Smash History: 2007 in Melee and our Top Ten

If we’re living through Super Smash Bros. Melee’s platinum age, nine years ago was the game’s golden, MLG-ridden, Smashboards-centric era: a time when language on the Internet was even more offensive than today, Nickelback dominated the radio and it was still cool to play Guitar Hero.

To players whose knowledge of the competitive Melee scene comes from the “smash documentary:” there might be a few missing pieces in your knowledge of Melee history. Michael “Catastrophe” Forde and I worked on a “RetroSSBMRank” for 2007, figuring out whom the year’s Top 10 players were. We’ll be doing this for each year up to 2013, when Melee It On Me started the regular SSBMRank.m

As people who have only known of the scene since Apex 2013, we are not definitively the experts of smash history nor are we perfect Melee analysts. Moreover, all the records we’ve compiled are according to just the data we’ve collected so far. We understand that our head-to-head numbers are only exact according to what we’ve found, so feel free to consider this a “living piece” and not be too offended by our rankings.

That said, Catastrophe and I spent countless hours looking through smashboards, Nintendojo, ssbwiki and through old TIO files to collect our data, which you can see near the bottom of the page. If you have any more results you’d like to tell us about, please tweet at or contact us in another way (particularly about FC Diamond, where the bracket was lost). Otherwise, feel free to do the research yourself and come to different conclusions.

With that said, let’s start with each of our honorable mentions (we made sure not to repeat anyone) before we get into our list.

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ANOKH:

Amsah “amsah” Augustuszoon

Because we have little data against Americans from him to work on, neither of us thought it was fair to put Amsah on the list. However, based on his performances in Europe alone, Amsah might have been the most dominant in-region player on the planet. According to ssbwiki, the legendary Dutch Sheik main did not lose a single tournament all year, finishing first at every tournament he entered, with only a single dropped set to Helios.

Dustin “Darc” Hayes

When smashers think of Jigglypuff, they usually think Hungrybox. Older smashers might think of Mango or The King. Darc, however, was quietly always one of the world’s best players and in 2007 had a good case as its most consistent Jigglypuff player. As the best Melee player in Maine, Darc also took sets off fellow New Englanders in Cort and KoreanDJ, along with sending PC Chris to losers bracket at IVesticle. Beating KoreanDJ alone gives Darc a solid argument for Top Ten, even if he isn’t on my list.

Alex “DieSuperFly” Fuentes

One of the older members of the DBR crew (you can look up what their acronym means) and having taken a set from Ken in 2004, the Southern California Sheik main is a staple of old-school Melee. On SoCal’s power rankings from October 28, 2007, DSF was No. 4, with a 5-2 record over the region’s No. 2 at the time in Mango. His 49th place at Zero Challenge 3 (OC3) with losses to Lunaris and Wobbles stings in what’s otherwise an impressive year.

Jesse “Vidjogamer” Werner

Arguably one of the Midwest’s best players with Tink, Dope, Drephen and Darkrain, Ohio’s best Peach main had a great 2007, beating Lucky and Cactuar en route to a seventh-place at OC3 and a fifth-place showing at FC Diamond, the year’s second biggest tournament, in addition to a 2-2 record with Drephen. However, the lack of data we could find for Vidjogamer hurt his ranking on the list, as well as his losses to Husband and Scar at Viva La Smashtaclysm late into the year.  

Hugo “HugS” Gonzalez

Probably my most controversial pick for an honorable mention, the second-place finisher at EVO World 2007 initially seemed like a lock for Top Ten when I started my initial research. But given the talent at the top, it was hard to definitively argue him over the person I placed as my number 10. Either way, HugS’ strong showing in 2007 showed that he was a force to be reckoned with. Plus, it’s not like he had no argument for Top Ten – it was extremely close deciding between him and other names on the list.

MICHAEL:

Daniel “Jiano” Hart

Jiano started the year off as No. 13 on the Midwest Power Rankings, but by the end of the year, he was undoubtedly one of the region’s best players, taking multiple sets over Drephen, Tink and Darkrain. However, his biggest accomplishment was his breakout performance at Pound 2, where he placed an astonishing 3rd over PC Chris, Cort and Chillin. At this tournament, he defeated Husband, Cort, Chillin and brought Chu Dat to a fifth game in Winners Finals after making an astonishing comeback in the set’s fourth game. Although his negative record against Dope and occasional losses to players outside of the elite bar him keep him from cracking the Top Ten, Jiano’s Pound 2 run and rise as a player was one of the most exciting storylines of 2007.

James “Dope” Hafner

Dope was an amazing Falco player, mainly known for being ranked No. 1 in the Midwest and No. 9 in the world by the Smash Panel Power Rankings in 2006. He continued to be a force in 2007, with positive records over every top Midwest player he faced except Drephen. Due to his scarce presence at nationals, his only two being VLS and FC Diamond where he got a pair of 17th places, it’s hard to rank him higher, though he certainly had the skill to compete with the Top 10.

David “Darkrain” John

The legendary Falcon player wasn’t in his prime yet, but by the end of 2006 with a fifth at FC6 and a 9th at MLG Orlando, Darkrain was already started to showcase himself as a national threat. 2007 continued Darkrain’s uphill climb, with consistent top three placings at regionals, hosting wins over Tink, Jiano, DaShizWiz and even a set over Dope. His finest achievement, however, came at FC Diamond, where he placed an astonishing 7th, defeating the likes of Vidjogamer and Pacific Northwest monster Luigi Ka-Master – a top player on his own. By the end of 2007, Darkrain had a viable claim as the best Falcon in the world.

Tony “Taj” Jackson

Taj, the Mewtwo connoisseur and creator of the Shadowclaw combo video series, is probably best known for his startling Genesis 2 run four years later. However, Taj was still one of Melee’s better players in 2007. With positive records on HugS, Cort and Wobbles in the year, he only struggled to take a set off the world’s top seven. While both Taj and fellow Arizona legend Forward showed impressive resumes, what pushes Taj ahead for me is his strong presence at nationals. Taj placed 7th at Pound 2, ahead of Forward’s 9th, with wins over Cactuar and Cort coming for the Arizona Marth and Mewtwo legend. He also had an astonishing 5th place at FC Diamond, defeating Cort once again and beating Darkrain. Compare that to Forward’s 25th, which came from losses to Ka-Master and Lambchops.

