The Four Horsemen of 20IceIce

We haven’t quite reached a wobbling apocalypse, but it’s becoming tougher to deny that the Ice Climbers are a force to reckon with. In 2016, their mains as a whole have enjoyed an unprecedented level of success.

The character’s rise hasn’t been limited to one player either – Wobbles, Nintendude, Chu Dat and even dizzkidboogie have have some of their best tournament runs in 2016. That’s not even counting a possible return for Fly Amanita, a top-eight finish at EGLX by Fork or Infinite Numbers’ ninth-place surprise at Pound 2016.

While the ICs still haven’t won a large-scale national tournament since Chu Dat won Pound 2, there still remains a question about the state of the meta: who is the best ICs main? Let’s start off with a comparison of how each player has done at nationals.

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Here’s what we’ve learned so far through the first half of the year.

4. Chu Dat

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The Case For Chu Dat:

If anyone told you heading into last year’s EVO that Chu Dat was going to not only finish 7th, but also beat a litany of Top 20-level players to get there, you would have had every right to tell them how crazy they are. Even after his EVO, it seemed unlikely that he could repeat such a run. A year later, Chu Dat has had only a couple of nationals to analyze from, but his years of experience definitely show on the big stage.

At this year’s Pound, Chu breezed through his first wave of pools before beating New England’s current No. 1 Slox and losing a close 2-1 set to Hax$. Not finished yet, Chu eked out a 2-1 victory over Kira and upset Axe 2-1 before losing 2-0 to Wizzrobe for a 17th-place finish. It’s not even like Chu only has success at nationals either: he’s defended Xanadu, MD/VA’s premier weekly series, by beating the likes of Westballz and HugS in bracket.

Meanwhile, at CEO 2016, Chu lost to Mew2King for his first round in Top 64, but went on a crazy loser’s bracket run. This involved beating Gahtzu and DruggedFox in losers, right after seven-stocking Alex19. Shroomed ended up eliminating Chu, albeit in a last stock tossup for seventh. It’d be silly to ignore that CEO is a huge part of why Melee It On Me’s Glicko Stats currently grade Chu as the best ICs player in the world.

The Case Against Chu Dat:

It sounds simple, but Chu Dat’s lack of appearances really hurt his ability to be considered best ICs in the world. He might not even be the best player in his own region. Redd, Llod, Milkman (who has beaten Chu twice) and Chillin are currently ranked higher on the MD/VA power rankings.You could argue that Chu’s relatively low rank isn’t indicative of his skill level and is moreso because he rarely shows up at Xanadu. But you’d also be giving Chu a ridiculously lopsided advantage against his peers.

Moreover, other than Mew2King, Chu hasn’t run into a Peach or vaunted ICs-killer at either his two attended nationals. It’s hard to imagine him still finishing Top 32 at another national if he runs into a player like Mafia, let alone Armada in winners’ bracket.

3. dizzkidboogie

The Case For dizzkidboogie: 

As seen from above, the dude wobbles better than anyone in the world and abuses a broken mechanic. Case closed.

Seriously though – it’s time fans stop dismissing dizz as a one-trick pony. In terms of results, he’s as good as anyone, partially due to how much better his solo climber play has been since his 33rd place at Genesis 3. In fact, if we’re taking recency into account, dizzkidboogie might have the most impressive CEO out of all the four ICs mains on this list. Although he finished only as the second-highest placer out of ICs that tournament, dizz arguably had the best victories, defeating both Lucky and S2J in a combined 5-0.

Dizz also gave me a list of his head to head records against other MIOM-ranked players.

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The Case Against dizzkidboogie: 

Despite dizz’s improvement in non-wobbling aspects of his game, he’s still self-admittedly a very wobbling-centric player. When this game plan doesn’t work out for dizz, he can suffer ugly losses, as he does here against Crush, getting eight-stocked in the first two games in under four minutes. Dizz also has a 2-0 loss  against Connecticut Falco and New England Twitch chat meme Lint.

Part of this comes from how dizz simply doesn’t have the same amount of experience as some of his fellow ICs players, having just started seriously competing in mid-late 2013, as well as his frequent traveling opening him up for more opportunities to lose. For example, at Pound 2016, dizz’s 65th-place came from his losses to MattDotZeb and Drephen – two solid players just outside MIOM’s Top 100 last year. These aren’t necessarily bad losses, but they’re relatively disappointing given the impressive nature for some of dizz’s victories.

2. Wobbles

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The Case For Wobbles:

Let’s start with the qualitative answer: Wobbles is by far the most beloved and looked-up to guru for wannabe ICs players. He has practically unmatched creativity when it comes to the character and has the most developed fundamentals due to his belief of wobbling as a crutch to avoid relying on.

Quantitatively, Wobbles also has the highest highs. In addition to triple three-stocking Mew2King at Battle of the Five Gods, Wobbles also beat Shroomed (after beating him at PAX Arena), Lucky, Silent Wolf and Plup, while thoroughly dismantling PPMD (albeit not at 100 percent due to health reasons) en route to a fourth-place finish. When it comes to beating the best, history also clearly shows that Wobbles has the highest ceiling. He is also is by far the best within his region (Texas): something none of his ICs contemporaries can brag about.

The Case Against Wobbles:.

If his most fervent fanboys point to Battle of the Five Gods as proof of Wobbles’ easily provable dominance, Wobbles’ biggest critics can mention Genesis 3. Although losing to Milkman and DJ Nintendo isn’t totally unexpected for ICs players, the tournament marks the lowest placing a MIOM-ranked ICs player has had this year at a national. Like with any other player, you have to acknowledge the highs with the lows.

