There is an incredible amount of uncertainty surrounding the resumption of the NBA season.
With cases of COVID-19 spiking to record numbers seemingly day after day in Florida — the state where the NBA is set to resume their 2019-20 season — and a growing number of players choosing to not play in the abbreviated resumption of the season for a plethora of reasons, no one really knows what tomorrow holds.
Despite all of that uncertainty, Denver Nuggets guard P.J. Dozier earned something incredibly rare — stability.
On Wednesday morning, two league sources confirmed to Mile High Sports that Dozier’s two-way contract will be converted into a full-time NBA deal. Shams Charania of The Athletic was the first to report the news. Additionally, Nick Kosmider of The Athletic reported that it is not only a deal to finish out the rest of this season, but a multi-year contract.
Suddenly, Dozier was no longer playing for his NBA career. For the first time, Dozier had a sense of safety in his professional life.
This is the story of how Dozier’s work ethic, resiliency, and connections to the Nuggets — thanks to his South Carolina roots — led him to finding stability during the most unstable time in NBA history.
As Dozier watched the 2017 NBA Draft unfold, the reality began to set in that he would not hear his named called. As pick after pick came in, Dozier’s name was not among the 60 that were announced as a draft selection.
Suddenly Dozier was thrust into a position he would become incredibly common in his professional life over the next few years — fighting for his NBA career.
At first, he found a home with the Dallas Mavericks, but that only lasted two months as the Mavericks let him hit the waiver wire before eventually becoming an unrestricted free agent. The very next day, he signed a two-way contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder before signing another two-way contract — this time with the Boston Celtics — just six weeks later. For the next year, Dozier spent nearly all of his time with the Maine Red Claws of the G-League where he continued to work on his game as he awaited his next opportunity at making a NBA roster.
As July 1st, 2019 arrived, Dozier was once again let go. The Celtics chose to renounce his cap hold which left him without a home. So Dozier got to work to find his next opportunity. That is when he spoke with Nuggets small forward Torrey Craig, who has known Dozier “for a long time; since he was little,” as Craig told Mile High Sports back in January.
Craig was uniquely positioned to give Dozier the exact advice he needed. Craig and Dozier both hail from South Carolina, both of them went undrafted, and both of them had to utilize a two-way contract to earn their spots in the National Basketball Association.
That is why when Craig told Dozier that Denver would be an ideal landing spot for him, Dozier listened. That conversation was a catalyst that led to Dozier earning his first full-time NBA contract.
“Even before the Nuggets put him on the two-way, I was talking to him and telling him that I knew he would kind of get an opportunity here and telling him my story and how it worked out for me and stuff like that and then he ended up coming,” Craig told Mile High Sports back in January after Dozier’s debut. “So I was excited for him. To see him get an opportunity like that…I was like ‘take advantage; take advantage’ and he was like ‘I already know’.”
When the Denver Nuggets eventually signed P.J. Dozier to a two-way contract back on October 17th of last year, there were few people who were more excited than Craig, but Nuggets head coach Michael Malone was one of them. From the very start, he made it crystal clear that he felt Dozier was and is much more than a G-League talent. In Malone’s eyes, Dozier was clearly ready for the NBA and all he needed was a chance.
Unfortunately for Dozier, he was on a Nuggets roster which was already filled to the brim with established and talented players who deserved playing time. Denver entered their 2019 training camp with two unquestioned starters at both guard spots in Jamal Murray and Gary Harris. Denver also had Malik Beasley coming off the bench, who had a breakout season the year before. On the wings, Will Barton III was starting while Michael Porter Jr., Torrey Craig, and Juancho Hernangomez battled for minutes off the bench. There was simply no room for Dozier to show what he can do at either guard position or even at small forward.
Despite how impressed the Nuggets organization became with Dozier on and off the court throughout the early months of the 2019-20 NBA season, the only opportunities he was receiving was playing time in the G-League. So, instead of hanging his head or getting frustrated, Dozier did what he always has done; worked his way into a better opportunity.
From the moment he arrived, Dozier proceeded to set the G-League on fire as he flirted with triple-doubles regularly. After his 18 games with the Windy City Bulls, Dozier was averaging 21.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists, and 1.6 steals per game while playing just under 37 minutes a night. In those 18 games, he had eight double-doubles, six games with 10+ rebounds, five games with 10+ assists, and three games scoring at least 30 points all while playing every position other than center.
In those 18 games, Dozier showed off his fantastic feel as a playmaker, how impactful he can be on defense, his overall versatility on both ends of the court, a growing offensive arsenal, and his unshakable work ethic. That is when the Nuggets felt it was beyond time to bring him up to the majors and give him the ability to take advantage of an opportunity if one arose.
“I told him…that he is destroying the G-League,” Malone explained back in January when asked about Dozier’s play. “I don’t know what else P.J. can do in the G-League. He goes down there and puts up big numbers every night, has an unbelievable attitude, and a great work ethic…I believe in P.J. Dozier and he believes in himself. All he needs is an opportunity.”
Well, on January 15th of this year, Dozier finally had his chance and he made the most of it.
The Nuggets were taking on the Charlotte Hornets on the Pepsi Center floor. Denver was already without Paul Millsap and Gary Harris so they decided to call Dozier up from the G-League to provide some insurance against another possible injury. Lo and behold, Murray ended up going down with what looked to be a pretty serious an ankle injury in the second quarter and the Nuggets were without both of their starting guards and their starting power forward for the foreseeable future.