Bronson “DaShizWiz” Layton

Before becoming an easy pick for Top 5 in the world, Shiz started to break it big in 2007. At the time, the Florida Falco was the best in his state, consistently beating the likes of Lambchops and only had a rare loss to KeepSpeedN, Shiz’s brother and training partner. Moreover, Shiz placed seventh at FC Diamond, sporting a notable win over Chillindude. At the same tournament, Shiz notably brought it extremely close with Mew2King at FC Diamond in Winner’s Quarters, losing to unfortunate circumstances involving Mute City.
Without further ado, here’s our final RetroSSBMRank for 2007, ranked mainly on what people thought at the time, while giving bias towards bigger and later tournaments that year.

If you’re still here, congratulations! You’ve made it past our lengthy honorable mentions list. Here’s our Top Ten for RetroSSBMRank 2007!

ANOKH:

10. Joseph “Mango” Marquez

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A cropped photo from Mango’s MySpace page of him at EVO World 2007.


Perhaps hindsight inflates my view of Mango, but by the end of 2007 no one could sleep on SoCal’s No. 2. Already finishing third at EVO, with victories over Mew2King (albeit in a best of one), Chillin and Ken, Mango also had an impressive showing at Super Champ Combo, where he beat PC Chris and placed third after losing to Mew2King in winners and losing the rematch with PC Chris. Even having a losing record against DSF and sometimes struggling with Edrees, BoA and DC over the first half of the year, Mango was indubitably the heir to Ken’s throne on the West Coast by the end of 2007.

MICHAEL:

The arguably greatest Melee player of all time started his journey in 2007, but saw a quick rise to the top after only six months or so of concentrated effort. While he never won any larger tournaments, Mango showed amazing consistency in the second half of the year, finishing with a 3-2 record against HugS and consistently placing in the top three of SoCal locals and regionals. His biggest accomplishments came at his breakout tournament EVO World 2007 and Super Champ Combo, with wins over Mew2King (in a best of one), Chillin, Ken, HugS and PC Chris. In addition, he even travelled out sometimes, including a dominant showing in Arizona where he defeated Taj, Wobbles and Forward (twice) to win a regional.

9. Paul “Cort” Rogoza

cort
Cort to the left of PC Chris, playing against Chillin and Chu Dat. Photo per smashboards.

ANOKH:

One of New England’s top three players and a model of consistency, Cort, arguably the world’s best Peach player has victories over Chu Dat and Chillin. Picking between him, Mango, HugS and Darc was extremely difficult, but I gave Cort the nod over all of them for longtime experience and placing highly at every attended national with over 100 people, MLG Long Island being the only tournament he wasn’t able to place well at. Being No. 1 ranked in Connecticut during 2007 also helped, along with having a Marth secondary that provided a foundation for PPMD’s Marth to build on years later.

MICHAEL:

While many considered Vidjo to be the superior Peach at the start of the year, by the end of the year it was difficult to ignore Cort. He showed amazing consistency throughout the whole year, rarely having upset losses, with the exception of an 0-2 set disadvantage to Taj and losses to Reik and Kaiser. Even still, Cort was easily top three in New England, as well as Connecticut’s best. Along with taking a set off PC Chris, Cort’s other great wins come with his win over Mango in pools at Super Champ Combo, as well as his amazing 3-1 record over Chu Dat and wins over Chillin, Shiz and Cactuar.

8. Drew “Drephen” Scoles


ANOKH:

Drephen is part of a small group of people that beat Mew2King in 2007 and also held a 2-0 record over Azen, who was one of the MD/VA region’s three best players. These wins, as well as his strong local record over fellow Midwest contemporaries like Vidjogamer and Dope, gave Drephen the nod as his region’s best player at nationals. For a year where Marth still dominated the smash metagame, Drephen’s prowess in the matchup stood as an impressive reminder of his value.

MICHAEL:

Drephen is best known for his win over Mew2King near the end of 2007, but he still was having an excellent year. Undoubtedly the best in the Midwest at the time, Drephen was a scary force locally, hosting positive records over everybody in his region with the exception of an even 2-2 record with Vidjo. He also even travelled out to MD/VA a handful of times, where he sported wins over both Chillin and Azen. He had consistent top five finishes at every national he went to, with fifth at Pound 2, OC3 and VLS, as well as an impressive fourth at FC Diamond.

7. Kashan “Chillin” Khan

ANOKH:

Famous for already defeating one Marth legend (Ken) in the past, Chillin shocked the world with his upset of Mew2King at EVO World 2007, only to do it again months later to prove it wasn’t a fluke. Although he stayed winless (0-4) against Azen for the year, Chillin went 1-2 against PC Chris and maintained consistent dominance against Chu Dat (9-2).  Top-eight finishes at Pound 2, VLS and EVO World solidify his place among 2007’s best smashers.

MICHAEL:

While many will point to the days of his wins over Ken in 2004 and 2005 for Chillin’s peak year, I’d point to the year 2007, where I feel he played better than any other time in his career. Chillin showed dominance locally, very rarely losing to anybody outside of Azen, including Chu Dat, whom Chillin held an impressive 9-2 record against throughout the year. While he did not perform as dominantly on a national scale, Chillin still took sets off of Forward, Jiano, Dope and Cort, double eliminated Drephen at Pound 2, beat PC Chris once and even had two sets over Mew2King in the year. Despite an underwhelming performance at Smashtality III (13th,with losses to Reik and Zanguzen), Chillin was astounding throughout the year.

6. Christopher “Azen” McMullen

ANOKH:

Azen might have been MD/VA’s best player in-region, having a combined 8-1 record against Chillin and Chu Dat. Though his lack of travel somewhat hurts his ability to be ranked higher, his best head to head win of the year outside his area was a victory was against KoreanDJ at VLS. At that same tourney, he also defeated PC Chris and Chu Dat, finishing in first place to close out the final major tournament of 2007.

MICHAEL:

While Azen’s prime was certainly behind him at this point in time, that didn’t stop the Master of Diversity from still showing he had what it takes to be at the top. Azen was undisputedly the best local player in MD/VA, but his run to 1st place at VLS, the last major of the year, was arguably even more impressive. At this tournament, he defeated KoreanDJ, PC Chris and Chu Dat twice to take the crown. Despite his relative lack of travel and negative records against Drephen, PC Chris and Mew2King, Azen proved more than capable of being a contender to take any tournament he entered.

