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Denver Nuggets Film Friday: Breakout finder PJ Dozier

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NBA: Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re not familiar with Film Fridays, each Friday, I’ll be looking at some recent Denver Nuggets’ games, lineups or something else from a film aspect to try and bring you a piece of content that you’re not getting somewhere else. Feel free to give any feedback positive or negative in the comments or find me on Twitter.

This is the first part in a mini-series that I’ll be completing this offseason looking at potential breakout candidates for next season. This obviously won’t include guys like Nikola Jokic or Will Barton that are established players, but it will shed a little bit of light on guys that have been role players or bench guys thus far that are ready to take the next step. The first topic of discussion will be guard PJ Dozier.

Dozier is heading into his fifth NBA season, and it will be his third season with the Nuggets. After receiving mostly garbage-time or injury minutes during his first season in Denver, he was a legitimate rotation-level guard for the Nuggets during Year 2 including starting six games throughout the year. Dozier’s presence was especially missed in the playoffs when he was sidelined with a hip injury. His on-ball defense and ability to handle the ball was something the team could have used in both of their playoff matchups that featured guard-heavy teams.

Heading into the 2021-22 season, Dozier is in the final year of his deal with the Nuggets, and he’ll be looking to make his case for a big contract next offseason. The combo guard could make a case to start next to Jamal Murrary or in Murray’s place while he recovers from his ACL injury. The bottom line is, for Dozier, this is a huge season. If he’s able to achieve some of the things we talk about today, he could see a major change in his basketball future.

3-Point Consistency

If Dozier could become a 40 percent or better 3-point shooter, that would be fantastic. I don’t expect that to happen. However, if Dozier could at least get to be a 35 percent shooter from outside, it would dramatically alter the way Denver is defended by opponents with him on the floor. Look at this play from the team’s matchup with the LA Clippers, Dozier gets a screen from Jokic. Paul George is content to go under the screen because Dozier was only shooting 31.5 percent from 3-point range this season. If Dozier was at 35 percent or better, maybe George goes over the top of the screen which then gives Jokic a one-on-one matchup with Ivica Zubac in the middle of the paint. That little bump creates a bump in production for everyone else on the floor.

Dozier being able to consistently hit catch-and-shoot 3-point shots would be the biggest improvement. His catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage this season was just 32.5 percent. There wasn’t a lot of consistency as to the shots he would miss compared to the ones that he would. On this play, Facundo Campazzo gets into the lane which forces the defense to collapse on him. When they do, Campazzo finds Dozier who rises up for the easy 3-point make. If he can just improve on this simple playtype, that would go a long way towards his development and playing time.

Work Off of the Ball

As a cutter last season, Dozier was in the 25th percentile among qualified players. On the Nuggets, the only player in a lower percentile that qualified was Will Barton. Dozier can handle the ball, but he’s rarely going to be the primary ball handler. More importantly, in order to be successful with Jokic, a player has to be effective at cutting to the basket. This play is a good example of what Dozier should be focused on. He’s in the corner watching Jokic work. Once his defenders move towards his teammates, he cuts in for the easy layup. While that just looks like two points on the board, it will turn into more points later when defenders have to stay at home on Dozier which gives Jokic the one-on-one matchup.

This is an example of what Dozier shouldn’t be doing off the ball. He shot 42.9 percent on looks from 16 feet out to the 3-point line, but it remains one of the least efficient shots in basketball. While Dozier can hit that shot occasionally, he should be looking for areas where he is better on the floor. Dozier wraps around the hand-off from Jokic and rises up for the long two-point shot. Instead, he could have hit Aaron Gordon on the right wing for an open 3-point shot, and, if Draymond Green closes out on Gordon, Gordon would be able to hit Jokic for a good look at a shot from close to the rim.

Take Another Step on Defense

Among rotational guards, Dozier was the Nuggets best defender, and you could make the argument that he was the team’s best on-ball defender in general. Among players that averaged at least 20 minutes per game while playing in at least five games, Dozier was fourth in the NBA in defensive rating. One of the three players ahead of him was Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. Dozier’s on-ball defense is something that not all players possess, and his combination of size and instincts make him a difficult matchup for opponents on that end of the floor. On this play against the Memphis Grizzlies, Dozier is in the midst of a struggling night on the offensive end, but he makes you forget about those struggles with his play on defense. The clock is winding down, and he’s giving Desmond Bane a lot of room to operate. Ja Morant flips the ball back to Bane and slides to make Dozier adjust his path, but, thanks to his 6’11” wingspan, Dozier is able to get out and smother the shot to the point it never even gets close to the rim.

For as good as Dozier’s on-ball defense is, his off-ball defense could go up another level next year. This is generally true for most young players. They have no problem focusing on the assignment in front of them, but they have to learn to focus on the assignment’s around them to make sure they’re always in the right spot. On this play, Kawhi Leonard gets a pair of screens from Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins. Dozier’s man-to-man assignment is George. He stays close to PG, but he doesn’t pay enough attention to what Kawhi is doing. Kawhi has a one-on-one matchup with Jokic. George is a great player, but he was in the middle of a game where he finished the night 5-of-21 from the floor. He could have slid over to at least make Leonard hesitate before driving to either give Michael Porter Jr. time to slide over or Gordon time to finish fighting over the screens. The Nuggets went on to win the game, so this play was inconsequential. However, making this slight adjustment and improvement ahead of next season is what could take Dozier to that next echelon of defenders.

For those of you that are still here, remember to leave your feedback in the comments or over on my Twitter, and have a fantastic film-filled Friday.