Ili, a former New Zealand Breakers point guard, took some time to adjust to his new club but in the win over South East Melbourne Phoenix last round he scored 16 points including four three-pointers.
Melbourne coach Dean Vickerman described him as a “massive factor” and one of the team’s best players at lifting the side defensively.
Ili has always had the ability to change games with his defensive pressure and his desire to drive and create for others.
His shooting is not his strongest skill but he can make outside shots and when he does it means teams can’t leave him free and focus on the likes of Shawn Long or Chris Goulding.
“Especially with Shawn in the post, they have to help off me as I’m usually the worst shooter on the floor,” Ili said.
“I’ve got to know my teammates have the confidence in me and I’ve got to knock it down no matter what time of the game.”
Melbourne’s bench has been depleted with import Casey Prather still out with a back injury while centre Alex Pledger had ankle surgery this week and will miss six to eight weeks.
Acuil will face two of the NBL’s most aggressive dunking big men in Bullets duo Matt Hodgson and Will Magnay but that doesn’t intimate him as he faces off with Long each day at training.
Long and Acuil have become good mates off court but fierce competitors on it, and their training battles have been described as being right on the edge in terms of their physicality and fierceness.
With Pledger out, the second-year pro will be called upon to play a bigger role along with New Zealand international Tohi Smith-Milner.
“It’s not going to be anything new for me. I feel like I go against the best centre in the league every day,” Acuil said.
“Me and Shawn are like brothers. We are really close and when we are at practice we know how to get each other better. That’s just being physical and as competitive as possible as we both like to win.
“We know at the end of the day it’s basketball and nothing we do at practice will get in between what we have as a friendship.”
The Bullets beat Adelaide 36ers 106-104 in Brisbane on Friday night and played with some desperation and a pesky zone defence which they will likely throw at United as well.
Melbourne were talking about diversity this week as Victoria’s diversity has inspired this season’s city jerseys which the team will wear this game.
Roy Ward is a Sports writer for The Age.