5. Daniel “Chu Dat” Rodriguez

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Photo per Melee It On Me, of Chu Dat (on the right) and Forward making Chu’s famous pose.


ANOKH:

Despite a long list of upsets, as well as losing records against Ken (1-5), Azen and Chillin, Chu Dat was by far the most successful in MD/VA against out-of-region opponents. In 2007, he was one of two people to hold a winning record over Mew2King (6-4) in tournament, which shines in comparison to Azen’s 0-4 record against Mew2King and Chillin’s 2-6.

Chu Dat is also one of four people (Mew2King, Ken and PC Chris) to win a tournament with over 200 people in it (Pound 2), cementing his place at least among the top five. Even with occasionally unpredictable results, Chu Dat’s presence at nationals and high ceiling were more than enough to offset his lows.

MICHAEL:

Chu Dat, formerly ranked No. 2 in the world by 2006’s Smash Panel power rankings, showed tremendous peaks in 2007, also hosting an even 2-2 record against KoreanDJ. However, he also sometimes struggled against his contemporaries, as illustrated by a 1-3 record against Cort, 1-4 records against Azen and PC Chris each and poor 1-5 and 2-9 records against Ken and Chillin, respectively.

Nonetheless, the Ice Climbers extraordinaire (with effective Pikachu and Young Link secondaries) was still capable of defeating anybody in the world on any given day. Perfect records over Drephen, Darc, Mango and HugS help his case, in addition to his strong presence at Pound 2, when he defeated PC Chris, an on-fire Jiano and Mew2King twice to take the 200-person tournament. While the year was not of 2006 highs, 2007 ensures Chu’s place as one of the greatest of all time.

Michael and I agreed for the first six members of our top ten, but didn’t agree on the order between our No. 4 and No. 2 spot. We’ll be going through my order first and then his.

4. Christopher “PC Chris” Szygiel

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A photo of PC Chris, per the ssbwiki.

If you were skeptical, you could point to PC Chris’s 2007 3-12 record against Mew2King and 0-4 head-to-head record against KoreanDJ, but it also doesn’t hurt that PC Chris has a positive or even record against every other smasher he’s played against, including a 5-1 lead on Chu Dat, 13-1 against Cort and 3-1 against Darc.

Moreover, in addition to his consistently high placings everywhere (top three placings at Super Champ Combo, EVO West and FC Diamond), PC Chris also has arguably one of the best tournament runs of the year. After being sent into losers at OC3 by Mew2King, he then proceeded to beat Edrees, Forward, HugS, Vidjo, Drephen, Ken, Chu Dat and Mew2King (twice). A forefather of the Fox/Falco meta already, PC Chris also had a great secondary Peach that Mew2King considered best in the world a year later – and even a Marth that defeated KoreanDJ in dittos all three times played during a set.

3. Daniel “KoreanDJ” Jung

Except for losing his only set against Azen and going 2-2 with Chu Dat, KoreanDJ held winning records against every other Melee competitor in the head-to-head, including a 3-1 lead over Mew2King and 4-0 record over PC Chris in the year. With a formidable Sheik, Marth and Fox, KoreanDJ’s perceived skill ceiling was so huge that a year later when Mango won Pound 3, a member of Smashboards wrote in the results thread, “kdj totally woulda won this.”

Undeniably New England’s best player and arguably the world’s most talented, KoreanDJ isn’t No. 1 on my list due to his lack of a big national title outside of MLG Long Island, which only had 71 entrants. This, is likely due to his responsibilities attending school, which turn his legacy from just one as one of the game’s legends to one of its biggest what-ifs, along with 2016 Leffen and 2015 PPMD.

2. Ken “SephirothKen” Hoang

The King of Smash, Marth innovator and formerly the world’s best player, Ken still dominated his region more than anyone else and won what was at the time the biggest Melee tournament of all-time. If consistency is a hallmark of greatness, Ken’s only national losses for the year were to Mango at EVO World, Mew2King and PC Chris at OC3, along with sets against Wobbles and Chu Dat (5-1) near the end of the year, where Ken played Luigi for part of his losses.

Yet despite not traveling much out of his region at the time, Ken split sets with PC Chris (1-1) and held a combined 7-1 record against SoCal’s No. 2 and No. 3 players, while never losing to anyone ranked beneath them and winning two of the 12 biggest tournaments of the year. Once to you take into account his history, as well as sustained greatness on the world’s biggest stage, it’s obvious that even a year after he started to lose some of his luster, Ken was still about as good as anyone.

4. Ken “SephirothKen” Hoang

The King of Smash had nothing more to prove going into 2007, with an impressive run as undisputed No. 1 from the early MLG-days. To this day, he is still heralded as a top three Melee player all-time. But Ken wasn’t done just yet – and in his swan song delivered another incredible year. Dominating at locals, Ken never dropped a set, holding wins over Chu Dat, DSF, HugS and Mango.

While he never traveled often, Ken came out to the biggest tournament of the year, EVO World 2007, to prove he still had what it took to be the best. Coming off a disappointing fourth place at his own tournament, OC3, with losses to M2K and PC Chris, Ken eventually proved he could still play like the greatest player in the world, defeating Chu Dat twice, PC Chris and destroying Mango in one of the most lopsided top level rematches of all time. Ken then beat HugS twice in Grand Finals to take the tournament. Even with a disappointing 7th at Super Champ Combo, Ken had nothing left to prove, inarguably Melee’s face and champion.

3. Christopher “PC Chris” Szygiel

PC Chris ended his year in 2006 as arguably the greatest in the world, winning what some consider the first true super-major: MLG Las Vegas, for $10,000 in prize money. Despite losses to Cort, Darc, HugS, Chillin and G-Reg, PC Chris remained remarkably consistent, rarely losing to anybody below him and doing well against his contemporaries throughout 2007.

A positive record on Azen and a dominating record on Chu Dat help PC Chris’s case, along with a miraculous run at OC3 to win the whole tournament from losers, defeating the likes of HugS, Forward, Vidjo, Drephen, Ken, Chu Dat and Mew2King – whom he had to beat twice.

