The NBA Draft is full of challenging decisions that NBA front offices are left with. Teams are expected to determine how players fit in their system, how their games translate to the league and if there is much to make of their success in college. That’s when a player like Sam Merrill comes into the picture.
Merrill was a four-year star at Utah State where he averaged 16.6 ppg on 47 percent shooting and a sizzling 42 percent from 3-point range. His best year statistically was in his junior year (2018-19) where he averaged 20.4 ppg and 4.2 apg. He was the team leader in both of those categories. That year the Aggies had a 28-7 record, they were named Mountain West Conference (MWC) Regular Season Co-Champions, the MWC Tournament Championship and a NCAA Tournament berth as a 11th seed before being eliminated in the first round.
Merrill’s year included some individual accolades as well as he was named MWC Tournament MVP, MWC Player of the Year and named a member of the 2018-19 All-MWC team. Clearly he showed some amazing ability as a college player and showed that he could lead a mid-major squad to be a formidable team, but does that mean that he will be a good NBA player? And if so should the Wizards consider him? Let’s examine his game further.
Merrill has a very smooth offensive game. He is very competent with the ball in his hand or playing off the ball. At 6’5”, he is a good candidate to be a combo guard in the NBA. He possesses great shooting ability with 3-point range. Merrill has a great ability to play in the pick and roll, showing excellent reads and ability to be a threat as a shooter and a passer.
If there is a part of his game that truly stands out, it is his shooting. He has a great ability to shoot off the ball, which will translate well for teams that need a player who can play off of their best ball handler. Merrill also does a great job of cutting to the open space of the floor. He has shown an ability to be a lot more than just be a stand still shooter off the ball, which makes him a threat at all three levels of the floor.
By college standards, Merrill was not considered a great athlete. It is challenging to see how that will look much better on the NBA floor. He lacks explosiveness, lateral movement and jumping ability that would allow him to have physical advantages on the offensive end.
He is very reliant on craftiness, ball screens and finding mistakes from the defense to get his opportunities to score. Unfortunately those opportunities simply do not exist as much in the NBA as they do in a mid-major conference in college.
In addition to Merrill’s lack of athleticism affecting his offense, it is even more so apparent on defense. His lack of lateral quickness and jumping ability will make guarding the perimeter a challenge in the NBA.
Despite his brilliance on reading defenses while on the offensive end, he doesn’t show the same awareness while playing defense. He is not particularly adept at understanding rotations and avoiding screens. These weaknesses will make him a prime candidate for opposing teams to attack him on that side of the floor.
How should the Wizards use him?
Merrill’s ability to shoot, playing on and off the ball, would certainly help the Wizards’ bench. Given that they already have Troy Brown Jr., and Ish Smith as potential options off the bench next year, it’s important to have a player who is capable to compliment them with shooting, while also being able to create his own shot.
Where things get murky is Merrill’s lack of defense. The Wizards were already mired in defensive struggles for much of last season. Adding a player who biggest flaw is being a sub-par defender does nothing to fix the issue.
If the Wizards were to entertain getting Merrill in the draft, it would need to be either via trading back further in the second round or maybe hoping that he falls out of the draft. A number of mock draft boards have him in the late second round or not even on the draft board. There are plenty of players with a higher ceiling than Merrill, but if the Wizards find themselves in the later part of the second round, he could be an intriguing prospect to add to the bench.