The Denver Nuggets went into All-Star weekend with the third best record in the NBA and the best record in the Western Conference at 41-18. It’s interesting to note that while they’re the best team in the West, the Nuggets had only one All-Star representing the squad in Utah: two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic. While Aaron Gordon could have been a shout for an All-Star reserve spot, the rest of the Nuggets roster wasn’t really on the All-Star radar.
Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray could have had a case, but they’ve missed 17 and 14 games, respectively, during this campaign. This season the Nuggets have once again relied heavily on the Joker, who is a huge favorite to win his third straight MVP award, which would be the first time since Larry Bird in 1984-86 that the NBA has seen a player win three in a row.
Denver can’t burden the Big Cevapi so much down the stretch of this campaign if they expect to make a deep playoff run. That means they will need Gordon to continue the career year he’s been having and they’ll have to get Murray and MPJ on the court more consistently.
The Nuggets bench needs to step up as well, as evidenced by their 33.2 bench points per game, which is just 19th in the NBA. The moves Denver made at the trade deadline have boosted the bench, and with that extra talent, they should be able to make more of a difference. Here are three Nuggets bench players who need to step up and get more opportunities down the stretch.
Vlatko Cancar, Forward
Vlatko Cancar was drafted by the Nuggets in the second round back in 2017 and didn’t make his debut for the team until 2019. It has been quite the journey for the Slovenian, going from fringe prospect to the current role he’s carved out for himself this season. Back in November, Cancar was way down in coach Michael Malone’s rotation, but his hard work and feel for the game have been recognized, and since the start of 2023, he has been the second man off the bench behind Bruce Brown.
Cancar has been playing more than 20 minutes per game in 2023, and he has not wasted his opportunities, showing that he has fostered a growing chemistry with a fellow Eastern European in Jokic. The 25-year-old has been as efficient as possible with the limited opportunities he’s had, putting up a 50-40-90 shooting line so far this season.
As evidenced in the above video, his movement off the ball and vision as a playmaker (he had six dimes against the Heat in that game) are nothing to scoff at either. With the Joker as the focal point of Denver’s potent offense, Cancar is a perfect role player alongside him thanks to his excellent off the ball movement and his strong shooting stroke. Cancar started in five of Denver’s final eight games going into the All-Star Break, and should continue to be trusted to do so whenever Denver’s missing a starter.