2. Daniel “KoreanDJ” Jung

KoreanDJ was potentially the best player in the world. The Massachusetts legend won multiple tournaments over PC Chris and even MLG Long Island 2007 over Mew2King, Chu Dat and PC, probably his greatest accomplishment in the year and one of the most impressive winners bracket runs ever.

However, due to school priorities, KDJ was unable to attend as much as he probably wanted to, causing him to fall behind and not attend OC3, FC Diamond, EVO World or Super Champ Combo. When KoreanDJ finally returned, losses to Azen and Chu Dat for third at VLS hurt his case for best in the world, even with a win over Mew2King. Two local losses to Darc further dampen his path to No. 2. Who knows – if school never got in the way, you might think that our No. 1’s legacy could have been KoreanDJ’s.



1. Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman

ANOKH:

Contrary to popular belief, 2007 Mew2King wasn’t unbeatable. He had losing records to KoreanDJ (1-3) and Chu Dat (4-6), while also placing out at the biggest tournament’s top eight. Mew2King also had losses to Drephen, Cactuar and Chillin (twice) in the year, while also placing out of the top eight at the world’s biggest tournament partially because of losing a best-of-one set against Mango.

But out of the 12 tournaments of the year that had over 100 people, Mew2King won four of them: FC Diamond, Super Champ Combo, Cataclysm III and EVO West. FC Diamond and SCC were two of five tourneys with over 200 people in 2007. Ken is the only other player who won more than one tournament with over 100 people and no one in the year won multiple 200-people tourneys outside of Mew2King, whose Marth at its best looked impeccable against even people he held losing records against. It’s not a controversial pick, but with a punish game years ahead of his time and a legendarily meticulous approach to pushing Melee’s limits, Mew2King is without a doubt my No. 1 pick for 2007.

MICHAEL:

Going into this project, I originally thought that Mew2King’s “reign” was a bit overhyped, with his losing records against KoreanDJ and Chu Dat. However, upon further research, it’s hard to deny just how strong Mew2King was in the year.

While every player of 2007 had their fair share of upset losses, Mew2King’s “worst loss” in Cactuar is ultimately forgivable given how much Mew2King entered and won any tournament he could. The New Jersey Marth main stood dominant over the rest of the scene, with a decimating win against Ken in the one set they played at OC3, a 4-0 record vs Azen and a dominating 12-3 record against perhaps his most frequent rival, PC Chris. I couldn’t find a local tournament that Mew2King lost, as he dominated every Tri-State local and regional. His wins at FC Diamond, Cataclysm 3 and Super Champ Combo are astounding and he has more major wins than anybody else in the year. That’s not even including his wins at EVO East and EVO West, also over stiff competition. Despite not being unbeatable like many would lead you to believe, Mew2King was still the clear top dog at the time. He is both of our picks for the best player of 2007.

OUR HUGE DATA DUMP OF TOURNEY RESULTS:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1pW3x_fDfBzl1ZiqK6JvkzObEsQLsucfUK7BWM1Fk6OE/edit

Enjoy.

The Man Behind the Box: Talking To Liquid Crunch

Last week I got a chance to sit down with his coach, Luis “Liquid Crunch” Rosias: the man who helped the world’s premier Jigglypuff player become its top player.

I got talked to Rosias about his history as a player, his development as a coach, his future plans, as well as the Fox vs. Jigglypuff matchup. The following is a rough transcript of our conversation last Friday, based on a Skype conversation we had, as well as my notes during our talk together.

ANOKH: Why don’t you introduce yourself to our audience first?

LUIS: Sure. My name is Luis Rosias, AKA Liquid Crunch. I’m a coach for Hungrybox on Team Liquid and rising New England Melee Fox main. I am also a software engineer in Maine.

ANOKH: When did you start playing?

LUIS: I started playing Melee around fifth grade when it came out, but just with friends. It wasn’t until I met Juan (Hungrybox) that we played more. We met in school and were casuals back then, but were still competitive with each other.

ANOKH: So were Hungrybox and you kind of like Mango and Lucky in a sense?

LUIS: Yeah – we literally lived about a 10 or 15 minute walk from another. We were from Orlando, Florida: Hunter’s Creek.

ANOKH: How did you both get into competitive Melee?

LUIS: Well, we naturally fell in love with the game. We were both competitive and wanted to get better. After school, we’d play other people every day and at one point were considered the two kings of our school. We got rocked at our first legitimate tournament, but we met what later became our crew: WATO (What are the Oddz).

Originally, when Juan and I joined the crew, they were surprised at how quickly we learned. We were by far the youngest (13 and 14 years old) in the crew and they took us in as the young apprentices. Juan had a lot of support from his parents, which really led him to flourish the natural ability both me and him had. To this day, WATO and his family still support us and cheer us on.

Because of the people in our crew, we got a lot of high-level practice against a variety of characters. We literally had one of everything and also had, at the time, someone many considered to be the best woman Melee player: Legion. Over time, we all got better and so did Hungrybox.

ANOKH: What did you notice that was different about Hungrybox?

LUIS: Juan had a few factors that were beneficial: as a person, he’s always been able to focus and compete in anything he put his mind to. But he also had a ton of support from his parents. He literally had people from WATO over his house like every single day after school.

If he was ever alone, he’d constantly invite people over to play. I guess his need to be around other people and competitive nature brought it out. I mean, I’d always play with him.

ANOKH: Why did you guys love the game so much?

LUIS: I think the thing with Melee is that there’s such a diversity of characters that have different playstyles. For me, I enjoyed playing them – and at one point basically played all the top tiers against Juan. The characters have such different playstyles in expressing yourself.

Melee gives you so much freedom and it’s such a crisp game that allowed us to express our competitiveness. It just so happened that Juan and I were able to be part of a super immersive experience.

I also think the community aspect was such a big deal, since smash is a social thing that you can play with your best friends. We have amazing memories meeting all these people through Melee.

ANOKH: Alright – do you want to talk about the Fox-Puff matchup for a bit or do you want to talk about your history as a player and coach?

LUIS: Whatever you want.

ANOKH: Okay – let’s talk about the matchup you’ve helped Hungrybox revolutionize: Fox vs. Jigglypuff. What do you think each of the top Fox players do correctly in the matchup?

