PJ Dozier loves a good nap.
Who could blame him? Dozier has played for six teams in the NBA
and G League across his first three seasons, all while on two-way
contracts. During those years, he bounced between the two leagues
at a moment's notice. For Dozier, rest is not only a way to take
care of his body, but also an important part of his developing
routine with the Denver Nuggets.
"Routines are great," Dozier told BasketballNews.com in May. "I
feel like the best players have really good routines, whether
that's on off days [or] game days. Being a two-way player, it's
hard to have a routine because you don't know where you're going to
be the next day, or the day before or the day after. It's hard to
stick to that same routine night in and night out."
Dozier is the only player in NBA history to have entered three
different seasons on a two-way contract with three different
franchises. But now the 24-year-old guard is signed to a multi-year
deal with the Nuggets, and before an untimely adductor strain ended
his season in May, Dozier had emerged as one of the team's most
versatile defenders. He wouldn't change a thing about his
"God put me there for a reason," he said. "It was much-needed --
to take those steps, to be ready for the opportunity I have
"Every time he's given an opportunity to play and extend his
role, he's taken it and run with it," Nuggets coach Mike Malone
said before Denver faced the Los Angeles Lakers on May 3.
"Nothing's been handed to him. He's earned everything he's
Dozier inked his first two-way contract with the Oklahoma City
Thunder in 2017 after going undrafted as a rookie from South
Carolina. A season later, he signed another with the Boston
Celtics. Then came a third two-way opportunity with the Nuggets for
2019-20. Each game, Dozier battled for his squad, no matter the
league or opponent.
"That was the biggest thing for me: to try to stay ready, so I
won't have to get ready," Dozier said. "And also, just to be where
my feet are. If I was in the G League, that's where my focus was
at. I wasn't worried about anything else other than taking care of
business there. And then when I get the call, now my focus shifts
to whatever they need me to do on the other ball club."
Getting the call meant wildly different commutes depending on
the team. In OKC, Chesapeake Energy Arena is right down the street
from the G League arena where the Blue play. Boston's TD Garden is
nearly a two-hour drive from the Red Claws (now Maine Celtics) in
Portland, ME. The Nuggets didn't have a G League affiliate last
season, so Dozier moved between Denver and the Windy City Bulls in
Dozier says the coaches and management did their best to give
him notice of a call-up or assignment a day in advance. But
sometimes, a game-time decision meant getting the call last-minute
and immediately driving (or flying) to the arena to suit up for the
team that night.
"My bag was never really unpacked," Dozier said. "I was living
out of my suitcase."
G League squads often try to have a similar on-court style as
their parent program. But every team is nuanced, and Dozier said it
was still an adjustment learning six different systems in three
The uncertainty didn't faze him. Dozier averaged 17.9 points,
6.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game across those three seasons
while earning All-G-League-Third-Team honors with the Red Claws.
However, it did test his confidence.
"The first year was kind of tough, just not really being with
the team but kind of being with the team -- it's like, am I really
on the team?" Dozier said, since he played just two games with the
Thunder that season. "[But] just staying the course, staying
focused. Following the first year, [I signed] the next two-way and
seeing the progress that I made... that was big. I was able to see
my growth as a player and understand that."
0n June 30, 2020, before the Nuggets left for the NBA Bubble,
they converted his two-way deal into a full multi-year NBA
"For me it was like, 'About time I get a full contract!' But
it's a blessing, especially to land in a great organization like
the Denver Nuggets," Dozier said. "Landing here in this
organization, and having the coaching staff, teammates [and] front
office have confidence in me that I was going to be ready when my
number was called, that was big."
Dozier is part of a trend in Denver of talented players with
unheralded draft status who have developed into impactful players
on a contending team. That's led by former
second-round-selection-turned-MVP-winner Nikola Jokic, but it
includes most of the roster. Aside from Jamal Murray, Michael
Porter Jr. and rookie Zeke Nnaji are the only first-round picks who
have been drafted by the team.
"I don't look at guys based on your status [or] what round
you're drafted in," Malone said. "[Dozier] was playing for us while
he was a two-way player and helping us win games... You love the
fact that he's as big and strong as he is, [and] the versatility he
"We have a lot of guys that went under the radar that this
organization took a chance on, ultimately, and had confidence that
these players were good enough to compete against other players
that were lottery picks and were drafted very high," Dozier said.
"It speaks highly on the organization [and] the way that they
sculpt their talent, and go after guys that may not be the
prettiest on the board or have all the accolades and things like
that, but they know that they're getting guys that want to
The 6-foot-6 guard made a serious impression on Malone back in
the Bubble, when he defended the likes of Mike Conley and Jordan
Clarkson in Denver's series win against the Utah Jazz. Dozier has
seen increased minutes per game in every calendar month through
April (aside from a one-game February due to injuries), and was on
pace for a career-high 27.8 minutes per game in May before his
season was cut short.
Part of the uptick was by necessity -- Murray, Monte Morris and
Will Barton had been battling injuries. But Dozier also earned the
trust of the coaching staff. Malone even gave him an unprompted shout out after a Dozier-led defensive
effort held Paul George to 5-of-21 shooting in Denver's 110-104 win
over the L.A. Clippers.
"Paul George is an All-League-type player," Malone said after
the game. "Not one player guards a guy like that by himself. But to
hold Paul George tonight to 5-of-21 from the field -- I thought
PJ's defense, being locked in, being disciplined, was a big part of
A week earlier, Dozier made his first career start in front of
his mom, Theresa, and the home crowd. It was the culmination of a
lifetime of work and three years of patience on the fringes of NBA
rosters. Dozier scored 23 points in his debut as a starter, and
averaged 11.5 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists across the six
games in the starting lineup before going down with the injury.
"Definitely a dream come true," he said. "I always want to stay
focused on the little milestones and achievements, and continue to
grow and make higher goals to reach. But that was definitely one
that I've always dreamed about: being able to start at this
It's easy to look at Denver's second-round exit and see where
Dozier could have helped against the Phoenix Suns. Devin Booker and
Chris Paul each averaged over 25 points per game for the Suns in
their four-game sweep.
In 10 total playoff games, the Nuggets gave up the fifth-most
points per game (120.3) while allowing opponents to shoot 49.1%
from the field (third-highest) and 41.7% from long range
(second-highest). The young guard may not have dramatically turned
the tables, but he could have made a difference on defense.
In Denver, and in Dozier, there's a current of respect for the
quiet hustlers in the Association. Dozier still has active group
chats with players from every NBA and G League team he was on. He
considers it a gift to have met so many unique people in his young
"Everyone has their own journey; everyone kind of had their own
story, and no one's was really the same," he said. "You had guys
that were in the NBA that were trying to get back there. You had
guys that had never touched the NBA ever, and so that was still
always their goal."
Dozier's story of game-day flights, hastily-packed suitcases and
power naps is among them. But he plans on writing quite a few more
"I got a long way to go and I'm still trucking at it," Dozier
said. "I love this -- count my blessings -- but I know that I have
a lot in store [and] a long way to go."