Per tafokints’ online database, Wobbles is actually 1-6 against last year’s top 30 players in the second quarter of 2016. This might be partially due to bad bracket luck, with Mew2King, S2J, Mango, SFAT, Westballz and MacD being excusable losses. But that doesn’t explain losing to the likes of ESAM and A Rookie, who while excellent players in their own right, were relatively big underdogs facing off against Wobbles.

Along with dealing with his own internal demons, some of Wobbles’ relative struggles might come from his emphasis on non-wobbling aspects of his character. For example, in a set against Axe at DreamHack Austin, Wobbles refused to wobble, even down 2-1 in a set determining who would make top-eight. Is it fair to other ICs players that they get held to the same standard of intentionally crippling their own punish game in tournament?

1. Nintendude

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The Case For Nintendude:

At Genesis 3, Nintendude defeated Shroomed, Westballz and Mew2King en route to seventh-place. He’s also taken sets off other high-ranked players like Zhu, Plup, S2J, Duck and noted ICs-slayer Kage the Warrior. He had the best start to 2016 out of all ICs players and could have a great summer to start off the year’s second half.

In terms of regional performances, Nintendude is also currently the No. 2 in Northern California ahead of PewPewU, Shroomed and Laudandus. It’s the first time anyone outside of SFAT/Shroomed/PewPewU has taken a top three spot in NorCal since June 2013, when Zhu was ranked third, ahead of SFAT.

Take a look at Nintendude’s losses as well. Outside of losses to the top six players of Melee, Nintendude’s only lost to Hax, Laudandus, Wizzrobe, S2J, Swedish Delight and MikeHaze at national tournaments in 2016. A combined four of his bracket losses have been to Hungrybox and Mew2King, illustrating that Nintendude has actually played through tough brackets. In 2016, Nintendude’s biggest upset loss at a national is probably Laudandus – which could prove both the “up-and-comer” meme and highlight Nintendude’s consistency.

The Case Against Nintendude:

Since Genesis 3, Nintendude hasn’t really had a stretch of great victories at national tournaments. In fact, his last big upset was against Plup at Pound 2016.

It’s unfair to hold this as something against Nintendude, but it also goes to show that he may not be the clear-cut best ICs player in the world. Particularly in comparison to Wobbles’ stellar showing at Battle of the Five Gods, Nintendude’s failure to take a set stands out as a sour note, though Nintendude didn’t wobble against S2J and reportedly was feeling unwell.

Before moving to NorCal, you could also argue Nintendude wasn’t untouchable in his own region (MD/VA). In addition to losses to Milkman, he also lost to traveling players at Xanadus, like n0ne and HugS (EDIT: A previous edition of the article accidentally grouped in HugS with the above and categorized Milkman as out-of region). He’s also lost to MacD, though the inherent imbalance of Peach-ICs and disparity in character experience between Nintendude and MacD is certainly understandable.

Conclusion

1. Milkman is pretty damn good against ICs (and that Sharkz taking a set from him is low-key one of the biggest upsets of 2016).
2. Beating Mew2King is practically a rite of passage for top ICs players.
3. Nintendude is probably a good pick for best ICs, but Wobbles has the best peak play, dizzkidboogie has the most high variance results and Chu Dat is an enigma.

Let’s see where the summer takes us. Tweet who you think is the best ICs player to @ssbmjecht!

Destinations for Durant

Kevin Durant is arguably the NBA’s premier scorer and most likely one of its five best players. Now entering free agency, he will have to determine where he’s going to take his talents after this summer. One thing for sure: with the salary cap being projected to $94 million for next season, Durant’s got a lot money to gain.

Will the talented 6’9 scorer stay with Oklahoma City or go somewhere else? Before we go into the possible destinations, let’s take a look at the cap space for each team over the next few years. The figures come from subtracting the remaining cap space for next season (seen here) from the projected $94 million.

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Unlikely, but possible
7. New York Knicks ($38,865,202 for 2017)
6. San Antonio Spurs ($14,305,789 for 2017)

Given the Knicks reputation as the real life equivalent of an NBA 2K franchise, it’s hard to believe Durant would join them. After all, this is a team that has Langston Galloway as the franchise’s best guard after Derrick Rose.

Even with’s New York’s cap space, a Durant/Carmelo Anthony combination in the team’s front court would be the kind of ball-dominating conflict and locker room nightmare that people assumed Russell Westbrook and Durant were at their worst. The only difference is that this time, the skepticism is warranted and there’s little chance that Durant would want anything less than the $24-28 million per year Anthony is getting from the Knicks over the next three years. That’s not going into how asinine it is to abandon Westbrook for Rose, if you were Durant.

Meanwhile, it’s doubtful that the Spurs will be able to pull in Durant – at least in this year’s free agency. They would have to bank on a sign-and-trade kind of deal with the Thunder (and possibly another team), where they get rid of role players like Tony Parker, Danny Green and Boris Diaw, if not offload last year’s pickup LaMarcus Aldridge. That’s not exactly a good way to show a player like Durant how to treat some of your franchise’s integral players.

Even if San Antonio does this, why would it give away so many assets for someone who might not bring the same combined balance those individuals bring the Spurs? Consider San Antonio’s incredible regular season and there’s reason to doubt its front office blowing up an already amazing roster just to bring in another superstar.

Longshot
5. Golden State Warriors($19,767,356)

To start with the pros, let’s put it this way: the “death” lineup of Stephen Curry/Klay Thompson/Andre Iguodala/Harrison Barnes/Draymond Green outscored its opponents 143 to 98 per 100 possessions throughout the regular season,per 82games.com. Now think about that lineup, but replace Barnes with Durant. You don’t need numbers to show you that’s easily the best lineup in NBA history. It’s hard to turn a 73-9 team better, but somehow a Durant addition would do so.

