Friday night at Vivint Arena was primed to be a homecoming of sorts for Sam Merrill, the Milwaukee Bucks rookie who starred at Bountiful High and then for the Utah State Aggies.
That won’t occur when the Bucks play the Utah Jazz, as Merrill is now playing in the NBA G League’s “bubble” in Orlando for the Memphis Hustle (Milwaukee’s G League affiliate, the Wisconsin Herd, was among a handful of teams that opted not to go to Orlando), but before Friday’s game, Bucks head coach offered praise for Merrill, who was the last pick of the 2020 NBA draft.
“I think there’s just a maturity and a mental toughness that goes with a guy who’s really skilled,” Budenholzer said. “If he’s open, you feel like it’s going in. You feel like he’s got ability to play pick and roll and make decisions, pass and play both positions, the 2 and the 1.”
Budenholzer said Merrill “really earned everybody’s respect” during training camp, and noted that he got some playing time early in the season. In nine games, Merrill scored 14 points and tallied 10 assists and 10 rebounds in 55 minutes.
With the G League’s bubble season having started on Wednesday, Merrill has played two games in Orlando for the Hustle. In the first on Wednesday, he largely struggled, scoring five points on just 2-of-13 shooting, although he did add three assists, three rebounds and a steal in 31 minutes.
On Thursday, Merrill bounced back, scoring 16 points on 8-of-14 shooting with seven assists and two steals. He again got 31 minutes of playing time.
Above all else, Budenholzer hopes to see Merrill get a bunch of playing time in Orlando to help him continue to get better.
“Now we just want him to continue to grow and develop as he plays in the G League and gets hopefully significant minutes, significant opportunity, but he’s a really good player,” Budenholzer said. “He fits us well.”