Dusan Bulut Takes Over Captain Role for Aliens
By John Krolik, @krolikjohn May 17, 2022
Bulut takes charge of Captain role, he is joined by Karlis Lasmanis and Tomislav Ivosev as Co-Captains
It’s hard to explain just how much professional basketball has exploded overseas over the last few decades. Here’s one example: In 1992, the first year NBA players were allowed to play in the Olympics, the US won the Gold Medal game against Croatia by a final score of 117-85. Earlier that day, Michael Jordan played 36 holes of golf.
In 2004, the US Olympic team lost 73-92 to Puerto Rico and 90-94 to Lithuania in the qualifying round and 81-89 to Argentina in the semifinals, ultimately settling for a Bronze Medal. 12 short years after team USA rolled through every team the world could throw at them with the greatest player of all time having fresh golfing blisters on his hands, three different international teams were able to take down a team of NBA players over a span of eight games.
Today, the influence of international players on American basketball is impossible to ignore. Dirk Nowitzki forever changed the perception of what a 7-footer was capable of doing on the basketball court. The announcement that Nikola Jokic has officially won back-to-back MVP awards means the last four NBA MVPs will be players that never spent a day in an American high school or college. One of my favorite fun facts is that in 2009, the Bucks ran out a starting lineup with five different players from five different continents – Brandon Jennings (USA), Carlos Delfino (Argentina), Luc Mbah a Moute (Cameroon), Ersan Ilyasova (Turkey), and Andrew Bogut (Australia). And Brandon Jennings played in Italy instead of going to college! I could go on, but I think the point has been made – basketball is a truly international game now.
The benefits of the world embracing professional basketball have gone both ways. Instead of the only places to play basketball professionally being the NBA or the G-League, American players with enough skill can make a living playing basketball almost anywhere in the world. The BIG3 is proof of this. BIG3 players, almost all of whom are American, have played basketball in Puerto Rico, Europe, China, Japan, Australia, and just about anywhere else they can put a basketball court together.
How were international players able to find so much success in America? In a word: versatility. At the highest levels, the NBA game was built around very tall men getting the ball under the basket and muscling the ball in from close range. Tactically, it made perfect sense. There was no three-point line, whistles were rarely blown, and the paint was so small three-second violations were rarely a concern. (Ever wonder why they call it “the key”?) From the NBA’s inception in 1955 to the 1982-83 season, 23 of the players who won the MVP award were American-born centers. Since 1983, a center has won the MVP award just five times – Shaquille O’Neal (USA), David Robinson (USA), Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria), and the aforementioned Nikola Jokic (2x MVP, Serbia).
Even after expanding the size of the paint and adding a three-point line in 1980, professional basketball in America was still much more about isolation and post play than its international counterparts. The painted area was much larger, meaning big men couldn’t simply plant themselves in position for an easy bucket and wait for the ball to get to them. The three-point line wasn’t just present, it was shorter than the NBA three-point line, which encouraged more players to give the perimeter game a shot. There were no illegal defense rules. In the NBA, the prohibition on “illegal defense,” meaning not guarding a specific man, incentivized teams to run an isolation or post-up for the team’s best players while the other four men on the floor watched and waited for a double-team to come. To put it simply, if Ben Simmons was playing during the illegal defense era and sitting behind the three-point line, the player guarding him would have to either focus all his energy on defending Simmons, commit to a double-team, or risk an illegal defense call and a technical foul shot for the other team.
Why am I spending so long explaining all this? It’s simple. What makes a player effective, and has always made a player effective, in the international game is the same thing that a FIREBALL3 player needs: versatility. With a 14-second shot clock and only two teammates there to cover up any holes you may have in your game, the ability to do everything on the court at once is at a premium in the BIG3. When you take that into consideration, it’s no surprise that so many of the players who have thrived in the BIG3 have spent a significant portion of their careers playing outside of America’s shores.
Until recently, BIG3 rosters have been populated almost exclusively by American players. Many have played overseas, some haven’t, but most are American-born. However, that’s changing as well. Last season, former NBA guard Leandro Barbosa was second in the BIG3 in scoring and led the league in assists after playing two seasons in his native Brazil. That’s what you call an instant impact.
Even more interesting was the debut season of Power’s Dusan Bulut, who scored 19.2 points per game on 54.8% shooting from the field and 46.2% from beyond the arc. (He even made a four-pointer for good measure.) Bulut has as pure a stroke as you’ll find and a natural instinct for getting the ball in the basket, but he has another advantage over many BIG3 players. FIBA has an official three-on-three league, and Bulut has thrived in it.
Bulut has won four FIBA 3×3 World Tours, was named the World Tour MVP in 2015 and 2018, has four 3×3 World Cup Gold Medals, was named the World Cup MVP in 2016 and 2018, and was named the Serbian 3×3 player of the year in 2019. In 2020, he was able to grab a bronze medal for 3×3 in the Tokyo Olympic games.
FIBA 3×3 isn’t the same thing as FIREBALL3 , and it is very different when you examine the two sports – if you’d like to know all the differences in the rules, click here. However, you can bet that experience will be a boon for the next batch of players to come to the BIG3 straight from FIBA 3×3.
This season, Bulut will be the captain of Aliens, and he’s bringing reinforcements with him. Karlis Lasmanis, who won 3×3 gold for Latvia in Tokyo while being the top scorer in the Olympics, will be joining the Aliens. Completing the Aliens’ trio will be Bulut’s fellow Serbian Tomislav Ivosev, who stands at an imposing 6’9 and 243 pounds.
The BIG3, like international basketball did decades ago, has grown fast enough to put the world on notice. Now the rest of the world is ready to return the favor and send their best players to try and make their mark on the BIG3. Exciting times all around.