LUIS: To start off, what each of the players do right is slightly different. Each player basically has a different piece of the puzzle when it comes to beating Jigglypuff.

Armada is the easiest to analyze. He’s laser heavy and has a zone control style, whether with shooting lasers or crouch canceling. One thing he does a good job with is controlling center stage or finding a way to get back to center. His biggest strength is that he likes center stage and sticking there.

We saw this at EVO, when he pretty easily defeated Juan on Dreamland in the first grand finals set. Normally the stage is considered good for Puff because it lets her live longer and gives her more space to move, but Armada in particular likes to have a lot of space to laser. He counterpicks to stages like Final Destination and Pokemon Stadium rather than Yoshi’s Story.

ANOKH: So you’re telling me that Dreamland isn’t free for Jigglypuff against Fox? I’m joking, by the way.

LUIS: Well, if you’re a Jigglypuff playing against a slippery, laser-heavy Fox, picking Dreamland can really backfire against you. I think what we’re seeing is that so much of stage counterpicking is dependent on adjusting to the opponent’s playstyle – especially in 2016.

ANOKH: How about a player like Mango then, for comparison?

LUIS: Mango is a lot more in your face. He will be in attack mode and put you under pressure when he wants you to be. That’s why he loves Yoshi’s so much.

Armada very rarely commits to hard approaches and plays the incremental game, not big risks, poking and outmaneuvering you. But Mango goes in, even if Juan is at the ledge. Mango actually has very smart aggression.

ANOKH: And Leffen or Mew2King?

I think Leffen is the best against Juan because he has a combination of both Mango’s and Armada’s strengths. Leffen uses lasers as a way of controlling where Puff wants to go. If you don’t approach as Puff, he’ll laser you all day, but when you approach, he’ll take advantage and attack you. It’s the same reason for why his type of Fox is good against Peach – he abuses the fact that these characters aren’t good at approaching.

Speaking generally, Mew2King plays the matchup pretty passively. He goes into different “modes” in it, like lasering or attacking in different situations, but his playstyle is kind of like that with all his characters. Mew2King will always do what he considers to be optimal in every situation.

ANOKH: So, do you have any thoughts on their weaknesses in the matchup?

LUIS: Well, let’s just say I can’t go into detail, as me and Juan are banking on exploiting their specific problems. I think for now, I’ll have to keep this information as confidential.

ANOKH: Okay, then what do you think Fox’s took for granted in the past that they can’t against Puff now?

LUIS: I think a lot of them try the old Mew2King style where they just laser a lot – and usually what happens is they get hit by a back air. You have to think of lasers as a way of controlling Puff’s movement, but a lot of Fox’s just know they’re supposed to laser and that’s as far as their thought process goes. You have to know what to do after that.

ANOKH: Let’s talk about you as a player then: what are your current goals?

LUIS: My current goal is to be the best player in New England and make Top 32 at nationals.

ANOKH: Whom in New England do you want to beat the most?

LUIS: It’s hard. I want to beat every player that’s beaten me. Before, it would have been Sora, but after the New England Invitational, I’d say literally everyone equally. Mafia, Crush, all the players that have beaten me in tournament. I want to become better than them.

ANOKH: Anyone in the region you hate playing against the most?

LUIS: Probably dudutsai, but I also love playing in a way that I like different playstyles. But his playstyle is extremely passive. When I’m trying to play a quick game, he won’t do anything else. Then again, if I want to play his kind of game, it’s fun.

ANOKH: I once heard a joke during, I think, a Melee It On Me stream that there was a “worst set-up rotation ever” at EVO, between dudutsai, dizzkidboogie and Infinite Numbers or something.

LUIS: That’s actually really funny, but I wouldn’t mind playing against Ice Climbers. I like that matchup a lot as Fox. Although having to wait a long time to play would, understandably, pretty brutal though.

ANOKH: What do you see as your roadblock right now to become a top 100 player?

LUIS: To be honest, I don’t feel like I have a roadblock. As I’ve gotten better as a coach, I now understand what I have to put in. I feel like there’s a clear path for me to understand what I need to get better; to put in the discipline needed to succeed.

I’ve learned how to help Juan, but I learned to help myself. I have weaknesses he doesn’t, but figuring out how his mind works has given me a good perspective on how to improve. There are two smash dreams I have right now: having an all Liquid grand finals with Juan and winning doubles with Juan.

ANOKH: Where do you rank yourself nationally?

LUIS: Right now, probably at the bottom of the Top 100 – like 90-something.

ANOKH: If you had to give one bit of advice for upcoming players, what would it be?

LUIS: The first is basic punish game. You have to hit people hard. Perfect tech skill every day and figure out your true combo setups. If you can’t execute every time you’re not playing the same game.

You also have to understand the core of Melee and play with that mindset. Melee at its core, to quote th0rn, is just movement and responding to/predicting to your enemy’s movement. From reading and baiting to tricking your opponent with movement. The core of Melee is the dance with high level interactions and why it’ll never be solved. Once you start thinking about that, that’s when you’ll realize this game’s potential.

ANOKH: Moving onto your time as a coach, when did you start coaching Hungrybox?

LUIS: He actually never approached me. It was last summer around CEO. Juan was getting rocked, losing to Professor Pro, Lucky, Armada, Mango and Leffen. And he got depressed, saying “I might quit this game, Puff can’t do it.” And even I was beating him pretty consistently in friendlies.

I was like “you’re deluding yourself,” and pointed out obvious flaws in his gameplay. Instead of repeatedly exploiting the same holes that he had, I decided I could close them up. I saw how much potential he had, but also noticed a lot of stupid habits that we could easily remove. I believed we could make it happen. And here we are today.

ANOKH: Without showing your whole hand, how do you guys prepare for each tournament?

LUIS: I’d say it’s a few things:

  • Analysis: watching lots of videos in different matchups and identifying, analyzing player habits in the neutral game.
  • Research aspect of different situations. For example, we wanted to see something like “is it possible for Puff to tech chase regrab” or “rest on reaction” in different scenarios at specific percents, while seeing what worked and what didn’t. We wanted to push the punish game.
  • Practice: it sounds obvious, but we grind out different combo setups in almost any situation we can think of. At this point, it’s muscle memory – very rarely do you see Juan miss something like upthrow > regrab or platform tech chase rests, etc.

