherever they could. Čančar only exceeded five minutes played in one game against the Utah Jazz when the Nuggets truly had seven healthy bodies on the roster. More on that later.
Though Čančar didn’t play a ton of minutes this year, he served an important role as a player on the end of the bench. His friendship with Nikola Jokić has gone under the radar, and players that befriend the star player may often serve an important role for the culture of the team. Čančar’s place on the team was important for Jokić too, who started off the year slowly and needed some extra motivation. Jokić would begin lifting weights after games starting in early December, and Čančar was one of the most supportive teammates during that process for Jokić.
It’s clear that Čančar didn’t serve a major role for the Nuggets on the floor in 2019-20. Though that could change in later seasons.
Season Grade: Incomplete
It’s nearly impossible to properly grade Čančar’s contributions to the roster without hearing from players about the inner workings of the locker room. His jump to the NBA wasn’t a heralded one, and due to the presence of Porter, Bol Bol, PJ Dozier, and other exciting young players, Čančar’s presence went largely under the radar. That doesn’t mean that he wasn’t important, but we need to see more of Čančar on the floor before assigning him a legitimate grade.
Season Highlight: Magnificent Seven appearance
The one game where Čančar spent more time on the floor than any other was in the Magnificent Seven contest against the Utah Jazz. The Nuggets had just traded Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, and Jarred Vanderbilt, and the players Denver acquired weren’t ready to play yet. Will Barton, Michael Porter Jr., Mason Plumlee, Paul Millsap, and Jerami Grant also sat out due to injuries.
Was Čančar excellent in the minutes he played? No. Čančar only played 16 minutes while all of Denver’s starters ranged from 36 to 42 minutes themselves. He didn’t score a bunch of points or play a flashy game, but he did a lot of the things that good teams need from role players: he set screens, rebounded, played with toughness, executed defensively, and did what the Nuggets asked him to do in limited minutes.
Čančar finished with four points, four rebounds, and a block, winning over the hearts of Nuggets fans everywhere by contributing to such an improbable and impressive victory.
What’s next for Čančar
It’s unclear whether Čančar has an NBA future, and given that he only played 45 minutes this past season, I would lean that he doesn’t. Still, he showed enough physicality, toughness, and basketball IQ against the Jazz for me to say that I can’t rule it out. He’s never going to be a dominant scorer or creator, but if he develops a comfort level hitting open threes, can rebound well, and defense power forwards and centers, there’s a place for him in the NBA somewhere.
I’m rooting for Vlatko. He just seems like an incredibly nice guy. He’s laid back, laughs a lot, and he also once told me that he loves Denver Stiffs. Anyone who says that gets the Big Stiff stamp of approval for life.
Here’s hoping the Nuggets find a place for Čančar at some point.