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Hakim the Dream

The improved play of high-flying import Hakim Warrick has been a key factor in Melbourne United’s post-Christmas return to form and in an ominous message to the rest of the league, Warrick believes his best is yet to come. Warrick has averaged 18 points and 6.6 rebounds per game across Melbourne’s past five games; wins over Perth, Sydney, Illawarra and back-to-back victories over Cairns. One of the league’s most efficient players, Warrick has put up those numbers while shooting an excellent 56 per cent from the floor and averaging less than 23 minutes of playing time. With their season on the line, the Taipans had little answer for the athletic forward in Round 15, especially on Friday night when the 33-year-old scored 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the field. After watching Warrick throw down a couple of thunderous dunks against his team, Taipans coach Aaron Fearne said the NBA veteran was the key element in Melbourne’s return to the top of the standings. “The big difference for them has been Hakim’s play,” said Fearne. “He’s come out and given them a really good low post presence.” Adjusting to the NBL style of play – as well as the tendencies of the referees – has helped Warrick gain more space around the paint over the past few weeks, allowing him to play more of his natural game. “Just finding out how they’re going to call games; what I can get away with, what the refs are going to allow defences to get away with,” Warrick explained. “I’ve just been trying to make some adjustments and use my length and quickness, not allow them to keep on banging, keep moving and use my athleticism.” Warrick has been particularly effective recently while operating out of the pick and roll, something he mastered while playing alongside two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash in Phoenix. Melbourne’s leading scorer Chris Goulding, a dynamic playmaker out of the pick and roll, is loving every minute of it. “Man, he’s awesome to play with,” Goulding said with a smile when asked about Warrick. “Any time a guy can take off from a step or two inside the three point line makes it a lot easier on the pick and rolls. We’re focused on getting him easy looks where he can attack the rim.” Warrick has been coming off the bench all season for head coach Dean Demopoulos. It’s a role he’s accustomed to, having played as a reserve for 423 of his 532 games in the NBA. “Yeah, I feel comfortable coming off the bench,” Warrick told Fox Sports commentator Corey Williams on Friday night. “I just want to bring that spark off the bench and do whatever I can do to help my team win the game.” It’s an attitude that has impressed his teammates and has many people tagging him as the likely Sixth Man of the Year. “Having a guy with that much experience and that much talent being happy to come off the bench is a luxury that a lot of teams can only wish for,” United’s Daniel Kickert told nbl.com.au. Fellow reserve Nate Tomlinson believes that Warrick’s impact – both on and off the floor – is crucial to Melbourne’s championship aspirations. “Hakim always has a cool head and that filters down through the team. His experience and knowledge is something that helps our young team and gives us confidence,” Tomlinson said. “Off the floor he’s one of the most down to earth and humble imports I've been around. It says a lot for a guy who has played many years in the NBA to be happy with coming off the bench in our league. True professional.” They’re comments echoed by Coach Demopoulos. “It’s obvious on the floor but what you guys don’t see is how much they care about him and how much he cares about them. He has fit in like he’s been here his whole life. [He’s a] great, great teammate.” It’s rare for high-flying, athletic big men to possess the kind of basketball IQ that Warrick has developed. He’s a mature, cerebral player who has gained the respect of the entire Melbourne team. “He is a smart player and has great insight into the game so when he is out there and he is telling one of us something, you can guarantee that we are listening to him,” said Kickert. Brought in to replace Ekene Ibekwe less than three weeks before Melbourne’s season opener, Warrick is peaking at precisely the right time for United’s run at the title. As far as he is concerned, he’s just getting warmed up. “I’m getting better with every game and getting ready for the playoffs.”
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