Did you hear the one about the Utah kid who made good in the NBA and even won a championship?

Probably not.

Sam Merrill grew up in Bountiful and made star turns at Bountiful High and Utah State and now he has made it in the NBA, but not a lot of Utahns know about him. With relatively little fanfare, he has found a role in the league.

Merrill is gradually earning a measure of respect as a shooting guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and some observers have even become his advocates. The media wonders why he doesn’t see more minutes. The coach says he needs to give him more playing time. A teammate pushed for his inclusion in All-Star Weekend.

Not bad for the last player chosen in the 2020 NBA draft.

Merrill was treated about the way you would expect for the 60th player to come off the draft board. In the next 23 months, he was traded twice, waived twice, endured a few stints in the G League and, somewhere in there, managed to be part of an NBA championship team. That’s the kind of wild ride he has seen in the NBA so far.

Now he’s headed to the playoffs again, opening against the Magic on Saturday.

Merrill has averaged eight points per game off the bench, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. He played in only 16 of the first 31 games this season, but because of injuries to his teammates, he played in 45 of 51 games to close out the regular season. He made a good showing — 26 points against Orlando, 18 against the Spurs, 15 against the Bulls, 18 against the Hawks, 21 against the Knicks, 15 against the Pelicans, 17 against the Hornets, 16 against the Raptors and 18 against his hometown team, the Jazz (a team he also torched for 27 points in December, hitting eight 3-point shots).

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Sam Merrill (5) shoots a 3-pointer during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Orlando Magic, Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, in Orlando, Fla.
Cleveland Cavaliers guard Sam Merrill (5) shoots a 3-pointer during game against the Orlando Magic, Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, in Orlando, Fla. | Phelan M. Ebenhack, Associated Press

In all, he played in 61 games, shot 40% from the 3-point line and totaled 141 3-point shots off the bench, a club record for a reserve. He averaged 14 points during a 10-game stretch in March and made 40 3-point shots.

After watching a game in early March, longtime Cavaliers beat writer Jackson Flickinger wrote, “The Cavaliers once again needed someone who could make the defense shift on the perimeter against the Knicks … Unlike last spring, they got that in Sam Merrill as he poured in a team-high 21 points … Merrill provided a pulse (for) a team that otherwise had none.

“They had a 119.6 offensive rating with him on the floor. This fell to 81.6 in the 19 minutes he sat … Merrill’s minutes are still somehow an open discussion even after a strong performance on the heels of a good one against the Pistons,” Flickinger continued. “When (Caris LeVert and Donovan Mitchell) have been healthy recently, he’s been seeing his minutes drastically trimmed if not cut entirely out of the rotation.”

Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff told Flickinger, “We gotta keep working at it. He’s proven that when his minutes come, he can help us win basketball games. We know we can count on him. We just gotta keep trying to work in minutes.”

Lately, they have not succeeded. After playing 20-30 minutes per game in March, Merrill’s playing time fell dramatically in April.

Merrill has taken the high road, saying, “We got a lot of guys and there’s only so many minutes that can go around. So I just try and control what I can.”

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Former USU standout Sam Merrill is making his NBA dreams come true with the Cleveland Cavaliers

Headline in SB Nation this week: The Cleveland Cavaliers need Sam Merrill in the Playoffs — Merrill’s shooting could prevent the Cavs’ half-court offense from stalling in the playoffs.

The 6-foot-4 Merrill has been a long shot from the start. Six days after the Pelicans drafted him, they traded him to the Bucks, who promptly sent him to the G League. He wound up playing 30 games for Milwaukee, including eight games in a playoff run that ended with a championship. But he would play in only 11 NBA games the next two seasons.

The Bucks traded Merrill to the Grizzlies, who played him in six games before waiving him in January 2022. He played in the G League the remainder of the season and was signed by the Kings in the summer, but he was waived again before the 2022-23 season started.

He signed with the Cavaliers in March 2023 and this time found a home. His play — specifically, his long-range shooting — earned him nicknames: “Sammy Buckets” and “Money Merrill.” Before All-Star Weekend, Mitchell, the team’s All-Star point guard, posted on social media, “Put Sam Merrill in the 3-point contest!!” The night after Merrill scored 18 points against the Hawks, Mitchell posted a video of his teammate with the headline, “Sammy Buckets Doesn’t Miss!”

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Donovan Mitchell recognizes Sam Merrill with jersey during NBA 3-point contest

Despite Mitchell’s promotion, Merrill wasn’t included in the All-Star 3-point shooting contest. Later, Mitchell revealed that Merrill didn’t want to participate in the contest because he wanted to spend more time with his family (he has a wife and child), so Mitchell “volunteered.”

“Sam didn’t want to do it,” Mitchell told SB Nation. “I tried to get him out, but he just wanted to chill with his family. So I figured, why not go out there and win it for him?”

During the contest, Mitchell wore Merrill’s No. 5 jersey with the name “Money Merrill” on the back. After he was eliminated in the first round, Mitchell posted, “I have failed you,” accompanied by a crying-face emoji and tagged it to Merrill. Merrill replied, “You made up for it with the dope jersey lol.”

Merrill is a rarity. According to Sports Reference, he is one of only 26 Utah-born players to play in the league since its inception in 1946, and one of 28 players who played for a Utah high school. He is also one of the few who won a spot in the league after serving a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (he served in Nicaragua before enrolling at Utah State).

Before the mission, Merrill helped Bountiful High win the 4A state championship and Utah State win the Mountain West tournament championship as a junior and a senior, the latter after hitting the winning shot with 2.5 seconds left in the championship game. He was named MVP of the conference tournament both years and league MVP. He set career school records for 3-point field goals (319) and free throw percentage (.891) and finished second in scoring (2,197 points) and assists (477).

For most late second-round picks, that might have been the end of it, but it was a prologue to the professional game.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Georges Niang (20) cheers for guard Sam Merrill (5) during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans in New Orleans, Wednesday, March 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Georges Niang (20) cheers for guard Sam Merrill (5) during game against the New Orleans Pelicans in New Orleans, Wednesday, March 13, 2024. | Matthew Hinton, Associated Press