With vet­eran Gal­li­nari on his way to Clip­pers, Nuggets’ sec­ond-year small for­ward has some big shoes to fill.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Nick Kos­mider The Den­ver Post

As Juan­cho Her­nan­gomez drilled one 3-pointer and gob­bled up one re­bound af­ter an­other against Golden State in Fe­bru­ary, ig­nit­ing one of the best per­for­mances of the sea­son by the Nuggets, it was easy to pic­ture the rookie for­ward be­com­ing a key piece of Den­ver’s fu­ture.

That fu­ture could be ap­proach­ing quickly for the 6-foot-9 small for­ward from Spain.

With the Nuggets fin­ish­ing a sign-and-trade deal Tues­day that sends Danilo Gal­li­nari to the Los An­ge­les Clip­pers — for a sec­ond-round pick in 2019, ac­cord­ing to a source — Her­nan­gomez is in line to be­come a ma­jor piece to the ros­ter puz­zle at small for­ward.

The Nuggets be­lieve the 27point, 10-re­bound per­for­mance by Her­nan­gomez against the War­riors, which in­cluded six 3-point­ers, pro­vided a win­dow into what he could con­trib­ute in his sec­ond sea­son and be­yond: namely, a small for­ward mo­bile and big enough to cre­ate mis­match prob­lems with his shoot­ing and pro­vide ver­sa­til­ity on the de­fen­sive end.

“One thing Juan­cho al­ways does is play ex­tremely hard,” said Nuggets as­sis­tant coach Micah Nori, who will be coach­ing Her­nan­gomez and the rest of the team’s sum­mer league ros­ter in Las Ve­gas be­gin­ning Fri­day. “Now what you’re go­ing to get is a kid who has a year’s worth of NBA ex­pe­ri­ence un­der his belt. Whereas last year you’re go­ing into ev­ery­thing as a new ex­pe­ri­ence and you’re sur­viv­ing on en­ergy, now he doesn’t have to burn as much say­ing, ‘Hey, what am I do­ing?’ He’s been through it.”

Her­nan­gomez will play only a few games at the sum­mer league, which the Nuggets be­gin at 8 p.m. MDT on Fri­day against Hous­ton, be­fore re­turn­ing to Spain to prac­tice with the na­tional team ahead of its play in Eurobas­ket 2017 at the end of Au­gust. In the time he does spend in Las Ve­gas, Her­nan- gomez will have a fea­tured role as a scorer. Nori and Nuggets head coach Michael Malone went over sets Tues­day that the team will run for Her­nan­gomez.

There is prob­a­bly more ros­ter change com­ing for the Nuggets, who reached an agree­ment with power for­ward Paul Mill­sap on a three-year, $90 mil­lion con­tract Sun­day. Point guard Ge­orge Hill had been a re­ported tar­get for Den­ver, but he agreed to terms on a three-year deal with Sacra­mento on Tues­day. Play­ers can of­fi­cially sign new con­tracts Fri­day.

It wasn’t im­me­di­ately clear Tues­day where the Nuggets will turn their at­ten­tion next. They still have to con­sol­i­date the crowded power for­ward po­si­tion. And their re­ported pur­suit of Hill and their ex­plo­ration of an op­por­tu­nity to ac­quire Phoenix’s Eric Bledsoe on draft night last month point to a de­sire to up­grade the point guard spot.

Re­gard­less of the moves that are made go­ing for­ward, Her­nan­gomez will cer­tainly see an el­e­vated role next sea­son. Re­plac­ing Gal­li­nari’s pro­duc­tion at small for­ward will be no easy feat. The 6-10 Ital­ian av­er­aged 18.2 points and 5.2 re­bounds while shoot­ing 44.7 per­cent from the field and 38.9 per­cent from 3-point range. De­spite in­juries that sapped him of some of his ath­leti­cism, Gal­li­nari had been one of Den­ver’s most con­sis­tent play­ers since ar­riv­ing in 2010 through the trade that sent Carmelo An­thony to the Knicks.

Wil­son Chan­dler, a 6-8 for­ward who av­er­aged 15.7 points over 71 games and was also a part of that trade, is an ob­vi­ous re­place­ment as the start­ing small for­ward, though he played mul­ti­ple po­si­tions last sea­son.

Still, it will take depth at the po­si­tion, along with im­proved de­fense, for the Nuggets to take the next step in their pur­suit of their first play­off ex­pe­ri­ence since 2013. Nori and other Nuggets coaches and front-of­fice per­son­nel have been ef­fu­sive in their praise of Her­nan­gomez’s work ethic. Tues­day pro­vided a com­mon scene this sum­mer, they’ve said: Her­nan­gomez shoot­ing shots by him­self well af­ter prac­tice had ended.

“Ev­ery sum­mer I try to make some goals, and this sum­mer it’s to try to get my body ready for next year,” said Her­nan­gomez, who av­er­aged 4.9 points and three re­bounds dur­ing his rookie sea­son. “I’m try­ing to be con­sis­tent on my shot, be con­sis­tent play­ing one-on-one and be­come the most com­plete player I can be.”

David Zalubowski,The As­so­ci­ated Press

Nuggets for­ward Juan­cho Her­nan­gomez, bat­ting Golden State’s Dray­mond Green, presents mis­match is­sues for foes.

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