This summer, the Minnesota Timberwolves signed a handful of experienced veterans to help strengthen the depth of their roster. Minnesota’s success last year has allowed them to become a more attractive place for free agents to sign. As a result, they were able to add some very talented role players to the team. PJ Dozier is one of the veterans they signed, and he has flown a bit under the radar.
Dozier is a talented combo guard from South Carolina who grew up in a basketball family. PJ’s father, Perry, uncle Terry, and sister Asia played basketball at the University of South Carolina. Terry went on to play NBA for one season and in several other international basketball leagues. With their help, PJ honed his skills at a young age. PJ cut his competitive teeth playing intense games of one-on-one in the backyard with Asia, who knew the commitment it took to become a successful athlete. Per ESPN’s Dana O’Neil, Asia pushed PJ to work harder than anyone else in the family.
Perry coached PJ for much of his life. He occasionally stretched the truth about PJ’s age, saying he was two years older so that PJ could enter youth leagues and tournaments with older kids. O’Neil wrote that Perry did this so “PJ not only would be challenged by the older, bigger boys, but also would avoid being pigeonholed and stuffed in the post from the first day he touched a ball because he was so much taller than kids his own age.”
All of the hard work paid off. PJ is now a tall guard in the NBA and played important minutes as a role player during the Denver Nuggets’ run to the Western Conference Finals in 2020. However, his road to success has come with its fair share of injury-related bumps.
Dozier tore his ACL and MCL in high school. He had surgery on his MCL immediately, but not on his ACL because the doctors approved him to play on it and feared surgery would stunt his growth. Dozier played through the pain for several years before getting it fixed before going to college. Playing through injuries is overly glorified in sports, as it can often be harmful to people’s long-term health. Regardless, this story identified how tough Dozier is and how much effort he has given to making his dream come true, no matter what roadblocks stood in his way.
Last year, Dozier suffered another tragic ACL tear after establishing himself as an important part of the Nuggets rotation and likely earning a nice contract extension. As a result of these unfortunate injuries, PJ hasn’t had a fair shake at showing the NBA what he can really do after developing his skills with the talented Nuggets coaching staff.
However, he is healthy again after reconstructive surgery and rest. If he can remain healthy, Dozier has the chance to wow Wolves fans and team executives by making a heartwarming comeback on a team with championship aspirations. At just a few weeks under 26 years old, PJ is still young. He’s about to enter the age range where NBA players have historically hit their prime. The best years of his career may be yet to come.
What is Dozier’s potential with the Wolves?
While Dozier’s counting stats may not jump off the page, his impact on the court was felt by his former teammates on the Nuggets, who have been vocal with their praise of his game. After the Nuggets lost to the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs last year, Nikola Jokic highlighted that the team missed Dozier’s presence on the court along with Murray and Michael Porter Jr., who could not play due to injury. “People forget we lost PJ,” Jokic said. “PJ was injured. I think he was a big part of our basketball. The guy who is six-foot, I don’t know, seven, eight, nine, ten, whatever. He’s big. He can handle the ball, guard multiple positions. He knows our system. I think we miss him.”
Jokic’s quote does a good job of both describing Dozier’s versatility as a player and the importance he had to the Nuggets. Teammates likely know more about each other’s games than anyone else because they play together in practice. In this environment, role players get to show off more of their skills in scrimmages than in a regular season game setting with rigid roles and rotations for players. The immense respect that Dozier gets from Jokic suggests that there’s more to Dozier’s game than we have seen.
While Minnesota’s roster is packed with talent this year, Dozier can break through because he plays a role that the Wolves need. Listed at 6’6″, 205 lbs., PJ is big for a combo guard and known for his good perimeter defense. His height gives him an advantage over smaller guards and may make him one of the better options off the bench for defensive help, especially against other big guards like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. It may even help him get opportunities to play up to the 3 as a wing defender because he has the length to match many players at the position. Dozier is also an elite off-ball defender, which DNVR Sports highlights in this film breakdown.
Dozier has also shown an ability to light up the scoreboard on offense when given the opportunity. In his first career start, Dozier scored a career-high 23 points on 10 of 13 shooting while also dishing out 3 assists and grabbing 7 rebounds.
While his three-point shooting percentage has hovered around 32% for his career, he has a nice-looking shot and has shown the ability to heat up. If this percentage goes up a bit, he may be a serious threat as a 3-and-D wing. The Wolves also only have two “traditional” point guards on the roster in D’Angelo Russell and Jordan McLaughlin. Therefore, Dozier’s ball-handling skills may be extremely helpful for the team, especially if either player rests on a back-to-back or has to miss a few games.
PJ brings versatility to the roster that could be extremely helpful for the Wolves throughout the season. He also has an incredibly high ceiling to keep improving because of his physical tools, intelligence, and age. Jamal Murray once called Dozier the funniest teammate he’s had, so we can expect him to bring some smiles to the locker room. Given everything he’s been through, I hope Dozier can make a strong comeback from injury this season. Maybe he can use it as a springboard for a new contract and a long career in the NBA.