However, when it comes to a Durant-signing being feasible, the odds are still pretty low. After next season’s end, the Warriors will have to deal with the free agencies of Curry, Iguodala and Andrew Bogut. On his own, Curry is worth the same kind of money as Durant – tying money to Durant will show the former league MVP that the Warriors are willing to give money away in free agency before signing Curry, barring an immediate renegotiation of Curry’s contract.

Therefore, if Golden State wants to look long-term without crippling the franchise or alienating its best player, the team will have to convince Durant to take a one-year Darrelle Revis-esque mercenary role with less money and more long-term questions. That’s not necessarily worth one possible championship run for both Golden State and Durant. Nevertheless, the potential is terrifying and still possible.

The Dark Horses
4. Los Angeles Clippers($15,655,492)
3. Boston Celtics($66,314,780)
2. Miami Heat($45,991,325)

Los Angeles with Durant provides a less terrifying, but still exciting possibility. Chris Paul/JJ Redick/Kevin Durant/Blake Griffin/DeAndre Jordan fixes last year’s issue at the small forward position and, with better health from Griffin, ensures a well-balanced starting lineup with the necessary ball movement, rebounding, shooting, interior scoring, free throw drawing, defense and shot creation necessary to become a contender.

How do the Clippers convince Durant that this is worth giving up millions of dollars for, as well as a bench? In this scenario, his salary would still be below Chris Paul’s $22 million. Los Angeles will have to structure the contract so that the majority of the money could come in the back end of the contract. Will Los Angeles be willing to take that level of risk for a player who is two years removed from a devastating foot injury? It’s hard to tell.

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Durant dribbling in front of tens of thousands of fans. Photo per bulletsforever.com

Alternatively, what Boston lacks in talent, it has in money. Danny Ainge didn’t trade the No. 3 draft pick like many Celtics fans wanted, but perhaps he was waiting for give a sign-and-trade type offer for Oklahoma City in free agency later. On their own, expiring contracts for Evan Turner, Perry Jones and David Lee give Boston at least $20 million for next season. That’s not even taking into account that next year’s projected payroll for the Celtics, as stated above. Not bad for a team that finished 48-34 last season.

If Durant were to join the Celtics, Boston would instantly become the Eastern Conference’s hope for stopping the Cavaliers from another easy ride to the NBA Finals. A starting lineup of him, Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley gives Durant the necessary shooters on the outside to thrive as the primary scorer and slasher for the Celtics, while Thomas can still succeed without Durant on the court as a lesser version of Westbrook that can shoot from three. Players like Kelly Olynyk, Jonas Jerekbo, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson/Jared Sullinger (if they return) also give Boston needed depth along with their young guard Marcus Smart, who could also develop into a solid role player role as well.

The Celtics also give Durant flexibility for his future. Boston wouldn’t have as much lineup potential like the Clippers or Warriors, but it wouldn’t need to. By dedicating themselves to Durant over a window of three to five years while still having a plethora of future draft picks, the Celtics can guarantee a portion of their money to Durant’s financial stability, while maintaining their cheap-cost philosophy for role players to complement Durant. Who knows? Maybe Boston turns Bradley, Jerekbo and a future pick into a budding up-and-comer like Jimmy Butler.

In Miami, Dwyane Wade’s $20 million will almost certainly be reduced, given his 34 year-old status and dwindling athleticism on the court at both ends. If the Heat can restructure his contract to even something like $15 million, it will still leave Pat Riley $5 million to work with – and that’s not going into the additional $10 million that Miami gets from Luol Deng’s departure.

Although Durant mainly thrives in transition, his shooting and shot creation still holds tremendous value in Erik Spoelstra’s pace-and-space offense. Even if the Heat let Hassan Whiteside walk this offseason, a lineup with Durant, healthy Chris Bosh and Goran Dragic would have shooting from everywhere on the court while maintaining size. Wade would be the cherry on top.

This is more than worth giving up Whiteside for, though the Heat would have to find more big men in the marketplace to combat bigger teams in the NBA. Then again, wasn’t this kind of criticism there when LeBron James joined Miami as well? Maybe we could see some excellent small-ball potential with Durant/Bosh as a front court over the next few years.

The Favorites
1. Oklahoma City Thunder($33,790,739)

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Durant high-fiving his fellow teammate Russell Westbrook, per USA Today.

It sounds trite, but why exactly would Durant want to leave Oklahoma City in the first place? The Thunder were a Klay Thompson-ascension into basketball immortality from reaching the NBA Finals. They weren’t exactly a pushover.

With Oklahoma City, Durant gets a franchise that clearly cares about his opinion and holds his opinion above every other player on the roster except maybe Westbrook. The Thunder could give him $30 million next year alone and practically only lose Serge Ibaka and Randy Foye. For a team that just got Ersan Ilyasova and Victor Oladipo in return for Ibaka, Oklahoma City seems pretty ready to win now, while having a good amount of potential for long-term success.

There might be tempting alternatives elsewhere, but when it comes to the amount of money a team can throw at Durant, its chances of winning an NBA title and long-term sustainability, the Thunder are pretty much set in how balanced they are. Why risk giving all of that up for going somewhere else with different question marks?