That is when Dozier entered the game and took full advantage of the opportunity he was so desperately waiting for.
“I thought — when Jamal went down — that I am thankful that we called P.J. Dozier up,” Malone stated after the Nuggets escaped with their 28th win of the season. “P.J. — who is an NBA player with no doubt in my mind — went out there and has a huge impact on the game.”
In just 13 minutes of action — with nearly all of those minutes coming in the fourth quarter of a game that was within single digits for the majority of regulation — Dozier had a career-high 12 points to go with four rebounds and two assists. He shot 5-7 from the field, hit 2-4 shots from beyond the three-point arc all while not committing a single turnover in his Nuggets debut.
“This has been the opportunity I have been waiting on so I was just trying to take advantage of that,” Dozier told the media after his Nuggets debut.
It was in that moment that the Nuggets organization had their opportunity to speak proudly about how talented Dozier is while making it abundantly clear that he belongs at the NBA level.
“This is his opportunity to show the world that he is supposed to be at this level,” Morris said of Dozier after beating the Hornets. “He is not a G-League player. We all know that. We know that he is a great player, a great point guard, and he is an NBA player. I am looking to see him to keep playing like that. That is how he can play. He can defend, he is long and I am just happy for him.”
“He is an exceptional pick and roll player,” Malone explained when asked why he had confidence in Dozier to step up when Murray went down with his ankle injury. “If you put P.J. Dozier into a pick and roll, something good is going to happen and you saw that tonight.”
That game served as a jumping-off point for Dozier. Including his debut, Dozier played a Toal of nine games in January as the Nuggets dealt with injury after injury. In those nine games, Dozier averaged 6.2 points, two rebounds, and 2.1 assists while playing just over 14 minutes per game. He had 19 assists against just seven turnovers and also showed his ability to immediately impact the game on the defensive end of the floor.
That was when the Nuggets organization started having more serious discussions about how viable Dozier would be as a long-term piece of their puzzle.
Fairly quickly, the Nuggets began to operate as if they were going to at least sign Dozier into their final roster spot which would make him eligible to play the postseason. But as Dozier continued to grow and fit in so well with the Nuggets organization on and off the court, Denver quickly realized that signing him for the rest of the season wouldn’t be enough. They did not want to lose him so they made the decision to offer him a multi-year contract which will keep Dozier in Denver for the foreseeable future.
For Dozier, getting his first full-time NBA contract is the moment he had been waiting his entire life for. Every shot he ever took, every single minute he spent perfecting his craft, all the time working through injuries, and the years of studying the game he loves culminated in his first legitimate NBA contract.
For Alex English — Nuggets legend, Hall of Fame inductee, and fellow resident of South Carolina — seeing Dozier get his first full-time NBA contract serves as a great source of pride. English has known the Dozier family for decades and has personally known Dozier since he was “a little boy,” as he told Mile High Sports during an interview conducted via FaceTime.
“You know, his mom and dad; they’ve done a great job. (They are) a great family,” English told Mile High Sports. “I know his uncle as well because they both played at university and he did a great job. They did a great job of rearing him. He’s just a nice person.”
While the relationship between English and Dozier did not fully blossom until Dozier arrived at the University of South Carolina, they are now very close. English operates as a mentor of sorts for Dozier as he continues to find his way through the extremely murky waters of NBA basketball while Dozier makes time every summer to travel back to South Carolina to attend English’s basketball camps where he takes time to speak to kids and give back to his community — something that English holds near and dear to his heart.
“You know when he comes home in the summertime, he always comes out to my basketball camp to speak to the kids and just give some great message,” English told Mile High Sports unsolicited.
Dozier does not hide the fact that English is someone he looks up to. When he was asked about English back in January, his face lit up with excitement. Dozier, who is usually soft spoken during interviews, gave the media a glimpse into just how appreciative he is of English’s mentorship.
“It means a lot man. He was always a mentor growing up for me,” Dozier explained. “He has helped me through a lot — through thick and thin. Like I said, I have always looked up to him and like you said, he is a legend here and definitely back in South Carolina.”
The adoration that Dozier has for English is mirrored by the adoration that English has for Dozier. When English was asked by Mile High Sports to describe the resiliency that Dozier has shown throughout his journey to his first full-time NBA contract, the delight in his voice was clear.
“That is just a testament to who he is, you know? He believes in himself,” English explained to Mile High Sports. “He has a lot of confidence in his game and he has really worked hard. You know, he had the injury in high school. To be able to come back from that is says a lot. And then, you know, he had an injury while he was in college as well. And, you know, he has just overcome all those things and it is only gonna make him a stronger player as he goes through his NBA career. To have the credentials that he had coming out of high school, but then not getting drafted — and you know that only as a basketball player; I can attest to that being a second-round pick myself — that only makes you work harder. And he has worked. He has put his put his time in the developmental league with the teams, and now he has gotten this contract that is going to give him some ability to be comfortable with his game, be comfortable with how he plays, and he is only going to expound and expand. I know that once I got that ability as a player — a guaranteed contract — it just gave me a big sigh of relief. Now I can really play like I want to play.”
Before getting off of the FaceTime call with Mile High Sports, English was asked one more question: if you could send a message to P.J. Dozier right now, what would it be?
“Only congratulations to him and tell him to keep on keeping on,” English told Mile High Sports. “Keep on doing what you’ve done. You put the work in.
“I’m proud of you and you’re gonna be okay.”