ANOKH: What do you think Hungrybox has improved in most in-game?

LUIS: Since I started coaching him, it’s his punish game. I also think my personality kind of rubbed off on him in his play. Juan used to be superstitious about different situations, like believing that smash DI was random, but now he takes a more scientific approach. We’ll never believe something unless we test it out.

ANOKH: Once Hungrybox won EVO, how much did you feel like you had also won?

hungrybox-winning-melee-at-evo-2016
After EVO 2016 Grand Finals, when Hungrybox made history with his first ever EVO title. Photo per Red Bull eSports.

LUIS: A lot. It was the biggest win and best smash moment of my entire career. I literally took this guy who thought Puff couldn’t do it and helped him become the best player in the world in a little over a year.

When we trained, EVO was always this far-off goal, but for winning that to happen now is the highlight of our smash careers. Alone, we could only go so far, but together we got further than we could have ever done otherwise.

ANOKH: How do you see your future in esports as a coach?

LUIS: I really hope it keeps going, that more teams recognize the value of coaching. I think we showed a good job showing that this shit works.

As smash grows and we begin to get LCS-style tournament series, roles like coaches and analysts will be more beneficial and valuable as smash grows. Other esports have this and it’s inevitable with competitive Melee’s infrastructure growing.

ANOKH: Do you ever find it difficult to balance your coaching goals with your individual ones?

LUIS: Sometimes, but very rarely. I think doing this actually helped me a lot as a player, since I tried hard, but didn’t really know how to improve yet. Coaching allowed me to travel a lot and allowed me to play Melee a lot more. Getting to practice against high level opponents also helped me improve a lot.

ANOKH: Do you feel like coaching for players is going to become more and more widespread as Melee’s meta advances?

LUIS: Yes. Without naming names, I already know of other teams looking into getting their own coaches right now. They make a big difference because they give you a second pair of eyes and a dedicated practice partner. Very rarely do you have someone to grind things out with you.

Also, they help in the mental aspect of knowing you well and giving you reassurance. It took a lot from me to get Juan back to a good mentality after his loss to Plup in winners. Sometimes, all you need is someone there to support you.

ANOKH: Do you think there’s a history of what you guys did together – a history of mid-set coaching in high-level Melee?

LUIS: Well, coaching during the set was mostly just having a friend advise you. For example, at Apex 2010, ESAM used to give Juan advice in the middle of a set. Cactuar helped out PPMD at Apex 2013 grand finals, while Leffen sat next to Armada. But that was also more emotional support. I don’t think there was dedicated coaching outside of a tournament back then.

ANOKH: Do you think mid-set coaching gives a player an unfair advantage?

LUIS: I think coaching definitely gives a player an advantage – if it didn’t, we wouldn’t try to do it! Coaching very clearly helps the player. I think if the meta develops to a point where coaching outside the game becomes a frequent and a common thing, then we can accept coaches into the game because it is a team effort from the get go.

A lot of people think of Melee from a solo mentality – and in that environment, it makes sense why people wouldn’t want a coach. But if the meta develops, I can see a wider subset of coaches allowed in mid-game.

Coaching is also good at elevating the level of play – allowing players to adapt quickly and stay in a better mental state. I think if both players in tournament have coaching it’ll elevate the level of a match. Even in Smash 4 we saw that in grand finals at CEO with Zinoto talking to coaches and all that (I think Zero) and Anti talking to Nairo. I think that allowed for better gameplay and for better strategy. In the end, it’s about trying to allow for higher level play and prevent scenarios where players give up mid-set. It’s beneficial from a spectator and competitive standpoint.

ANOKH: At EVO during his set with Shroomed, Hungrybox turned to you and you whispered something in his ear. What did you tell him in that moment before he made the two-game comeback?

LUIS: I just told him specific matchup stuff. Things we had discussed before that I reminded him of.

ANOKH: How weird was it to get interviewed by tafokints after the tournament ended?

LUIS: What do you mean?

ANOKH: Well, tafokints is Mango’s friend and also gives him a good look into what stages work for him and clearly tries to help Mango in a sort-of coaching way. You didn’t feel weird being interviewed by a rival “coach” in a way?

LUIS: I think tafo definitely talks to Mango, but he doesn’t directly work with him the way I do with Juan, so it’s somewhat different. He also has data that’s public and something he can provide to anyone that asks him for it.

ANOKH: How else would you compare your approaches?

LUIS: Well, sometimes I think the system of thinking that can be derived from his statistics should be taken with a large grain of salt.

For example, before DreamHack Winter, Juan had an awful win rate on Battlefield against Fox, but now it might be his best stage in the matchup. If we took that at face value, we would have tried to pick somewhere like Pokemon Stadium, but that would have also been the wrong approach. The stats usually mean that there’s something we should check out and improve on within a stage, rather than assume it’s bad.

The numbers are good for getting ideas, but not necessarily for deriving conclusions.

ANOKH: So, here’s my controversial question of the day: how confident are you if you have to play Prince Abu in bracket?

LUIS: I’m confident enough to where I’d be willing to bet $100 on it! Seriously though, I sometimes think it’s bad for me that I mainly play with Hungrybox.

It sounds silly, but I can forget how to punish stupid things since Juan plays a very safe and smart kind of Puff. I do think it’s beneficial for me to play other Puff players – it’s not only helpful in learning how to play solidly, but also how to exploit openings too.

ANOKH: Anything else you want to say, mention or something that you feel like we’ve missed on?

LUIS: Shoutout to Team Liquid for being supportive and letting me compete, travel, and help Juan.

ANOKH: Thanks, Luis. Best of luck in your smash career as a coach and player!

LUIS: No problem – best of luck writing this and the job hunt!

Mew2King’s Marth vs. Fox/Falco on Final Destination in 2016

With Mew2King coming off a strong stretch of two tournaments (third at WTFox 2, 2nd at CEO) under a new sponsor, it’s natural to wonder whether we’re going to see a “Return of the King” like in late 2013, when Mew2King went on streak of winning tournaments like the Big House 3, Fight Pitt III and Pound V.5. Unlike previous years where players like Armada and Hungrybox stood as almost impenetrable roadblocks, 2016 marks a time when Mew2King has shown that he has the ability to 3-0 both of them or play them closely.  If there’s a time for him to finally deliver to his longtime fans, it’s at competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee’s biggest stage: EVO 2016.