Lessons from the Cavs’ Playoffs/Knicks-Bulls Trade Thoughts

The Cavs’ Playoff Run

As I mentioned before the NBA Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers turned from a top team in their conference to becoming a historic offensive juggernaut and all-time team in the playoffs. By the end of the NBA Finals, the Cavaliers maintained their historic point-differential per 100 possessions. Here’s where the data puts them for NBA champions since 1980 (when the three-point line was introduced in the NBA): at No. 23.
Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 12.01.25 AMHowever, if you take a look at the Cavaliers in the playoffs, their total net rating jump from the regular season to playoffs is the third biggest increase for NBA champions in average net rating from regular season to postseason in NBA history (+3.1), just behind the 1991 Bulls (+3.8)  and the 2001 Lakers (…+10.1), who basically went from decent to earth-shatteringly amazing. Somehow, Cleveland turned from a decent regular season team to a memorable playoffs legend.

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These numbers might not even accurately illustrate just how high-level the Cavaliers’ performance was during the playoffs. Consider that  they were the only one out of these teams to beat a team like the 2016 Warriors, who along with a 73-9 record was also the only double-digits SRS-ranked team to lose in the NBA Finals since the three-point line was implemented. If the Warriors were just another average opponent in the NBA Finals, the Cavaliers could have maintained their historic outperforming of their opponents.

How did Cleveland go from contenders to historic champions?  Kyrie Irving recovering from a knee injury certainly helped, as evident from his jump in three-point shooting percentage, from 32 percent in the regular season, to 44 percent in the playoffs. LeBron James also seemed to find his shot again, as he went from a subpar 30.9 three-point shooting percent to a more respectable 34.0 percent. It’s not a sexy explanation, but sometimes improvement as a team simply comes from its highest volume scorers just shooting better.

Irving’s and James’ growth in shooting had a clear impact on the Cavaliers, raising their three-point shooting from a solid 36.3 percent to a blistering 40.6 percent in the playoffs. I’d say increased minutes for the two in playoff rotations probably helped with Cleveland’s excellence against its competition.

Make no mistake: Cleveland was a better team this year than its regular season may have indicated. By the time they were at 100 percent, the Cavaliers were an offensive force to be reckoned with, and they’ll remain a team to fear next season and in the future.

How the Chicago Bulls Robbed the New York Knicks

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The former MVP staring ahead. Photo is per thecomeback.com.

From the Bulls’ perspective, this trade makes a lot of sense. Though it’s most likely sad for the organization to rid Chicago of its homegrown star in Derrick Rose, the former MVP last looked like relevant in 2012. That was four years ago: back when people used to genuinely wonder if President Obama was born in Kenya, non-ironically listen to dubstep and watch “Breaking Bad” live. Although Rose’s struggles can be attributed to his unfortunate laundry list of injuries, those too are a negative against him.

By getting rid of Rose, the Bulls now have an opportunity to give their star shooting guard Jimmy Butler a chance to handle the ball a bit more frequently and develop furtheron the offensive end, with Jose Calderon as a secondary playmaker and off-the-ball shooter (41.4 three-point shooting percent last year) to complement the offense. Chicago also gets a solid starting center in Robin Lopez, who is a well-rounded starting-caliber player to possibly replace free agents Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah in the front court.

A lineup of Calderon/Dunleavy/Butler/Mirotic/Lopez would certainly be a great offensive fit, albeit weak on the boards and quite vulnerable in the pick and roll if Butler cannot develop into a Kawhi Leonard-tier defensive player. That said, development from newly-acquired and former Knick Jerian Grant, who did not show any promise within the Knicks’ offense last season, could help – and could be likely given that he’ll be learning from and playing behind longtime fan favorite and defensive specialist Kirk Hinrich.

While the significant dropoff in rebounding and defense will certainly hurt Chicago, if not completely transform its identity, consider the structural positives. Lopez’ veteran presence at center for only $42 million over the next three years won’t be so bad considering the market value for alternatives, like Bismack Biyombo, who could be getting as much as a max contract.

Moreover, Calderon’s $7 million expiring contract in 2017 will furthermore actually help Chicago’s chances in the free agency class of 2017, where the Bulls are expected to try to resign Butler and homegrown Nikola Mirotic, as well as go after point guards like Russell Westbrook or Chris Paul. The Bulls could slightly drop off in performance in 2017, but they could also have developed a strong offensive identity, finally move past their Tom Thibo-days (sorry for the pun) and stay competitive enough to attract stars in a stacked free agency class.

On the other end of the deal, I can’t say I  like what the Knicks are doing, so let’s start with the positives. New York now has an additional second draft pick, got rid of a loaded contract in Lopez, picked up a 27-year old shooter finding his touch (Justin Holiday, who shot over 44 percent from three last season with Chicago)  and now will be guaranteed an additional $21 million in cap space by trading for Rose on the last year of his loaded contract.

However, there’s also the aspect of the deal where the Knicks will be possibly left with a total of five players on their roster: presumably disgruntled superstar Carmelo Anthony, the promising but still unproven Kristaps Porzingis, Holiday, Rose and Kyle O’Quinn. The team isn’t even sure if Langston Galloway is returning and that’s not even going into its lack of a backup point guard behind the oft-injured Rose. New York doesn’t have a draft pick for 2016 either, so the rest of its roster will probably be filled with veterans on minimum/one-year contracts if the Knicks decide to round out their roster while retaining cap space for 2017.

If the Knicks wanted to clear up space, they could have also done so without getting rid of a good portion of their roster. Instead of using starting-caliber players to grab Rose, New York could have traded for more picks to grab long-term complementary players on team-friendly contracts, while still retaining enough cash for the 2017 free agency class in case the rookies turned out rotten.

Instead, the Knicks went the “NBA 2K” path of trading for a former household name with low upside, all risk and very little draft picks. In real life, this is usually not a successful strategy, as the Nets earlier this decade and mid-00s Trail Blazers would agree with.

