Written for nbl.com.au by Liam Santamaria
Shaun Bruce is still in shock.
Amazed that his and two other NBL clubs will be part of this year’s NBA preseason, the Brisbane guard has spent the past few sleepless nights thinking about the opportunity.
The NBL announced on Tuesday that the Bullets, Sydney Kings and Melbourne United will participate in a three-game series in October against the Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder and Phoenix Suns.
The news shook the Australian sporting landscape this week and as the dust is starting to settle, the enormity of the announcement is beginning to sink in.
“I’m still a bit shocked that it’s happening to be honest,” Bruce told NBL Media.
“I’m very excited about it, it’s going to be really cool.”
Brisbane will play against Phoenix on the Suns’ home court, Talking Stick Resort Arena, on October 13 (U.S. time). The game will be the last of Phoenix’s five preseason games and will likely feature star guard Eric Bledsoe, silky smooth scorer Devin Booker and the fourth pick in this year’s NBA Draft, Josh Jackson.
International clubs have been invited to play NBA teams many times before but this year will mark the first time NBL and NBA teams will clash on U.S. soil.
“I’ve watched other games where NBA teams played against big EuroLeague teams in the preseason, so for us NBL guys to get a chance is incredible,” Bruce said.
“It’s not even a Summer League game, these are the guys who make millions we’re going up against. It’s a credit to the team that made that happen and now all of us players are excited about it.”
Mark your calendars! Preseason schedule👇 pic.twitter.com/ugO723YGmL
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) August 1, 2017
While Sydney and Melbourne will be playing 2017 Playoff teams, Brisbane will be taking on one of the Association’s youngest squads.
The Suns feature five players who were drafted in the lottery over the past four years – T.J. Warren (23), Booker (20), Dragan Bender (19), Marquese Chriss (20) and Jackson (20) – and at one point last season actually rolled out the youngest starting lineup in NBA history. It’s a franchise well and truly building for the future.
“It’s exciting for us that we will play against a younger team,” Bruce said.
“Going up against guys like Booker, who has already had a 70 point game, it’s super exciting.”
In terms of match-ups, it should be fun watching Brisbane’s import duo of Travis Trice and Stephen Holt battle Bledsoe and Booker on the perimeter.
Trice, who impressed at this year’s NBA Summer League, won’t be phased by ‘the moment’ and is a chance to create some early offense for the Bullets.
Holt, meanwhile, will likely get the job on Booker. He’ll get some help from Adam Gibson and between them they’ll need to lock in on restricting the tremendously talented scorer.
Up front, new signing Perrin Buford and veteran Daniel Kickert will have their hands full with Jackson and Chriss but Kickert’s bound to get some good looks down the other end off some pick and pops with Trice and Holt. It will be interesting to see if Kicks, one of the greatest shooters in NBL history, can find the range from the deeper NBA three-point line.
— Brisbane Bullets (@BrisbaneBullets) August 1, 2017
Of course, it’s still possible the Phoenix roster gets shaken up a little between now and October 13, with the Suns still in the market to obtain Melbourne-born superstar Kyrie Irving via trade.
Off the bench, Bruce is one I’m particularly keen to watch against the NBA talent.
NBL18 will be year five for Bruce and despite the import talent ahead of him on the roster, I’m expecting big things from the 26-year-old this year. Bruce has been starring in the QBL this off-season, averaging 24 points, 10 assists and 6 boards per game for the top-of-the-table Mackay Meteors. With player/coach Cameron Tragardh working him off high screens almost every possession, Bruce is leading the league in dimes, has put up two triple doubles and even had a 21-assist game last weekend.
When he checks in, Bruce will likely play minutes opposite impressive second-year guard Tyler Ulis. That will be a tremendous challenge – Ulis was Western Conference Rookie of the Month for April last season – so it will be crucial that Bruce holds it down during his minutes on the floor. Who knows, maybe he comes out and makes some plays.
“I’m sure something big is going to happen for one NBL guy,” Bruce said.
“There’s thirty-three of us playing in the States across that week so the opportunity for all of us is crazy. You never know what could happen. Hopefully a lot of guys do well and we can compete and guys can open doors for themselves.”
As for their chances of keeping the game close, Bruce is diplomatic. International teams are 17-126 against NBA teams all-time and the bookies will give Brisbane little-to-no hope of staying in the game.
But in the words of Han Solo, never tell me the odds.
“Being Australians, with how we are perceived on the world stage, we have to go in there and compete,” Bruce said.
“Seeing what the Boomers did last year at the Olympics, if you go in there and play hard anything can happen and you give yourself a good shot.”
Speaking of the Boomers, best believe head coach Andrej Lemanis will have the Bullets heading to Arizona with an appropriate level of self-belief and a well-conceived game plan.
“I think we might surprise some people, to be honest,” Bruce said.
“We play a good team brand of basketball and that could be something that troubles them.”