Evaluating Sam Merrill and Neemias Queta

March 28th, 2020

by Alan Lu

I decided to take the opportunity to watch Utah State play in a college basketball game against Colorado State that took place on January 25th, as I was able to see this with thanks to YouTube via 3520fun. I mostly wanted to watch Neemias Queta and Sam Merrill play, as the athleticism and defensive skills of Queta intrigued me, and Merrill’s offensive skills and basketball IQ also piqued my interest as well. Queta was the primary reason why I decided to watch this game, but I came away more impressed with Merrill in Utah State’s win over Colorado State, as he could be a real sleeper in this draft. Here are my thoughts on how both Merrill and Queta fared, as well as how their games may translate to the NBA.

Utah State's senior guard, Sam Merrill had a very good senior season, and he could be a second round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.  (Photo: Utah State Athletics, via KSL Sports.)
Utah State’s senior guard, Sam Merrill had a very good senior season, and he could be a second round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. (Photo: Utah State Athletics, via KSL Sports.)

Sam Merrill is a smart, skilled combo guard that has strong offensive skills that could enable him to succeed in the NBA. He is a very good shooter that showed a knack for making deep threes from beyond the arc, as he can do so off the catch or dribble, and he also moves well off the ball to get open on offense. He also managed to draw three free throws on a pull-up three, and his superb ability to knock down outside shots forces defenders to have to be up on him, which can enable him to draw fouls upon his opponents when they play him too aggressively.

He also did a very good job of making mid-range jumpers, as he can calmly make them after using step-back moves, and he also can run off pin-downs to make quick, mid-range shots. Merrill also managed to score on a strong, left-handed drive to the hoop late in this game, but he also struggled to score on drives in transition, as he can struggle to get all the way to the basket.

Merrill also displayed solid playmaking skills. He throws crisp, accurate passes to roll men, as he can find his teammates on the move to set up scores for them. He can weave in pocket passes to them, and he also passes well off the dribble. He sees the floor well, and he can find open teammates in stride to get them the ball on the break. Plus, he also manages the game well, as he did not turn the ball over once on offense. However, sometimes he can struggle to consistently turn the corner off pick and rolls, but Merrill is a skilled playmaker as his strong ability to score or pass after dribbling off of screens makes it difficult on opposing defenses to effectively guard him.

He didn’t grab many rebounds though, but he was able to leap up to get one defensive rebound, and he was able to bring the ball up the floor afterwards on that play.

Also, Merrill played adequate defense in this game. He will actively play passing lanes, and on one possession, he went in to try to intercept a ball when defending an opponent on a backdoor cut, and ended up forcing a tie-up and a turnover that time. He also will contest jumpers to force some misses. However, Merrill can struggle to defend quicker players. Sometimes he will get beat off the dribble, and he can struggle to stay in front of his man which can lead him to commit fouls and allow scores.

In general, Sam Merrill is a cerebral, skilled playmaker that can comfortably run the point or play off the ball, and his versatility on offense could allow him to thrive as a role player in the NBA. He will need to improve his rebounding and defense, and there are questions about his ability to create his own shots off the dribble due to possessing just average athletic gifts, but he is a creative player that has continually found ways to score the basketball and get assists. Merrill is a versatile player that has a good feel for the game, and he could be a good find for a team in the second round, as he may have what it takes to succeed in the association.

Utah State's 7-0 sophomore center, Neemias Queta also could be a second round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.   (Photo: Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via Associated Press)
Utah State’s 7-0 sophomore center, Neemias Queta also could be a second round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. (Photo: Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via Associated Press)

Utah State’s sophomore center, Neemias Queta had some good moments in his team’s win over Colorado State. This season, he seems to have added a lot more upper body strength, as it has helped him as a post player on both ends of the floor. On the downside, he seemed to be less agile than he was last season, and he also had some rather baffling turnovers on offense in this game. He also rarely looked to dribble or take jumpers, and the concern is that he may not be as skilled an offensive player as I previously thought.

Queta showed a decent ability to take big men off the dribble to garner scores. He was able to use a pump fake from the high post before driving right to the hoop, as he then used a pivot move to powerfully score on a layup. He also can score out of the post, as he was able to lean in to score on a jump hook late in this game.

He also excelled at scoring on hustle plays. Queta particularly showed a knack for scoring on rolls to the rim, as he would dive hard to the basket, and he would get the ball to score on powerful dunks. He also used a pump fake another time on a roll to the rim to draw free throws. Queta also is active at crashing the glass, but he missed a jump hook once after leaping up to get an offensive board in this game.

On the downside, Queta was quite turnover prone on offense. For the positives, Queta is an unselfish player that will look to find open shooters to set up scores for them, and he will also set plenty of screens to get his teammates open jump shots. However, he also had a tendency for airmailing his passes, as he would tend to throw the ball too hard, which would cause his passes to wind up out of bounds. On a couple of his passes, he would occasionally be absurdly inaccurate with his passes, as he had a few of them that ended up being way off-target. He also had some trouble handling or protecting the basketball. Queta had a ball poked away as he held the ball too long in the high post once, and he was called for traveling another time. On a separate play, he was called for a push off when trying to get open off the ball when rolling to the rim, as that led him to commit both an offensive foul and a turnover that time.

