School: Utah State
Perhaps the most cold-blooded shotmaker in college basketball this season, Sam Merrill was an offensive monster for Utah State, scoring 2,197 points in four seasons for the Aggies. In his senior season, he averaged 19.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists.
One play doesn’t generally sum up a prospect, but this game-winner against San Diego State in the Mountain West Tournament championship game is an excellent example of Merrill’s offensive abilities.
Merrill is one of the best shooters in the draft, shooting 42.0 percent from the three-point line and 89.1 percent from the free throw line over his four seasons at Utah State. He has deep range on this three-point shot and can make them in a variety of ways. He has a nice crossover and step-back combo that’s reminiscent of Luka Doncic. He’ll also run around screens and execute dribble-handoffs like JJ Redick. He doesn’t need much room to get his shot off and can make shots with a defender in his face, which makes that 42.0 three-point percentage even more impressive.
He’s not just a shooter, though, which makes him such a tantalizing prospect. Merrill is also an impressive passer and has tremendous potential as a pick-and-roll ball handler because teams will have to honor his three-point shot. When he drives, he generally makes good decisions and gets teammates the ball in optimal scoring positions. He had a better than 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in each of the last two seasons, which is excellent for a player who was the fulcrum of the offense. He’s skilled, he’s heady and he plays in control. He also has good height for an NBA ball handler at 6-foot-5.
Merrill turned 24 years old in May, so it’s fair to question how much upside he has in the NBA. He’s two years older than most of the other seniors in the draft because he served a Mormon mission in Nicaragua before enrolling at Utah State.
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He’s also not a vertical athlete. Good luck finding any highlight clips of Merrill dunking. There aren’t any. He’s a willing defender and moves his feet OK on the defensive end, but you do have to wonder who Merrill will be able to defend on the NBA level. He’s going to have to really work on his body to have a chance.
Merrill’s best NBA situation would be to join a contending team in need of an offensive spark plug off the bench. You may have to hide him on defense and he might end up unplayable on that end of the floor.
The Sixers have two early second-round picks and two more picks in the back half of the second round. If Merrill is still on the board at that point, he’d be worth the minimal risk because he’s so skilled on the offensive end.
Maybe he ends up being the J.J. Barea of this draft, an incredibly productive college player who succeeds in the NBA despite his athletic limitations.
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