For the Cleveland Cavaliers, this season has not been one that's produced the greatest results. This team has had its ups and downs, and there's just not been much consistency with this group.
For the Wine and Gold, injuries have played some into that, though, and last week, it was reported that both Darius Garland and Evan Mobley would be set to miss an extended period. With how much of the season had gone up to that point, that news was even more deflating.
That being said, what has been impressive at times this season has been how the Cavaliers have found ways to pick up some big wins, and there have been some improbable ones. Rest assured, while this group is going to need to find ways to clean some things up still, how they've stayed tight and remained together shouldn't be glossed over, and how this team has gotten real contributions from some unheralded players has been very encouraging.
This Cleveland team has continually preached next man up, and recently, given their injury situation and the constant changing of lineups, another one of those longshots in Sam Merrill has stepped up, and goodness, has it been glorious to watch. And in the process, Cleveland may have a potential difference-making shooter in Merrill.
Merrill is proving he can be a true factor as a sharpshooter for the Cavaliers.
Merrill, who has appeared in only 14 games and averaged 9.6 minutes per outing, has made quite the splash for the Cavaliers of late, and for a club that has to ensure they're getting their threes up, that's been a welcomed punch. Leading into Wednesday's game versus the Utah Jazz, Merrill had connected on 44.7 percent of his three-point shot attempts on the season, and he's carried forward his success from last year in the G League and this past summer in Las Vegas Summer League.
Then, on Wednesday, Merrill followed up his prior career-high of 19 points in an overtime win over the Houston Rockets with an eruption off Cleveland's bench. He went five-of-10 from deep in that contest, and essentially put the game on ice in overtime with an enormous three.
Following that Monday performance, against the Jazz, Merrill came out swinging, and splashed eight triples on the night, and closed out with 27 huge points. Merrill led the way for a Cleveland group that had 23 triples in the game, which was tied for the second-most made threes in a regular season outing in team history, per Cavs Notes. In the process, Merrill tied the franchise record for threes made in a regular season single game off the bench.
Merrill has brought a newfound electricity to this Cavs squad in this homestand, and in Cleveland's last three games, though he's not the sole reason, Merrill's shooting and his off-ball presence has definitely boosted the team's overall offense.
In these last three games, the Cavaliers have had a team offensive rating of 129.5, which is tops in the NBA. Cleveland has also been second in threes made per game in these past few games leaguewide at 19.3, and they've been third in assists per contest at 31.7.
Now, Merrill has again not been the only guy hitting shots and making things happen of late for Cleveland, as Donovan Mitchell has phenomenal versus Atlanta and Houston, and others such as Jarrett Allen, Max Strus and Dean Wade all have contributed. Ditto for Tristan Thompson in his bench minutes.
All things considered, however, what Merrill has done in the past few games has been outstanding, and he has shown flashes of being able to be a flamethrower from three at other points this season, when chances have been there. Also, with Cleveland being without Donovan Mitchell on Wednesday due to illness, Merrill's shooting was all the more welcomed, and that gave Cleveland some more breathing room against the Jazz.
Now, in fairness, the Cavs still have to continue to show they can be a cohesive unit for legit chunks of games, and with Mobley out, this is definitely nearly as capable of a team defensively. And realistically, one can't expect guys like Merrill, who was origininally a 10-day signing last season, and whose deal is non-guaranteed this season still, to keep hitting tons of deep balls game-in and game-out in Garland's absence.
Those things aside, what is reasonable to believe is if Merrill continues to shoot the ball well, and off movement, which are things he's done in flashes in the NBA, and did in bunches with the Cleveland Charge last season, he can give Cleveland a legit jolt. Granted, there's still defensive limitations with Merrill, he's only 6-foot-4, and there's a bunch of others that are involved, and matchups and gameflow will still dictate how his minutes shake out.
But, given Cleveland's injuries, and to help space the floor for their slashers, the Cavaliers probably have to ride this Merrill wave a bit. He's demonstrating how if the opportunities are there, he can be a difference-making sharpshooter, as he's found his rhythm and he can shoot deep balls at a high clip, and at a notable volume.