Utah Jazz NBA Draft Prospects: Utah State Guard Sam Merrill
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Continuing our examination of NBA draft prospects that could help push the Utah Jazz closer to contender status, we examine Utah State senior guard Sam Merrill. The Jazz own the 23rd pick in the draft, though the clutch senior is projected to be selected somewhere in the late second round to going undrafted.
The NBA draft is slated for November 18, with the virtual draft combine beginning on September 28. The Jazz first-round pick is their only selection in the draft after trading their second-round pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2018.
Sam Merrill: 6’5, 205 lbs Guard – Sr – USU
19.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 46% FG/41% 3p/89% FT
As evidenced by his shooting splits, Sam Merrill is one of the best shooters in the draft. The Utah State senior routinely hit difficult shots from well beyond NBA three-point range and did so at an eye-catching rate.
Merrill shot better than 40 percent from the three-point line in three of his four college seasons, finishing with a 42 percent career success rate on a staggering 5.8 attempts per game. That compares favorably to some of the truly elite shooters in the draft over the last decade including UNC’s Cam Johnson, Belmont’s Dylan Windler, BYU’s Jimmer Fredette, and Washington State’s Klay Thompson.
The senior guard has a quick release and consistent shot form that allows him to get looks off with defenders in his face and contesting his shots closely. Merrill is a real threat off screens to catch and shoot or dribble into a shot, a lethal weapon in today’s NBA.
At 6’5, Merrill’s height allows him to get his shot off easier than some of the more frequently seen college shooters who hit a high percentage but don’t get an opportunity to play in the NBA. Additionally, uses his frame to turn the corner will the ball in his hand and finish near the rim.
Though he regularly initiated the offense at Utah State, he’ll likely be asked to serve as a secondary ball-handler which he does at an adequate level and better than some traditional college sharpshooters. In addition to his ball-handling, Merrill is a willing passer with a healthy 3.9 assist per game average.
Though he lacks athleticism, Merrill moves his feet well enough to stay with some of the better guards in college basketball. With a bigger frame, the senior is harder to target defensively and doesn’t allow shooters to get easy looks over the top of him.
Sam Merrill hits the clutch three to send Utah State to the tournament 😱
— SI College Hoops (@si_ncaabb) March 8, 2020
Outside of Neemias Queta who is a legitimate NBA prospect, Merrill played with underwhelming college talent. Despite being the sole focus of most opponents scouting reports, Merrill still found a way to be a highly productive offensive weapon and maintain his elite shooting percentages.
While it’s easy to laud Merrill’s ability to make difficult shots, many of his tough attempts are a result of weaknesses in his game.
First and foremost, Merrill struggles to create space on and off the ball. The league’s best shooters traditionally find ways to get open off the ball, changing direction or sprinting off screens and pulling up for quick release shots.
Merrill doesn’t have the speed or athleticism to create that space, forcing him to hit difficult shots with defenders in his face. As the oppositions gets bigger, longer, and faster at the next level, those shots become even more difficult.
— USU Men's Hoops (@USUBasketball) February 16, 2020
As a result, much of Merrill’s damage has to be done with the ball in his hands to create looks. Without the ability to break a defender down off the dribble, Merrill will have a difficult time creating space with the ball in his hands, even off screens.
Each of the previously mentioned shooters either had better off-ball movement, athleticism, ball-handling skills, or size to compliment their shooting, which aided them in their professional careers. Merrill will have to find a way to make up for those shortcomings through craftiness which wasn’t always on display at Utah State.
While Merrill was able to stick with guards at the college level, he’ll be challenged defensively if he reaches the NBA, and will have to prove he can either stick with stronger, faster players or score at such an efficient rate to erase the deficit.
In addition to being a senior, Merrill is very old for his class 24 years old leaving college.
How Sam Merrill Fits With The Jazz In The NBA Draft
As Merrill projects to be a mid to late second-round NBA draft pick, the sharpshooter’s best odds of landing with the Jazz are if he goes undrafted and signs in Utah as a free agent.
Perimeter shooting has become the primary offensive attack for most teams in the NBA, and Merrill can add to that attack fo a team if they feel he can flourish as a role player next to more talented teammates.
Unlike the Miami Heat’s postseason darling Duncan Robinson, Merrill wasn’t surrounded by first-round NBA talent like Robinson was at Michigan. Had that been the case, the senior shooter’s role during his time with the Aggies may have more closely resembled what he will be asked to do on an NBA roster.
— NBA G League (@nbagleague) September 28, 2020
Merrill won’t find himself high on the opposition’s scouting report alongside NBA talent and could benefit tremendously by playing alongside fellow high-level shooters and scorers as Robinson has in Miami.
Right now, Merrill has only proven to have one NBA level skill and will have to prove he has more versatility as a role player with a pro team in the offseason if he wants to earn his spot on a big-league roster next season.
Additional Prospect Breakdowns:
Utah Jazz Scoreboard
Utah Jazz Team Leaders
Utah Jazz Standings