Competing in the NBA is extremely difficult, but trading for Rose, while deceptively “high-reward” given his MVP history, is at best a lateral investment. Even assuming Rose came back healthy and at 2011 standards (already a massive leap of faith), him and Anthony are a terrible fit together. Both are individual, offensive-minded shot creators that like to hold the ball for a long time in long isolation plays, before either kicking out to shooters on the perimeter. The two would certainly be talented on the fast break, but their half-court tendencies don’t mix well – and it gets worse when thinking about how they’d mesh with Porzingis’ development.

Anthony succeeded in the past with a similarly ball-dominant point guard in Chauncey Billups, but at least Billups could still draw fouls at a high rate and play off-ball effectively. Rose is nowhere near the three-point shooter and is far more used to a drive and kick style of play. Unless Anthony is willing to abandon his emphasis on individual shot creation and play as a pick and roll big ready to shoot on the perimeter, I can’t see him succeeding with the Knicks with Rose.

Fast Five from the 2016 NBA Finals

I didn’t think I’d see Cleveland win a professional sports championship, but here I am, writing about the Cavaliers’ historic 3-1 series comeback over the record-breaking, but now disappointing Golden State Warriors. It’s one thing to beat a 73-9 team in the playoffs – it’s another to beat them three consecutive times. Here’s my fast five from the series.

1. Kevin Love had the last laugh.

Near the end of the series, Cleveland’s star power forward was practically seen as a walking albatross. From his atrocious shooting percentages to his awkward presence on the court, many people thought the Warriors completely neutralized Love.

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Kevin Love closes in on the best shooter ever – property of newsnet5.com.

Although the big man shot only 33 percent from the floor,  Love made a triumphant return in the series’ final game, with the highest on court plus/minus (+19) out of anyone on the Cavaliers. That doesn’t mean he was Cleveland’s most important player, but with team-leading 14 rebounds, Love provided size on the inside to dominantly outsize Golden State, who certainly missed the seven-foot presence of injured center Andrew Bogut. In his place, the Warriors often played the likes of Festus Ezeli and Harrison Barnes, who were both tremendously outmatched in the paint and often carried by Draymond Green.

2. What was Steve Kerr doing in the second half with his lineups?

I could talk about Kerr not having Stephen Curry on the floor with nine minutes left in the biggest game of the year. Or the lack of minutes given to Leandro Barbosa, along with the 11 minutes given to Festus Ezeli.

However, I’m going to let NBA Twitter do my work.

3. The 2016 NBA Finals was a tossup.

For the first six games, the point differential between the two competing teams was exactly even. If you saw that on its own, you might think that each individual game came down to the wire, but all those games were double-digit victories for the winning team. It’s only fitting that the final match was a nail-biter, although I thought it would end, er, somewhat differently.

Here’s the NBA Finals with the lowest amount of point differential between the winning and losing teams. Bolded and italicized are the years when the losing team outscored the season’s champion in the series. As far as seven-game series goes, the 2016 NBA Finals was as close to a coin flip as you could get. Bolded and italicized are series where the winning team actually finished with less points overall than the losing team for the series.

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4. Stephen Curry fell from the heavens harder than any MVP ever.

In sports culture, we have a tendency to simplify things based on results and not the process. Because the Warriors were unable to cap off their historic season, there’s already a good amount of blame going Curry’s way, considering his awful Game 7 performance.

Even the best players in the NBA suffer a drop in production from the playoffs grind, facing the league’s best. Look deeper into the numbers and you’ll find that Curry’s fall from grace is closer to Icarus than he’d like to admit.

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Because of Curry’s age, it’s unfair to hold his drop in production as a standard for him to follow for the rest of his career. However, if you’re a Golden State fan, Curry’s disappointing playoffs run has to be heartbreaking – especially if he wants to be considered the best player on the planet. Speaking of which…

5. Hail to the King.

What else is there to say about the world’s best player?  Along with leading both teams in every volume box score category (minutes, points, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals), James led the series in GameScore (26.5) and acted as his team’s leading defender, rebounder and offensive player. No one was even close to him in terms of consistent on-the-court impact. If the Cavaliers lost Game 7, he was still so far and away the MVP of the series.

Though it’s obvious that James isn’t quite the shooter or athlete he was when he was younger, he doesn’t have to be. At this point, his consistent playoffs brilliance illustrates a man who saves himself for the postseason, while still maintaining a baseline level of excellence for the rest of the season.

This is not to suggest that James somehow doesn’t care about regular season games or that he’s better now than he was in his athletic prime, but being able to “flip the switch” against better competition is invaluable, as the 15-1 playoff 2001 Lakers demonstrate. Losing regular-season MVPs will not matter for James if he’s asserted himself to a point where he can coast for most of the season and consistently dominate on the league’s biggest stage, as he’s shown over the last two Finals. Maybe even the last eight years.

Given his unique career arc and accomplishments, James doesn’t need to get a certain number of rings to cement himself as one of the greatest of all time. At this point, he shouldn’t be compared to anyone: James is the point of comparison for everyone else. That doesn’t mean he’s definitively better than a player like Michael Jordan, but James already has his own place in basketball immortality.

Welcome back to the throne, LeBron. Then again, did you ever really lose it?

 

Hometown Melee Heroes: Klap$

WEST DENNIS, MA – It’s a loser’s bracket match at the New England Invitational – and Captain Falcon main Pedro “Klap$” Otero had just blown a three to one stock lead against Jigglypuff main dudutsai. With both players on their last respective stock, Otero dashed back and quickly threw out a seemingly random knee. Somehow, the move successfully hit.

After the match, while nearly everyone else at the beach house kept chatting with each other, just quietly enough to avoid disrupting the players in the other room, Otero sat down on a chair near the game room entrance, silently watching a set between two fellow competitors, Mr. Lemon and Squible.

