Five For ’20: Ranking The Mountain West’s Top Five Scorers
Predicting the top five Mountain West scorers of the ’19-20 season
Who are the top scorers in the MW?
As part of Mountain West Wire’s continued dedication to offseason basketball content, we welcome you to the second installment of the Five For ’20 series.
The Five For ’20 series features our ranking of the top five Mountain West players in five different skill sets: passing, scoring, defending, rebounding, and shot blocking.
As for the scoring list, the focus here is on guards and forwards who create and score from all three levels. With that in mind, big men like Neemias Queta and Nico Carvacho – who are mostly back-to-the-basket bigs – aren’t eligible for this list.
We hope you enjoy the five-article series and engage in further conversation about where certain players should rank or appear on our Five For ’20 lists.
The Five For ’20 series schedule is below.
- Monday: Passers
- Tuesday: Scorers
- Wednesday: Shot Blockers
- Thursday: Defenders
- Friday: Rebounders
Without further adieu, we open up our top scorer list with the defending player of the year at the top (once again).
1) Sam Merrill, Utah State
’18-19: 20.9 PPG, 46.1 FG%, 37.6 3P%, 127.8 ORtg, 61.6 TS%
The defending player of the year shot 37.6 percent from deep last season – easily the worst of his career – and is still likely to become the Mountain West’s all-time career three-point leader. That’s the thing about Merrill; his “off nights” or “down years” are better than most player’s best nights and best years.
Merrill aligns himself within the Utah State offense as the two-guard, though he directs the Aggie attack in the half court. Craig Smith’s prized possession isn’t just a knockdown shooter as he is the best in the league at creating quality shot opportunities against tight defense. This comes in a variety of ways, including acrobatic drives at the basket, pull-up mid-range jumpers off the bounce from either wing, and wiggling free for open attempts from deep. Merrill is efficient, reliable, and makes the most out of every possession.
2) Jalen Harris, Nevada
’17-18: 15.3 PPG, 47.8 FG%, 44.4 3P%, 111.7 ORtg, 60.8 TS%
I’m buying into the hype. Rumblings out of Reno have indicated that the Louisiana Tech transfer could be the conference’s next star. Some went as far as saying Harris was often the best player in intra-squad activities last season on a Wolf Pack squad that featured three NBA players in the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline.
With Jazz Johnson being more of a catch-and-shoot guy and Lindsey Drew in the floor leader role, Harris’ playmaking is just what Steve Alford’s team needs. The Texas native is known for his athleticism and was on a scoring tear with the Bulldogs before choosing to transfer after 11 games in ’17-18. The career 35.4 percent three-point shooter will have plenty of scoring opportunities on a team that loses six players who contributed 75.1 percent of Nevada’s made triples last season.
3) Malachi Flynn, San Diego State
’17-18: 15.8 PPG, 41.3 FG%, 33.8 3P%, 113.2 ORtg, 55.4 TS%
Brian Dutcher welcomes the ex-Washington State star to the rotation this season, a high-level scorer and shot-maker. With the Aztecs losing Devin Watson and Jeremy Hemsley to graduation, the addition of Flynn helps offset the vacancy left by two senior starters. Flynn could be SDSU’s long-awaited need at the point guard position – a score-first attacker who can guide an offense.
San Diego State has far more offensive weapons than Flynn’s WSU teams had, which should allow the 6-2 guard to maximize his scoring potential. Flynn’s drive-and-dish style will open things up in an offense that features three other capable perimeter shooters in Matt Mitchell, Jordan Schakel, and Santa Clara transfer K.J. Feagin. Opposing defenses will have to be quick and disciplined to prevent the Flynn-led offense from open three-point attempts and drives to the basket.
4) Zane Martin, New Mexico
’17-18: 19.8 PPG, 45.8 FG%, 38.0 3P%, 113.9 ORtg, 55.8 TS%
On a national scale, the Towson transfer might not be one of the most well-known players on the talented New Mexico roster, but he is the team’s best overall scorer. Martin averaged nearly 20 a night and shot 38.0 percent from deep as a sophomore, carrying over his offensive savvy to Albuquerque.
Martin is a sturdy lefty who can score with relative ease. The Philly product is not overly quick but drives well with the basketball and is a knockdown catch-and-shoot guy. His 6-4/205-pound frame will be put to good use in a backcourt that consists of two elite passers in JaQuan Lyle and J.J. Caldwell.
5) Justinian Jessup, Boise State
’18-19: 14.0 PPG, 44.5 FG%, 41.0 3P%, 114.8 ORtg, 57.2 TS%
Jessup epitomizes three-level scoring. He is one of just four returning players in the country to shoot 40 percent on both two-point jumpers and three-pointers (minimum 100 two-point jumper attempts and 200 three-point attempts) last season. Naismith candidate Markus Howard of Marquette is also featured on the same list.
The career 41.3 percent three-point shooter still seems to fall short of national recognition, though. The southpaw is a lot like Utah State’s Sam Merrill in many respects in that Jessup is another two-guard who stresses ball security and quality shot attempts. He’s clutch, too, knocking down buckets when Boise State needs them most. Don’t sleep on this guy.
Also considered: Lavelle Scottie, Air Force; Derrick Alston, Boise State; Jazz Johnson, Nevada; Vance Jackson, New Mexico; JaQuan Lyle, New Mexico; K.J. Feagin, San Diego State; Richard Washington, San Jose State; Jonah Antonio, UNLV; Brock Miller, Utah State; Hunter Maldonado, Wyoming
Eli Boettger is the lead basketball writer at Mountain West Wire. He’s covered Mountain West basketball since 2015 and his work has been featured on Bleacher Report, NBC Sports, SB Nation, Yahoo Sports, MSN, and other platforms. Boettger is a current USBWA member.