Similar to what I did with Hungrybox last week, I decided to take a look at Mew2King’s punish game off grabs against Fox and Falco – specifically on what’s considered his best stage: Final Destination. He’s 7-2 on the stage so far in the matchup this year, but he still has a lot of room to improve. Here’s the result of each of his initial grabs against a Fox or Falco on FD during a Top 32 in 2016, along with an info-chart I made.

(For reference, I counted only initial grabs and all damage that came afterwards as a result of positioning or true hits. Regrabs didn’t count nor did I count grabs that came as a result of stage positioning off a punish. The data also comes from all the streamed national Top 32 tournament matches I could find of Mew2King’s Marth vs. a space animal player on FD.)

Match Starting Percent Ending Percent Total Percent KO (N/Y)
v. SFAT at Genesis 3 0 12 12 N
12 121 109 N
121 161 40 Y
0 34 34 Y
8 57 49 N
0 40 40 Y
v. Mango (Falco) at PAX 3 6 3 N
66 99 33 N
101 132 31 Y
25 97 72 N
118 126 8 N
22 47 25 N
47 100 53 Y
21 37 16 N
 v. Mango (Falco) at PAX 25 41 16 N
67 132 65 Y
0 19 19 N
39 109 70 N
23 39 16 N
v. Ice at Smash Summit 2 30 176 146 Y
23 121 98 Y
0 26 26 N
26 105 79 Y
0 16 16 N
v. Mango (Falco) at EGLX 2 29 27 N
10 29 19 N
39 67 28 Y
9 68 59 Y
v. Mango (Fox) at EGLX 32 71 39 N
71 145 74 Y
8 19 11 N
19 104 85 Y
34 68 34 N
68 95 27 N
95 122 27 Y
42 152 110 Y
v. Mango (Falco) at Dreamhack Austin 2 15 13 N
41 48 7 N
112 134 22 Y
21 36 15 N
36 111 75 N
0 32 32 N
53 137 84 Y
10 47 37 Y
v. Leffen at GOML 2016 26 137 111 Y
24 69 45 N
94 196 102 Y
8 52 44 Y
v. SFAT at CEO 2016 26 51 25 N
61 121 60 Y
16 26 10 N
26 79 53 Y
0 11 11 N
21 34 13 Y
13 28 15 N
40 160 120 Y
AVERAGES 32.79 77.61 44.82 42.86 percent KO rate

lolm2k
Unlike what many attribute to an “optimal” playstyle, Mew2King’s strengths on FD don’t necessarily come from his ability to zero-to-death his opponents off the chaingrab alone. In fact, the lack of platforms helps Mew2King edgeguard more effectively, since space animals don’t have as many recovery options when they’re offstage. As you can see from which percents Mew2King gets his biggest punishes from, he is still explosive in his aerial punish game and brilliant at extending a combo out of combo percents.

However, if he’s unable to push his opponents off-stage, Mew2King struggles with converting relatively early grabs into kills, as you can tell from his much lower KO rate off early percents. This is mostly due to him preferring to uptilt in the early percents against Fox and Falco, rather than doing the technically challenging, but higher-reward pivot grabbing.  As any Marth can tell you, if you’re not consistent in your grab conversions on FD, you’re going to enter a whole world of hurt against Fox and Falco, who have their own devastating punish games on Marth.

Although he’s still easily the best Marth in the world on FD, Mew2King is clearly imperfect and nowhere close to invincible when it comes to facing space animals. We’ve seen Mango’s Falco give Mew2King trouble in 2016, going 2-2 over the year on FD and being the only space animal to take games from Mew2King’s Marth on the stage this year. That’s not even counting Leffen’s dominant victories on FD last summer or an infamous exhibition match against Armada at the first Smash Summit, a YouTuber called “the saddest anime death of all time.” It’s natural to wonder if Mew2King is losing his touch, if opponents are catching up or if it’s just a slump that’s come with age and split time between focusing on Melee and Smash 4.

Then again, we’ve also seen moments of dominance, like his four-stocks on Ice and SFAT this year and last year’s dominant victories over Leffen and Westballz at other times. Chances are that come EVO, when the majority of sets are best-of-three, every space animal player will ban Final Destination if facing Mew2King in bracket. But moving forward, his combos, how he gets them, and the extent in which he pushes them nevertheless remain a fascinating topic for studying.

Tim Duncan’s Incredible Legacy

Kobe Bryant’s less-than-glorious but still memorable farewell tour was one of the most memorable factors for the 2016 NBA season, but Tim Duncan’s retirement earlier today marked the end of another immortal career. Here’s how the Twitter world reacted to him leaving the game for good.

Let’s take a look at what made Duncan such a memorable player.

Offense

Duncan’s prime coincided with the slowest-paced era in NBA history, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a great offensive player. For the first half of the 00s decade, Duncan was one of the league’s premier scoring big men. Along with having a devastating low-post game, Duncan was also a force to reckon with off the ball and a masterful free throw drawer at the rim.

From the 2002 season to the end of the 2004 season, Duncan shot a 71.4, 67,8 and 71.2 percent at the rim, while drawing free throws at a 46.6, 45.5 and 49.8 percent rate. In the playoffs, the latter number goes to 55.8, 56.3 and 54.7. That kind of increase in attacking the rim – especially against better opponents in the postseason – is ridiculous.

For his career, Duncan also shot 40.3 percent from 16 feet to 22 feet, showing that while he wasn’t an amazing shooter, he could still hit an open jumper if needed. Although it’s certainly not proof of him being a consistently competent three-point shooter, Duncan also hit probably the most clutch jumper I’ve ever seen a big man shoot before. That’s not an actual argument for his offensive greatness – just another number to add to the amount of amazing high stakes Duncan moments.

Duncan’s volume as a scorer was never as good as his contemporary Shaquille O’Neal, but it didn’t have to be. From the 1999 to 2004, Duncan stayed in the top ten each year in points scored per game, capping out at a solid 25.48 PPG in 2002. For his career, Duncan scored a modest, but effective 19.0 PPG, but in the playoffs, that number increased to 20.6.