He also was able to get his fair share of boards to help his team out on the glass. Queta was able to chase down several balls to get defensive rebounds, and he also leapt up to get a strong offensive rebound midway through this game. Sometimes though, he can miss a few balls that are in his area, as he may not always get as many rebounds as he should get. He did get pushed back once after allowing an offensive board, as his team allowed a put back score on one play, and he also had a ball that bounced off of his hands later on.

Plus, Queta played decent defense in this game. He especially excelled at defending in the paint, as his length, strength, and timing allowed him to block numerous shots around the basket, as well as to be an effective post defender. Queta would hold his ground and contest shots to force misses, and he showed good timing to block shots at the rim. He also was able to rotate on a drive, as he was able to get up on an opponent to force a miss. Queta has added a lot more strength than last year, and that combined with his solid shot blocking skills made him a good interior defender at the collegiate level, as he has significantly improved his ability to defend in the post.

On the downside, he can tend to commit reach-in fouls, as he be prone to being too aggressive in going for steals, and can occasionally struggle to stay in front of quicker players. There are also times where he doesn’t communicate to his teammates on defense, which can lead his team to allow scores when they try to defend screens. Early on, he bit on a pump fake when defending a roll man, as this led his team to allow a score. In this game, he was mostly tasked to defend Carvacho, and he mostly did a good job on him, but he didn’t seem to show great lateral mobility when defending out on the perimeter, as that could potentially be an issue for him at the next level.

Overall, Neemias Queta is a tall, athletic center that may project to be a defensive specialist in the NBA. He is a fairly solid rim protector whose ability to block shots and defend in the paint could allow him to be a backup center in the league, but he will also need to expand upon his skill set on offense. He will need to improve his jump shot and playmaking skills in order to both improve his odds to succeed at the next level and to be a more complete overall player.   Still, he could end up being a mid to late second round pick in the 2020 draft, as his athleticism and shot blocking skills could enable him to make his way to a team’s roster in the association.

Other Notes:

Colorado State’s 6-6 sophomore swingman, Adam Thistlewood did a very good job of making three-point shots to provide his team with ample floor spacing on offense. He is a skilled marksman that can flat out shoot the basketball, as he can make threes off the catch or dribble, and he also can run hard off of ball screens to knock them down. Thistlewood is an above average athlete that moves very well off the ball on offense, and his strong ability to make outside shots could enable him to be a shooting specialist one day in the NBA.

I also took the time to watch Colorado State’s 6-11 redshirt senior center, Nico Carvacho. He is a strong, physical player that has a soft touch when scoring in the post. He will also set hard screens to free up shooters on offense, and he also possesses good length and timing to block shots off of drives on the defensive end. On the downside, he’s not a very fast nor quick player, and he also struggled to consistently score in the post when defended by taller, more athletic defenders such as Queta. Carvacho also struggled to defend in space, as he had trouble guarding shooters or defending opponents off of drives in this game. Right now, Carvacho may be a long shot to make it to the NBA, as his lack of mobility could be a significant issue for him at that level, but his ability to score in the post, combined with his motor and post defense skills could enable him to carve out a lengthy career in either the G-League or overseas.

Utah State’s 6-7 redshirt sophomore forward, Justin Bean has been a very efficient role player at the collegiate level, so I decided to watch him play as well. He was quite effective as a scorer in the post, as he is a deceptively quick player that can get past his man to score on the block. He also was able to make a mid-range shot, and he also can score off of drives and cuts to the basket. He also is an unselfish player that will look to find the open man, but sometimes he can be prone to telegraphing his passes to his opponents.

He is a very good rebounder, as he will haul in numerous boards, and he especially is active at crashing the defensive glass. Defensively, Bean will play passing lanes to get steals, but he can sometimes tend to have lapses on defense, and there was one play where he lost track of his man on a cut, which led his team to eventually allow a score that time.

Overall, Justin Bean is an energetic, high-motor player that is effective at making hustle plays to help his team on both ends of the floor. He will need to improve his jump shot and show that he can effectively play well against upper-echelon competition on a consistent basis next year, but if so, he could be a prospect to watch for the 2021 draft.

Utah State’s 6-6 redshirt sophomore forward, Alphonso Anderson also played well in his team’s win over Colorado State. He showed an adequate ability to score in the post as well as off the dribble, and he also used a pump fake move to score on a pull-up, mid-range jumper. He also managed to score on a strong put back after leaping up to get an offensive rebound. Sometimes though, he can be prone to hosting up bad misses when looking to get his own shot off when in the post or off the dribble.

He also was quite active at crashing the glass, as he would leap up to get plenty of boards for his team in this game. Anderson also hustled back on defense, as he was able to make a nice chase down block on a drive in transition to get a stop for his team. However, sometimes he can be prone to having lapses on defense, and he may not always put himself in position to contest shots, which can lead him to allow his opponents to score on jumpers.

Overall, Anderson played fairly well, and he is a strong, mobile player that could project to be a defensive specialist at the next level. He didn’t quite receive enough playing time this year and he will need to stay in school next season, but if he can work to improve his jump shot and be a more focused defender, he could perhaps be a prospect to watch next year in 2021.

Colorado State’s freshman point guard, Isaiah Stevens is an athletic, skilled playmaker that can score on strong drives to the hoop, as he has a good first step off the dribble, and he showed a knack for scoring on floaters. He could be a very good player for his college team next season.

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