When Paul Millsap decided to ink a three-year deal with the Denver Nuggets in July, he instantly became one of the top-three free-agent signings in team history — right up there with Kenyon Martin and Antonio McDyess. The power forward and one-time Montbello resident will undoubtedly improve this season’s Nuggets’ team with the addition of his passing and his playmaking from the front court; a pitch-perfect compliment to budding star and fellow big man Nikola Jokic.

An improvement in the Nuggets’ record and a season-long fight for a playoff spot should not only be hoped for — it should be expected. Adding coveted free agent Millsap, who spent the last four years with the Atlanta Hawks, made the Nuggets a better team.


Lurking beneath the surface, however, the Nuggets have a significant issue that’s been under-addressed as the offseason rapidly comes to a conclusion: the team’s depth at wing — and in particular, the small forward slot — is dangerously thin. When Danilo Gallinari left for the Los Angeles Clippers, one-half of the league’s most versatile combinations at the small forward slot left with him; now only Wilson Chandler remains.

Losing ‘Gallo’ in free agency isn’t, in and of itself, a game-changer. One will (rightly) point out that Gallinari’s frequent injuries and relatively-advancing age put him on a different career trajectory than the rest of the Nuggets’ core of Jokic and guards Gary Harris and Jamal Murray. However, losing that versatility with his buddy Chandler should give fans pause, and is likely to cause head coach Michael Malone more than a few headaches.

Who will follow ‘Ill Will’ in the rotation? At the moment, second-year player Juancho Hernangomez and rookie Tyler Lydon are the likeliest candidates. Hernangomez, however, is a wispy power forward at heart, leaving only Lydon, the rookie from Syracuse, as a true ‘three’.

Meanwhile, the Nuggets roster is seemingly comprised as a plethora of power forwards, including Millsap, Hernangomez, Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, and draft-day trade acquisition Trey Lyles. That doesn’t even count the still-unsigned Mason Plumlee, who played power forward next to Jokic last season.

The hints coming from the Pepsi Center seem to indicate that the Nuggets believe that Hernangomez is perfectly capable of backing up Chandler this season — the shooter from Spain did play most of his minutes for Denver at the ‘three’ last season. However, as his standout play at this year’s Eurobasket tournament indicates, it’s likely that Hernangomez is a better fit at power forward. Could Hernangomez step into the rotation as a Gallinari-like, versatile player who can play at both positions? That’s certainly what the Nuggets hope.

By not replacing Gallinari at the position he occupied for the last six seasons, the Nuggets are saying more about their trust in Hernangomez than they are about anything else. Injuries are unavoidable in the NBA and if Chandler has to miss some time — and he’s only played more than 62 games three times in his six seasons with the Nuggets — Denver will be relying heavily on Hernangomez to step into that role, along with Lydon. Is that something the second-year Spaniard and a rookie can realistically do for a team that is signaling they have playoff aspirations after spending a king’s ransom on Millsap? By not adding an additional small forward in the offseason, the Nuggets are banking on it.

The Nuggets are looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2013, and the road forward may have to be paved by two very young wing players. It’s a big gamble — and the Nuggets are hoping it strikes gold.