The NBA is a superstar driven league, and has been since Larry Bird and Magic Johnson made it a household product to sports fans in America. While the league and its image are pushed forward by the superstars, there are plenty of stories that entail hard work and perseverance just to make it on a roster. The Denver Nuggets’ P.J. Dozier followed the latter of those two paths to his NBA dream.
The Nuggets’ P.J. Dozier Earns NBA Keep
Dozier, a third year guard from South Carolina, has gone from undrafted, to two way contract, to G-League All-Star, to a contributor on a playoff contender. The road traveled has been bumpy and included multiple stops, but the hard work is finally paying off. He joined the Nuggets in January and has become a reliable part of Coach Mike Malone’s rotation.
Like his father Perry, the younger Dozier played his college ball for the South Carolina Gamecocks. He was a McDonald’s All-American as a high school senior, and wasted no time in making his mark at his hometown school. The Gamecocks had 51 wins in his two seasons in garnet and black. He teamed with current New Orleans Pelicans guard Sindarius Thornwell and Miami Heat forward Chris Silva to lead South Carolina to its first ever Final Four appearance.
After going undrafted, Dozier moved around to a couple of NBA rosters, but couldn’t find the right fit. He began playing in the NBA’s G-League and was able to show what he can do. After a solid first season, the versatile wing from Columbia, SC blossomed into a big time player. Over the next season and a half in the G-League, Dozier averaged 21 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists a contest. NBA teams began to take notice of all the things he could do. He was not only a scorer and play maker on offense, but a high IQ defender with good length and instincts. Much of that can be attributed to his time at South Carolina under defensive minded head coach Frank Martin.
Carving Out a Role
Denver’s contingent of guards was hit hard buy injuries early in the season. Dozier was brought in to fill a roster position and get spot minutes off the bench. He played in 21 of the next 25 contests as a rotation player at guard. When the NBA restart began, he saw his role increase. He became one of Coach Malone’s first choices off the bench. Dozier had four double figure scoring outings during the eight seeding games, including career highs with 20 points and 31 minutes played in the season finale. The coaching staff has seen their confidence in him grow over the last few weeks. His role has increased because of that. He was signed to a full time NBA contract before the team arrived in Orlando for the bubble.
Capture the Moment
For the non-stars in the NBA, finding a role and remaining ready to contribute when your number is called is key to sustaining a spot on a roster. In Tuesday’s season saving win over the Utah Jazz, Dozier showed he can do just that. He didn’t play in game four of this first round series, but that did not take away from his preparedness when his number was called in game five.
Dozier made back to back good defensive plays late in the third quarter to spark a Nuggets run. He got a block and drew a charge while guarding Mike Conley on consecutive possessions. Denver converted on the offensive end with buckets from the red hot Jamal Murray on both occasions. The second basket gave them the lead. After not playing in game four, Dozier was on the court for the entire fourth quarter in a must win situation for the Nuggets.
His energy and attention to detail helped elevate Denver’s defense in the fourth quarter. The Nuggets had struggled to contain the Jazz on offense for most of this series before the second half of Tuesday’s contest. Coach Malone needed someone to spark his team on the defensive end. When his number was called, P.J. Dozier was ready to answer. Murray’s shot making heroics rightfully grabbed the headlines as the Nuggets survived elimination. Coach Malone made a point to praise Dozier as the game’s unsung hero with his effort on defense.
When the season started, Dozier was still just a guy trying to catch on anywhere in the league. Now he is being trusted to handle pressure minutes late in playoff games for the Nuggets. The biggest thing for young players is to know their role, and be ready and willing to excel at it when the opportunity arises. Dozier showed he was ready in game five. It also showed that he has earned the trust of the coaching staff that put him out there in crunch time. The Nuggets need to continue that fight as they still trail 3-2 in the series. Game six with the Jazz is currently scheduled for Thursday afternoon. That may change, though, with the emergency Board of Governor’s meeting.