“Pedro, have you played like more than ten minutes of friendlies this weekend? I’m pretty sure you’ve just been straight chilling here,” joked David “ZoSo” Hughes, one of the invited players competing at the beach house. Everyone in the room, including Otero, who was sent into losers by Maine Fox main Captain Crunch, laughed.

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The view from the back of the New England Invitational beach house’s venue.

With the backdrop of the calm beach waves behind the porch of the house, Otero quipped back: “Yeah, man – I’m just here to chill.” He went back to quietly watching the set in the competitor’s room.

Otero is New England’s hidden boss: a top player mostly unknown outside of his regional scene. The No. 9 Super Smash Bros. Melee player in New England, Otero has beaten Mafia, Infinite Numbers and Swiftbass in tournament, along with many first-place finishes at Amesbury Melee tournaments.

If you’re not from New England, chances are you’ve never heard of him.

Otero started casually playing Melee around January 2011, when his cousin Josh “Bugatti” Guerrero introduced him to the game after the two played its sequel, Super Smash Bros. Brawl. They learned how to wavedash and L-Cancel, but didn’t regularly go to tournaments.

“Pedro and I always played together, but most of our sets were initially just us goofing around,” said Guerrero. “I still knew he loved to compete though.”

At the time, Otero was a Falco main named “SlimFast,” whose first tournament came two years later at Seven Years 2, when he got double four-stocked by Sora, a Massachusetts Marth player. After frequently getting comboed and not knowing how to avoid losing stocks at early percents, Otero quickly realized he didn’t like playing Falco against better opponents.

However, after briefly toying around with Luigi’s fast wavedash speed and pokes, Otero decided to become a Falcon player, changing his tag eventually to “Klap$.”

“I always thought Falcon was fifth best,” said Otero, mentioning that he was drawn to the character’s ability to hypothetically kill any character on touch, as well as his innate speed allowing players to react to more opportunities than if they played other characters.

Even with Falcon’s limited defensive options and bad recovery, the character’s ground speed gave Otero more of an opportunity to express himself within Melee’s dynamic engine.

“I love Melee because I feel like it’s one of the only games where I can play how I want to play and be remotely successful or happy with how I can do with my playstyle,” said Otero. “I like a challenge; and as a problem solver, I think there’s so many different pieces of Melee to learn.”

For Otero, the first problem was learning how to get good while not having an interest playing in tournaments. But a year after Seven Years 2, Guerrero endlessly irritated Otero with news of a supposedly better Falcon player in Boston: someone by the name of Relax. That was when Otero’s competitive drive kicked in.

“My goal was to prove I was a better player that tournament,” said Otero. “It didn’t happen immediately, but I think I eventually proved my worth.”

After winning an amateur bracket at Mass Madness, Boston’s most famous monthly series, Otero rapidly rose through the ranks, eventually taking a set off of Mr. Lemon, Boston’s best Dr. Mario player.

“I’d say that was probably my first big victory at the time,” Otero said, citing Lemon’s well-known reputation across New England as its “gatekeeper” for the upper echelon of players.

What started off as an impressive tournament win ended up being a sign of future improvement for the Boston Falcon, as he soon started placing in weekly top eights. Otero also became a member of the vaunted University of Massachusetts Boston crew within The Melee Games, who were consecutive winners from the New England division in both Season 2 and 3.

Because of his young age, quick rise to prominence and dedication to grinding hours each week to improve mostly on his own, Otero became a hometown hero. And word about him spread outside of Boston.

Tim “Swiftbass” Tilley, a Connecticut Marth player, remembered what it was like to hear news about Otero’s rise to prominence.

“I remember hearing about an up and coming Boston Captain Falcon main,” said Tilley. “I was pretty excited and surprised when I got to see him play in person – the kid’s good.”

Unlike what you might expect from a player with such a huge local support network, Otero improved from playing and thinking on his own about Melee, rather than necessarily getting consistent high-level practice or studying high-level Captain Falcon players like Wizzrobe or S2J.

“I don’t really have an idol or anyone I’ve tried to emulate, but I think being unique and learning how to play my own style made me what I am today,” said Otero.

James “Flambo” Philiossaint, one of Otero’s best friends since they went to high school, said one of Otero’s biggest strengths was his ability to dedicate himself to practice anything he wanted to pursue, as well as thinking of in-game questions and answering them himself.

“Pedro’s so good because he really takes the time to think about himself and apply himself to anything he wants to do,” said Philiossaint. “He’s always thinking about something, even if he might not openly say it.”

Around the same time as Otero’s rapid improvement came the rise of another college player from the same region: a then-Jigglypuff main named Squible who was known for his troll-esque, campy and patient playstyle.

“I remember Squible as this little white kid that played Jiggs,” said Otero, mentioning that Squible’s strategy was frequently psychologically frustrating to play against. “He beat me a month after I deemed him terrible and it came to bite me in the ass.”

Squible began beating Otero in tournament and taking sets off players like MattDotZeb, Mafia and even Animal at Apex 2015, becoming a consistent top eight-presence at weekly Boston tournaments. Now playing Fox, Squible is Northeastern University’s No. 1 Melee player and is ranked the No. 11 player in New England. Otero currently has a 14-13 lead in their head to head.

“I think rivalries like me and Squible are really healthy because you’re going to need motivation somewhere, like a way to channel the kind of bumping heads into something productive,” said Otero. “With someone like that, you get to test yourself in tough situations and have someone challenge you.”

Otero paused for a moment after being asked which player in New England he liked beating most. “Mafia,” Otero eventually answered before chuckling to himself.

