When the Denver Nuggets drafted Vlatko Čančar with the 49th pick of the 2017 NBA Draft, it was with the expectation that the Slovenian forward may never see a minute of NBA action. Four years later, after two seasons of playing sparingly in the NBA in 2019-20 and 2020-21, it’s clear that Čančar is an NBA-caliber player who can be helpful in the right situation.
The Nuggets have made playoff runs in each of the last three seasons, and the strongest part of their roster has always been their frontcourt rotation. Led by Nikola Jokić the MVP winner and Paul Millsap the sage veteran, the Nuggets have also featured Michael Porter Jr., Jerami Grant, JaMychal Green, Mason Plumlee, and JaVale McGee at various points during the last two seasons. Michael Malone and the Nuggets also like to go small, playing three guards consistently and often featuring players like Will Barton and P.J. Dozier at small forward.
That has led to very little time for Čančar up to this point. In his brief minutes, he has shown a willingness to do the difficult things while others retain the glory, and that has endeared him to his coaches and teammates as a steady option going forward. He had some brief moments this past season where that side of him shown through, and it’s very possible that Čančar is in line for a more sizable role in the rotation going forward.
Vlatko Čančar 2020-21 per game stats
|Games||Minutes||Points||Rebounds||Assists||Turnovers||2-point %||3-point %||True Shooting %|
Despite playing in 41 of the 72 Nuggets games, Čančar only amassed 281 minutes throughout the regular season as one of Denver’s deep reserve options at the forward spots. The Nuggets struggled to figure out their rotation for a long time, and it wasn’t until March when the Nuggets decided to fully commit to Vlatko in the final three games before the All-Star break. The Nuggets went 3-0 and Čančar played reasonably well, but it took absences to Paul Millsap and JaMychal Green as well as Michael Porter Jr. playing power forward before the Nuggets went that route. When he was out there, Čančar brought a stable option to the rotation, somebody who would work hard defensively, rebound, move the ball, cut, and hit the occasional jumper. A low-maintenance option who helped contribute positively to the good things around him.
For most of the season, Čančar was a reserve option off the bench who played during garbage time. It was rare for Čančar to have regular rotation minutes, and it wasn’t until the very end of the season again when the Slovenian forward returned to consistent playing time. He filled in minutes at the end of the season for a very banged up Nuggets rotation that was missing several guards. Čančar once again showed what he could do (and what his weaknesses were) in a limited time, but that time disappeared in the playoffs where he played just over 20 total minutes in 10 games.
Best Moment — Scoring his career high in Minnesota
It was rare to see Čančar convert so many outside jumpers as he did against the Minnesota Timberwolves toward the end of the season. For a player like Vlatko who is always hustling, doing the dirty work, setting screens for others and rarely getting the glory himself, watching him hit shots and be the beneficiary of Nikola Jokić passes was awesome. Čančar struggled with his jumper for most of the year, but he certainly had it going against the T-Wolves.
Player Grade — C+
Any Nuggets media member will tell you what kind of relationship Vlatko Čančar and Nikola Jokić have. They connected very early and have been best buddies ever since. Čančar would have likely received a ‘C’ without his connection to Jokić, but one’s impact on the other cannot be overstated. Jokić just won an MVP award, and the biggest reason for it, beyond Jokić’s insane level of talent, is his happiness and comfort level within his current situation on the Nuggets. That isn’t the only reason Vlatko is getting this grade, but it’s a contributing factor.
On the playing side of things, Vlatko wasn’t the most impactful player within his role. His defense wasn’t good enough on a consistent basis, and there’s only so far that “doing the little things” can take him when he’s shooting 27% from three-point range. However, Vlatko gets a pass for bad efficiency due to such irregular minutes. He shot the ball better when he had more consistent playing time. The young Slovenian forward showed enough to earn a C-level grade.
Right now, it appears that Čančar is killing it for the Slovenian national team. Luka Dončić will of course gain most of the highlights and notoriety, but Čančar just doubled up All-Star Domantas Sabonis in points scored (18 to 9) while helping Slovenia win the qualifying tournament over Lithuania. Čančar is averaging nearly 12 points per game as a starter and will hopefully have a full experience as a contributor during the Olympics in Tokyo.
On the NBA side, The Nuggets have some major decisions at forward this offseason: extensions for Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon, a player option for JaMychal Green, whatever the heck to do with Bol Bol, and even whether to make Zeke Nnaji more wing or big going forward. Vlatko fits into that mess somewhere, as he has a team option worth just under $1.8 million for the 2021-22 season that the Nuggets must decide on before the start of free agency (within a couple weeks if I’m not mistaken). $1.8 million isn’t that much, and the expectation should be that the Nuggets bring back Čančar unless something unexpected happens this month.
What Nuggets fans should be interested in is Čančar’s role heading into 2021-22. On top of Green’s player option, Paul Millsap and JaVale McGee are both free agents. Denver’s entire backup frontcourt could be reworked considerably, and both Čančar and Zeke Nnaji are candidates to take a step up in consistent playing time. How the Nuggets replace their veteran free agents will have a significant impact on next season’s rotation, and Čančar could be the beneficiary.