Will Sam Merrill have a shot at minutes for Cavaliers next season?

Sam Merrill, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by David Richard-USA TODAY Sports)
Sam Merrill, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by David Richard-USA TODAY Sports) /

It was not shocking to see the Cleveland Cavaliers address their perimeter shooting needs in the early days of NBA Free Agency over the weekend. Cleveland brought in Max Strus via sign-and-trade from the Miami Heat and signed Georges Niang prior to that.

Those two players got the headlines, and rightfully so, as they will have their share of looks on the perimeter. Both Strus and Niang fit the bill of knockdown shooters, and with the Cavaliers giving Strus a four-year, $63 million deal and Niang a three-year, $26 million deal, they’ll be expected to hit their deep ball attempts.

Looking past the moves for Strus and Niang, a Cleveland move that went under the radar was the signing of Ty Jerome via two-year, $5 million deal. Jerome had previously been given a qualifying offer by his former club in the Golden State Warriors, but Cleveland’s offer was not one they reportedly had intentions to match, and as such, it’ll be exciting to see Jerome get rotational time with the Cavaliers.

Jerome has bounced around in his career to this point, and was on a two-way deal with Golden State last season, but he is solid defensively, and with his shooting and combo guard abilities, he could be in line for early-season opportunities.

Overall, it was encouraging that the Cavaliers did make a concerted effort to improve their perimeter shooting and to help open up space for Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell. Hopefully, Strus and Niang prove to be solid pieces, and Jerome is at minimum, an intriguing depth signing.

Now, after those signings, a player that has seemingly been forgotten about as a shooter, at least to some degree, is Sam Merrill. Merrill was initially a 10-day signing in the closing stretch of the last regular season, and he was later on given a standard, albeit mostly non-guaranteed deal by Cleveland.

Merrill was a standout for the Cavaliers G League affiliate, the Cleveland Charge, last season, and his shooting could be his case for possible rotational minutes. He planned sparingly with the Cavaliers in the regular season, but his shooting was crucial for the Charge in his time with them.

With Cleveland’s recent roster moves, could Merrill have a shot at minutes for the Cavs next season, though?

Merrill played in five regular season games for the Cavaliers last season, as an aforementioned late-season signing. In said instances, he had 5.0 points and 1.8 rebounds in 11.8 minutes per contest.

In the Cavs last game of the regular season, with most of the key rotational guys resting, Merrill did have 17 points, four rebounds and three steals in a loss to the Charlotte Hornets, who were down their share of players, too. In the game, Merrill shot six-of-12, and three-of-nine from three-point range.

He had six points, four rebounds and three assists in 22 minutes in Cleveland’s second-to-last regular season game before that one in a win at the Orlando Magic. In both of those games, Merrill did do make some things happen, regardless of the circumstances.

What resonated from his play from last season was his G League shooting, however.

With the Charge, Merrill connected on 44.1 percent of his three-point attempts, in what amounted to 8.9 per game. His overall splits included him having 18.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.5 steals per outing in 22 appearances, all of which were starts.

In terms of possible run with the Cavaliers, though, it’s Merrill shooting that is the selling point, really. He’s played sparingly through three seasons since he was drafted with the last pick of the 2020 NBA Draft by the would-be NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks, and spent some time in the 2021-22 season with the Memphis Grizzlies, before signing with Cleveland last season.

Merrill could theoretically help space the floor for Cleveland, and movement shooting from him was on display regularly with the Charge last season.

Recently, in Las Vegas Summer League media availability for the Cavs, Merrill also alluded to how he’s “studying” newly-acquired Cav Max Strus in how Merrill could “adapt his game” to be viable in the league as a movement shooter, via reporter Evan Dammarell of Right Down Euclid.

Merrill having a strong Summer League wouldn’t hurt his chances feasibly going into training camp, and him fine-tuning some of shooting to improve his outlook with the Cavs is a positive step.

Part of the issue, though, is Strus, Caris LeVert, Isaac Okoro, Donovan Mitchell, Ricky Rubio and Ty Jerome to some degree all being involved. The same could go for Dean Wade, particularly for his size and defensive skills.

The fact of the matter is, Merrill being 6-foot-4 doesn’t help his chances, when one considers the other options already in the fold for the Cavaliers. Merrill’s shooting could potentially warrant minutes as a former G League standout, but it’d seem to be due to injuries, for the most part. And even his awareness being a positive defensively, at the NBA level, it’s difficult to project him holding up for extended stretches on defense.

So, while him being on the roster come the regular season could be sensible as a perimeter shooter, he’s not going to have much of a playmaking presence, nor shot creation skill set. Thus, it’s tough to foresee Cavaliers minutes for him.

The Verdict: Merrill may have a case with his shooting abilities, but the answer is likely a no.

Maybe the minutes do come for Merrill next season, it’s just hard to imagine those coming in meaningful play much with the Cavaliers, given their new signings.

Next. How Isaac Okoro fits into the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers. dark

Merrill, whose deal is non-guaranteed from here, could help his case in Summer League. In a numbers game on the perimeter, he just wouldn’t seem to have a high likelihood of getting regular run with the Wine and Gold. Perhaps the 27-year-old can find his way into an NBA rotation more often elsewhere.