“To be honest, most of it is because I like when he goes on Twitter to complain about Falcon, especially because I personally know him,” Otero added, mentioning that playing against Peach was his favorite matchup.

Though Otero is still down (18-42) in sets against Mafia, he currently holds a combined 20-0 record over local Peach players Rime and Mr. Tuesday since 2015, along with a convincing 13-1 lead over Boston’s two best Marth mains (Sora and Makari) combined. Otero also has a 13-5 record against Infinite Numbers, a 8-1 lead against Ice Climbers frame data nerd BVB, an 8-5 record over dudutsai and a 22-set winning streak against Mr. Lemon, since beating him in April last year at Game Over 12.

Part of Otero’s success in his region comes from his unique read-heavy approach to Melee.

“When I started to going to tourneys, my idea was that I had to beat everyone that attended, so I studied playstyles of all people from Massachusetts and created direct counterplay in my own head to their habits and decision-making,” said Otero.

Otero acknowledged getting familiar with several character matchups as an important factor in his improvement, citing floaty characters’ lack of defensive options against safe pressure and in “RPS situations.” Yet most of his success comes from his deliberate attention to detail on the other players’ habits, along with recognizing and punishing mistakes.

“I look like I play risk averse, but when I go for hits on my opponent, it’s actually very dependent on my reading their movement,” Otero said. “It looks safe, but gets me hurt a lot.”

Otero still struggles against top-level competition. After losing an early 3-1 set to a Maine Fox player Captain Crunch and getting dominantly swept by The Moon at Mega Mass Madness for a ninth-place finish, Otero had his most disappointing tournament in a year at New Game Plus 54, Boston’s premier weekly tournament series.

At NGP 54, he breezed through his first opponent before losing to a New York Marth named Young, who was underseeded at 29th during the tournament.  Otero made his way through two more players before falling 2-1 to the Southern California power-ranked EastCoastJeff, hastily shaking his hand and leaving the venue, with a relatively disastrous 17th-place conclusion to his night.

It was the first time Otero finished outside of top eight in a New Game Plus since June 2015’s New Game Plus 10, when he lost to Delaware’s current No. 1 R2Dliu and dudutsai.

Even though Otero came back the next week to beat Mafia and finish second to Crush at NGP 55, results like NGP 54 and MMM are a frustrating bump in his development as a player. More morbidly, they’re a reminder that despite the last three years of improvement, he’s so close, yet so far from reaching the next level of play.

“Right now, I have little to no shot at beating players like The Moon,” said Otero, adding that he could tell when opponents were far more deliberate, technically sound and superior to himself.

“It’s not the most inspiring answer, but I know that when it comes down to it, I’m still a small fish in a large pond.”

At Apex 2015, Otero’s only attended national, he finished third behind only Dev and Bladewise in his pool, beating tri-state players Chuuper and Zodiac to a 145th place finish at what was then the largest Melee tournament ever.

“It’s tough to determine if I want to spend most of my money and time in Melee,” said Otero, adding how his lack of travel obscures his out-of-region reputation. “It feels like I’m at a crossroads – I can’t keep doing what I’m doing if I want to improve, but I also don’t know what my priorities are.”

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Otero playing friendlies with Jason “Infinite Numbers” Gauthier at the New England Invitational early in the first day.

In addition to having never won a set against Slox and th0rn, Otero has never beaten ZoSo’s Marth in tournament, holds a losing 1-9 record against Crush since 2015 and is 2-13 against MattDotZeb in that same timespan. He’s also lost the last three sets he played against Captain Crunch.

Otero acknowledged a real weakness in his play: his tendency to nervously “make things happen when they’re not there.” This, he admitted, was a habit coming partially from his reliance on familiarity with his opposition and lack of confidence playing different play styles.

“For example, if I’m playing against a strong Marth and both of us are dash dancing, I like after two iterations of full dashing, I’ll full analog forward jump and aerial to try to force them into the corner,” said Otero, mentioning that this got him heavily punished in recent sets against The Moon.

The same weakness has also, admittedly from him, slowed his ability to understand how to play the stage positioning game against fast characters like Fox and Falco, to whom he still “has no idea how to play neutral against.”

“I talked to Smuckers about this a while ago and he told me that I throw out moves hoping they’ll hit because I know how to punish afterwards,” said Otero. “It’s one of those things, like a cheap band-aid that works only temporarily.”

When asked if he ever felt jealous or underappreciated for not getting the same kind of national exposure as other New England contemporaries, Otero immediately refuted the idea.

“Not at all – they’ve put in the time and effort and I can’t be mad at them for that,” Otero responded, mentioning that he loved watching any New England player do well at nationals. “I know I can’t do what a few other players can do, but what really matters to me is my own growth and what I take from each match I play.”

Otero still struggles with balancing Melee with both his time in school and his personal life, but he added that it was important for him to figure out a balance between life and his hobbies that worked for himself – even if it meant maybe not improving at the same rate as the players that usually beat him.

Instead of comparing himself to his competition, Otero tries to focus on his own improvement as a person and competitor, with separate goals in and out of the game.

“I definitely want to defend the home turf,” Otero said in reference to preparing for Boston’s upcoming national, Shine 2016, and still competing in Boston. “But I don’t have specific goals in mind – I just want to put everything to the test and keep challenging myself as long as I can.”


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Otero getting ready to play Tilley for a spot in the top-eight stage of the New England Invitational.

Otero is on his tournament stock again, but his character somehow lands on the right cloud in Yoshi’s Story after getting spiked by Tilley, surprising every gasping spectator in the other room. There’s a brief moment of hope for the Boston Falcon, but seconds later, Otero gets sent off stage by a forward smash, cementing his ninth-place finish at the New England Invitational.

