The injury sustained by Jamal Murray during their game against the Golden State Warriors was a brutal one, but the pair of injuries that P.J. Dozier dealt with this year were huge blows to both the team as well as the player. Dozier was in the midst of his first season as a true rotation-level player for the Denver Nuggets, and, while he still had a lot of work to do on the offensive end. He was showing that he was more than capable on the defensive end of the floor.
Dozier was an interesting watch this season. Heading into his fourth NBA season and second with the Nuggets, he was put on notice last year when the Nuggets traded up to go get R.J. Hampton, who played a very similar role to Dozier while being significantly younger, as Dozier will turn 25 later this year and Hampton won’t turn 21 until February of next year. He answered the bell by becoming a reliable rotation player this season.
His defense was where he was doing his best work, but he did show some flashes of potential on the offensive end with his ability to get to the basket and some hot shooting months mixed in. It wasn’t anything sustainable based on his end-of-the-year numbers
Among players to play in at least 10 games and average 20 or more minutes per game, Dozier was 4th in the NBA in defensive rating with a 102.5, and one of the three players ahead of him was Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz, who was crowned Defensive Player of the Year for the third time in his career. With Dozier on the floor, Denver gave up 105.553 per 100 possessions, and that number dropped to 116.029 with him on the bench. Looking at the two playoff series that Denver played, Dozier’s defense would have been a welcomed sight against Devin Booker, Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Chris Paul.
The big focus for Dozier this offseason, aside from getting healthy, will be on the offensive end of the floor. He had a -2.2 Offensive Box Plus/Minus which was one of the worst marks on the team and the worst among players with at least 1000 minutes. Dozier is a good ball-handler for the second unit, but he needs to work on his shooting. At the rim, he shot 68.2 percent, but he shot just 33.5 percent from the rest of the floor. He doesn’t have to be a knockdown shooter, as he’s going to make his living on the other end of the floor, but he has to be at least respectable somewhere other than the rim.
Season Grade: B+
If Dozier had been better on the offensive end or back from injury for the playoffs, I’m probably making this an A-. Dozier went from a fun player during the 2019-20 season to a legitimate rotation player this year. His defense was a legitimate tool that gave Michael Malone another player to throw at guards or smaller wings that allowed Murray to take on the easier backcourt assignment to preserve himself for the offensive end.
As mentioned, his offense is the main thing holding this grade back. Health, especially soft-tissue injuries, are tough to hold against a player because they can be so fluky. Shooting as poorly as he did from outside of three feet allowed defenses to sag off of him and send extra help to other offensive threats such as Murray or Nikola Jokic that excelled on the interior. It will be important for him to develop a bit more shooting before next season, because otherwise, Malone will be forced to surround Dozier with more shooters to protect driving lanes.
Season Highlight: April 24th Game @ Houston Rockets
In fairness, this game could have been the highlight for a lot of players. Dozier finished the night with a career-high 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting and 3-of-5 from 3-point range. He also added seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks. The key part of this game is when it happened. It was the night after they had gotten beaten by 21 by the Golden State Warriors and less than two weeks after Murray was lost for the season. With the team in the midst of a rough stretch, this huge game, especially for Dozier, who was starting for the injured Will Barton, gave him a big confidence boost in what should have been his run-up to the playoffs.
What’s next for P.J. Dozier
Murray will likely be sidelined to begin the season while rehabbing his ACL injury, and that will lead to a big chunk of minutes for Dozier. The Nuggets felt good enough about his development to trade R.J. Hampton at the deadline for Aaron Gordon, and it will be key for Dozier to make strides this summer and prove them right for that decision. He’s also heading into the final year of his contract with Denver. If he’s planning on testing the open market next season, he needs to show this year that he is still a growing player on offense.
Dozier will be jostling with a few of the other guys for minutes to start the season. Assuming he returns, Barton will likely be the starting shooting guard, and that leaves open a few possibilities for how Malone will handle the other guard minutes. Monte Morris is the best player between he, Dozier and Facundo Campazzo, but Malone could opt for Dozier as a starter to bring more defense along with a stable force to run the second unit.
Dozier, Barton and Aaron Gordon are the three players currently on the roster that have the most to lose or gain over the next year. Dozier will be looking for his first big deal. Barton will be looking for one last big deal, and Gordon will be looking for his second major deal after a somewhat uninspiring last couple of seasons. Dozier has the easiest path for raising his stock, and it’s up to him whether he can put in the work on the offensive end to get that payday.