How Sam Merrill Can Become the 15th Man

This is the third and final in a series of articles about what looks to be the battle for the 15th spot on the roster between Chima Moneke, KZ Okpala, and Sam Merrill.

By the looks of it, one of the things that will be solved at training camp will be who takes the final roster spot for the Kings. Seeing the twelve guaranteed contracts, plus Kent Bazemore’s—which will soon be official—as well as whoever wins the third point guard role, one (likely inactive) roster spot is left between three guys.

One of those players vying for that final spot is third-year sharpshooter Sam Merrill.

While the other two in question possess a certain amount of mystery, it would probably be fair to say that what you see is more or less what you’re going to get with Merrill. 

That’s not a bad thing because Merrill’s strength is arguably Moneke and Okpala’s weakness as well as a total luxury in this league: three-point shooting. 

One 2020 NBA Draft profile characterized him as a “cold-blooded shotmaker.” In his four years at Utah State—two of which he played alongside Neemias Queta—Merrill shot an impressive 42% from beyond the arc. The “cold-blooded” tag became tightly fixed to Merrill when, in his final collegiate game, he nailed the game-winning three in the championship game of the Mountain West Tournament. 

After being selected 60th overall by New Orleans, Merrill was moved to the Bucks, where he won a championship with them. Last year, in the Grayson Allen trade, Milwaukee sent him to Memphis, where he played just 6 games before being waived this last January. 

In 36 total appearances through two years in the NBA, the former Utah State Aggie has played just about 8 minutes a game, averaging 3.2 points. As one can tell from the limited sample size of NBA statistics for a 25-year old, being on such talented teams did not provide many on-floor opportunities for the 6’4″ shooting guard.

Still, Merrill had been able to demonstrate he is a specialist at that key area of deep range shooting. Despite limited playtime, Merrill is shooting 40% in the NBA from three-point land, which is carried mostly by the fact he shot 44.7% from deep in his 30 games with the Bucks.

Along with guys like Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk, Merrill definitely stands prominently as one of the better three-point shooters on this team, putting the ball up with a quick, clean, simple, and repeatable form.

In terms of shooting, Merrill can practically do it all. Whether he’s pulling up, getting a stationary catch and shoot look, coming off of movement, using the pump fake, or being a pick-and-pop threat, defenses cannot afford to give him space. 

Despite such a glaring ability to shoot, Merrill can be tricky for defenses in a sly sort of manner. Merrill becomes a thorn in the side of defenses in transition as he’ll slip through cracks and into corners where nobody else is like water, punishing opposing teams.

More than just shooting though, Merrill also has some skills with the ball in his hands. Though it is precisely due to his range that he is able to be effective as a ball handler and facilitator. After all, he averaged 3.6 assists in four collegiate years.

He has what it takes to be a pick-and-pop screener, but this is also the case as a pick-and-roll handler. For one, he has the ability to pull the trigger from deep and hit it. But because of that, other fruitful results can emerge from him being the handler. He can dribble into a floater or a mid-range shot. Or he can draw a double team and find the open roller. He can also dribble straight to the rim (though, in this example, pay attention to his ball handling; it is not perfect).

Outside of the PNR game, he can also penetrate into the paint to either utilize his floater or find an open man. Similarly, he can be extremely useful in transition with the ball in his hands, either going for the rim or passing to the perimeter (which, in this particular example results in the ball being swung back to him for an open three).

Evidently, on top of his shooting ability, Merrill’s second best attribute is awareness. He’s not exactly Houdini with his handles, and nor does he have above average explosiveness, but he has a good feel for the game that allows him to capitalize on poor defense and make the right play.

On the note of athleticism, one of the frequent knocks about him coming out of college was that you’d be hard pressed to find a clip of Sam Merrill dunking. Funnily enough, on his rookie season highlight video, the first clip is of him dunking. So, no, one wouldn’t be hard pressed to locate said clip, but judging by it, the critique of his athleticism still seems warranted as the leap contained little grace and looked more like a giant anvil getting some air.

That’s not a huge deal in regards to his offensive game, though; his shooting opens up a lot for him. But that does become an issue on the defensive side.

We already know that Merrill is not a physical standout. He’s just 6’4″, and though his wingspan has never been made public, it’s clear his length is painfully average. On top of that, he doesn’t move all that well; he plays with good effort, but he’s usually one of the least compelling athletes on the floor.

However, given the role of the 15th spot on the roster—which, again, would be inactive more often than not—having someone with a complete and well-rounded game in that spot may be a pipe dream. Moneke and Okpala have a lot of strengths that Merrill doesn’t, but the question of their shooting remains to be seen.

And best case scenario is Mike Brown can get this whole team to play collective team defense, which Merrill could partake in as a smart player.

As said, you’re kind of going to get what you see with Merrill. That is, three-point shooting, a capable ball handler if necessary, and being a fundamentally sound player. Expecting him to be anything more is probably optimistic, especially given the fact that, after a two-year missionary trip between high school and college, he’s coming into his third year at the ripe age of 25. In other words, he’s probably at or around his ceiling.

At the end of the day, Merrill’s three-point shooting and lack of mystery could give him a slight edge over the other two.

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