After his loss, Otero left the venue, along with two other eliminated competitors from the invitational. It’s an abrupt close to his tourney, though understandable given the hour and a half trek from Boston to Cape Cod.

In Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” the narrator woefully regrets the path he’s chosen out of two, bemoaning the missed opportunities he might have gained on the other one. Otero is at a point in his Melee playing career where he’ll have to decide which road he’ll take: the one as a full-time Melee competitor and hometown hero, or the one where he continues playing a game he loves, but doesn’t pursue it further than as a hobby.

The people who want to be the best in the world at Melee dedicate weeks of their lives to playing, often practicing for hours each day and treating Melee like a job. They are the ones with the most to lose, with their emotional well-being and sometimes even financial situation at stake in each tournament match.

Maybe Otero will become one of those people. Maybe he won’t – and that’s okay too. Either way, he’ll have no regrets.

Why You Should be Excited for this year’s NBA Finals

I may have unintentionally jinxed the Oklahoma City Thunder last week, but the Golden State Warriors have another opponent coming up – this time in the NBA Finals. We’re about to see a rematch between one historically dominant team vs. another that’s starting to heat up at the right time.

After a relatively rocky season involving possible chemistry issues between players and the loss of a head coach, the Cleveland Cavaliers look better than they have all season. LeBron James may have permanently lost his jumper, but his team has decimated its competition – and the numbers goes beyond Cleveland’s scorching 10-0 start to its playoffs.

Although it’s possible that Golden State could just catch on fire and sweep Cleveland – given that Stephen Curry is not a mere moral – basketball fans have plenty of reasons to be thrilled for this season’s NBA Finals.

Cleveland has outscored its playoff competition in record-breaking, dominant fashion.

The Cavaliers were already an elite offense during the regular season, as indicated by a 110.9 offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions), which ranked No. 3 in the NBA. That number has gone up this postseason to 119.2, putting them not only comfortably in the top position for best playoff offense, but perhaps as the best postseason scoring team we’ve seen from a basketball team in the last 25 years. This kind of scoring is literally so good that it invalidates other weaknesses the team might have.

I looked at every playoff team since 1974: no team since has outscored its opponents so thoroughly in the postseason. Here’s the kind of peers the Cavaliers have, for reference of how ridiculous this is.

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These are the only teams within the last 42 years to outscore their opponents by at least ten points per 100 possessions within the playoffs. It’s not a coincidence that all of the Cavaliers’ contemporaries are title winners. If you’re not familiar with any of the teams, keep in mind that the 1986 Celtics boasted a 40-1 regular season home record, while the 2001 Lakers were known for mostly coasting through the season before tearing off an absurd 15-1 run through the playoffs. These are immortals – not just champions.

If Cleveland keeps its performance up, LeBron James and his teammates have a chance to put the icing on top of their dominant playoff run: one that, if successful, will definitely eclipse Golden State’s incredible 73-9 regular season record.

However, unlike Oklahoma City, the Cavaliers have another way that they hope to beat the Warriors.

Cleveland and Golden State play two opposite, but similar styles.

Statistically speaking, the grind-it-out Cavaliers are a completely different beast than anyone the Warriors have played in the postseason.

Unlike the Thunder, who tried to beat Golden State at its own game, Cleveland will try to make this series a slower-paced affair. Already a slow-paced team throughout the regular season, the Cavaliers’ pace during the playoffs is currently at 89.7 possessions per game. This marks a drastic difference in an opponent for the Warriors, who have currently played at a 98.8 pace throughout the postseason.

Though the Cavaliers can successfully take advantage of transition opportunities, grading at a blitzing 1.25 points per possession on the fast break this postseason, per NBA stats, they’ll most likely be looking to do the same thing as last year: opt for long, methodical and shot clock-draining half-court sets to tire out the Warriors.

However, unlike last year, Cleveland has many of the same strengths as their opponent. Not only can both teams score around the same level, but they go for the same kind of shots. Both Golden State (.357) and the Cavaliers (.408) are in the top three for highest three point attempt rate, with Cleveland leading every postseason team. Moreover, while we’re all used to the Warriors being dazzling from three (.402), the Cavaliers have been even better (.434), though this might be partially due to small sample size.

They’re essentially like two opposite sides of the same coin – and a fitting match up to close out the year.

It’s a rematch where Cleveland is at 100 percent.

It sounds like a bit too obvious to write as a reason for excitement, but consider how enthralling last year’s NBA Finals were, even with Kyrie Irving’s injury in Game 1 and Kevin Love missing the entire series. Although the series still ended in a convincing 4-2 Warriors victory, it also brought role players like Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova to the national spotlight, particularly for Thompson’s rebounding prowess and Dellavedova’s courageous, if not occasionally questionable do-or-die attitude on the court.

Instead of watching James try to be a one-man team on offense, while being too tired to effectively be the defensive anchor his team, we’re going to see an all-rounds-firing Cavaliers squad face off against what might be the greatest basketball team in NBA history. It’s fast vs. slow; James vs. Curry; big men vs. small ball; flipping the switch vs. sustained excellence; the old guard vs. the new, etc. For our sake as viewers, let’s hope J.R. Smith doesn’t shoot 29.4 percent from the arc again and keeps up his 40 percent regular season numbers.

This column sounds Cavaliers-biased, but most of the tone comes from a level of familiarity with how machine-like and brilliant the Warriors have been all season. As basketball fans, we’ve grown accustomed to their pursuit of basketball perfection, but as shown through the Cavaliers’ performance this postseason, we could also be seeing the best playoffs run ever.

Put the two together on the biggest stage and you have a recipe for entertainment. Tweet to me, @ssbmjecht, for which team you think will win the NBA Finals!