Sam Merrill was one of the most clutch shot-makers in college basketball last year. A true cold-blooded killer, Utah State’s all time leading scorer gave us a One Shining Moment to remember with his game-winning shot against San Diego State.
There are few individual moments that can define a player, but this a highlight that will be synonymous with Merrill’s name in Logan for a lifetime. It was that and, more importantly, his Mountain West tournament MVP performance, that moved him on the NBA Draft radar.
Merrill had a legendary career at Utah State, scoring 2,197 points in four seasons and leading the Aggies to two Mountain West conference tournament championships and an NCAA Tournament bid. If Merrill’s name gets called on Thursday, he would be the first Utah State Aggie to be drafted since Greg Grant (Pistons, 1987), and he would be the oldest player (25) drafted since Pablo Prigioni in 2012.
Shooting and scoring:
Merrill is a sniper beyond the three-point arc and you could make a legitimate case that he is the best shooter in the entire draft. Merrill was a career 42% three-point shooter and was nearly automatic from the free throw line at 89%. This is on par with some of the truly elite college shooters over the last decade, including former first-round picks Cam Johnson, Dylan Windler, Jimmer Fredette, and Klay Thompson. While some may categorize Merrill as a catch-and-shoot guy, Merrill created most of his attempts by himself. Throughout his career, Merrill was a self-creator, using a step back and crossover. In addition, Merrill showed he is able to get his own shots in the mid-range, shooting 55% from two. Even without elite athleticism, Merrill has proven he can make plays with his basketball IQ using change of pace and deception. Merrill can be an immediate offensive weapon with his natural ability to shoot off ball screens and his proficiency in the pick-and-roll game. Merrill is capable of the getting buckets in the NBA on day one.
ESPN’s Mike Schmitz had this funny analysis after witnessing Merrill dominate the Mountain West Tournament in Vegas:
“Scouts and executives half-jokingly deemed Merrill the Luka Doncic of the Mountain West for his step-back 3s, cerebral game and ability to get to all of his spots by way of deception, forceful change of direction and strength. Although clearly not in the same stratosphere as the 6-8 Doncic, Merrill did show that same type of clutch gene as a primary shot creator.”
Age and athleticism:
As we mentioned about Obi Toppin, most scouts are looking to draft mature athletes. Merrill is the oldest person in the draft by a long-shot and there is not much teams can do to develop him. So basically, Sam Merrill today is what you are going to get. Especially being a second-round pick, teams are likely trying to hit the jackpot and gamble on potential alone. Merrill is the exact opposite of that with a safe floor but limited further upside. While Merrill is extremely skilled, he lacks the elite athleticism that is often necessary to compete in the NBA. Merrill has good size at 6’5 but he is not an elite vertical jumper. There aren’t many highlight videos of Sam Merrill dunking. So in order to score he may be limited to catch-and-shoot jumpers. In college, he has shown lock-down potential as a defender, holding Malachi Flynn to 6-20 shooting in the Mountain West championship game. However, he excels at guarding due to his diligent film study and anticipation. So it’s fair to question if he can physically handle the responsibilities of guarding the C.J. McCollums and Jimmy Butlers of the NBA.
High End NBA Player Comp: Pat Connaughton
I know, I know...but this is honestly the perfect fit. Connaughton was another guy who was a college basketball lifer, picked late in the second round, and has been able to carve out a pretty good role for himself in the NBA. Connaughton is a career 34% three-point shooter and has gotten significant minutes on a contending team. Merrill can bring the same value. Both players are elite shooters who excel coming off of ball screens. I project Merrill to have more upside due to his ability to create space and his passing in the pick-and-roll game. Merrill is a college basketball hero who is not going to fade away quickly at the next level. His buzzer-beater may be his brightest moment, but it’s not going to be the last thing we hear from him. Merrill will be making shots at the next level for a long time.
Draft Projection: 58th overall to the 76ers
The 76ers are the one team in this draft that cannot afford to pass on a shooter like Merrill. They were the worst three-point shooting team in the league last season and just hired a coach in Doc Rivers who likes to run his offense from the perimeter. The 76ers need to surround Ben Simmons with shooters to open up the paint. Merrill can be a guy who could provide a spark off the bench. The 76ers really missed having JJ Redick last year, and Merrill is a guy who has a shot at filling his role in a small capacity. There are few guys at pick 58 who can contribute on a win-now team, but thankfully for the 76ers, Merrill is one of them.