Don’t confuse his brilliance in lower-paced teams for a reliance on the half-court. Despite Duncan’s daunting 6’11, 250-pound frame as a big man, he was bulky, yet quick and long enough in transition to be a matchup nightmare for any transition defender. Not to mention, extremely intelligent in understanding when he had an advantage.

In the clip above, you can see Duncan immediately react off the initial steal and go running on the break. Noticing Manu Ginobili slightly behind Andrei Kirilenko coming back in transition, Duncan speeds up and finishes with a thunderous slam over Kirilenko, who at the time was one of the league’s premier shotblockers and defensive standouts. This play doesn’t separate Duncan from any other capable offensive player in transition but it shows that he could do it when needed against the best competition. That’s not even going into his ability as a passer, which his head coach once said was “the best passer [I’ve] seen at his size since Bill Walton.”

Duncan’s consistency was especially noticeable in the playoffs, where he was almost always willing to step up his game. For his career, his regular season Player Efficiency Rating marks at a 24.2, but in the playoffs, that number stays consistent at 24.3. That doesn’t sound worthy of praise, but consider that most players are expected to play worse in the regular season.

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 5.04.53 PM

This is obviously not a definitive list of the 15 best offensive players in NBA history, but the top 15 of career PER certainly show a good list of the most impressive stat-stuffers in NBA history. Out of all 15 of these players, only Jordan, Duncan and James actually improve in the playoffs. As you can tell, almost every star player produces a bit worse when facing tough competition, but Duncan is part of a special breed of players that continue to produce in the toughest circumstances.

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 5.10.40 PM

Defense/Rebounding

Don’t be fooled by his lack of a defensive player of the year award – Duncan ends his career as one of the greatest defensive players in league history. While he was a strong shotblocker, Duncan’s blocks per game total doesn’t do justice to his legacy on the defensive end of the court.

Rather than commit himself to stuffing opposing players coming to the rim, Duncan’s length on its own would cause enough problems to disrupt their path to scoring. Instead of jumping up and fully putting himself in harms way as a shot blocker, Duncan knew how to
defensive legacy comes from his ability to contest shots, while still being able to make necessary rotations and switches if necessary. During his prime, Duncan was one of the league’s best pick and roll defenders. Not to mention, one of the few people in the NBA capable of doing stretches of man coverage against its most terrifying interior scorer ever.

You don’t even have to look at the tape to tell Duncan’s impact on the glass and on offense. Here’s some facts to remember:

– From 1998 to 2009, the Spurs finished at least top-five in defensive rating (points given up per 100 possessions). 
– From 2004 to 2006, the Spurs finished first in the league in defensive rating. 
– San Antonio never finished lower than 11th in the NBA in defensive rating during Duncan’s career. 
– In six out of 19 years playing in the NBA, Duncan-led defenses led the NBA in defensive rating.
– From 2000 to 2015, Duncan stayed in the top ten of the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage.
– Duncan has the most total All-Defensive Team selections in NBA history.

Obviously, not all of this is due to Duncan. Along with playing with a defensive genius and brilliant head coach Gregg Popovich, Duncan also got to play with premier perimeter defenders in Bruce Bowen and Kawhi Leonard throughout his career, as well as Hall of Famer and defensive stalwart David Robinson.

Where does that put his defensive legacy? Probably a bit lower than Bill Russell or prime Ben Wallace, but Duncan is clearly in second tier of all-time defenders the Hakeem Olajuwon and Kevin Garnett tier of defenders – awards be damned. As a rebounder, he can also hold his own with anyone in league history.

Legacy

Almost every top player in NBA history was a head-case or egomaniac of some sort. In addition to Michael Jordan being a gambler and selfish me-first player for a good chunk of his career, Bill Russell had a (understandably) strained relationship with the city of Boston, Wilt Chamberlain went through head coaches like women he slept with and Shaquille O’Neal was partially responsible for destroying what people considered an all-time long-term dynasty. Even modern contemporaries like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have gotten criticism for being divas while leading their respective franchises.

Yet, unlike other basketball legends, Duncan was always willing to put his franchise’s long-term success ahead of everything else. When the Spurs found a matchup advantage at point guard against the Cavaliers in the 2007 NBA Finals, Duncan quietly played strong interior defense and rebounded while letting teammate and Finals MVP Tony Parker do most of the work on offense.

Just compare the way Duncan and Bryant left the game in their last few seasons. Despite no longer being the best player on his own team, Bryant continued taking as many shots as he wanted on the court, actively hurt his team on defense and created a media circus around his retirement throughout the whole season.

Conversely, Duncan slowly ceded control of the franchise to the upcoming Kawhi Leonard and arguably even LaMarcus Aldridge. Even more impressively, despite the massive drop in minutes played for him, Duncan maintained a star-level impact on the court when he did come out. Per defensive RPM, Duncan ranked second in the NBA last season, just behind Andrew Bogut. His overall production (16.98 PER) decreased, but his presence on the court was as felt as any other center in the NBA. Keep in mind that Duncan is currently 40 years-old.

The closet comparison you could find for Duncan’s career arc is Kareem Abdul Jabbar, who started off his career as the face of the NBA, but ended up as its most decorated figure, leading points scorer and as a supporting cast member for the Magic Johnson-led Showtime Lakers. But Abdul Jabbar didn’t have Duncan’s level of professionalism. In fact, he was traded during the middle of his prime in Milwaukee and also known as one of the league’s most mercurial players.

Duncan never had that problem.He was always willing to do what’s best for his teammates, whether it was a grind-it-out gritty sub-90 possessions a game slugfest championship team like the 2005 Spurs or a playmaking, three-point shooting heavy one like the 2014 Spurs.

Sure – Duncan doesn’t have the same level of prime as players like Jordan, Russell, Abdul Jabbar or James. He wasn’t even as game-breaking as a guy like Chamberlain. But in a league where his contemporaries were Shaq, Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki, Duncan was the best player out of all of them throughout last decade.

Think about that for a moment: in an era with arguably the most physically dominant big man ever, a guy heralded as the “next Jordan,” the league’s greatest pick and roll defender ever and its greatest stretch power forward, Duncan ended up with the most MVPs and Finals MVPs. You can’t argue that his success came as a byproduct of a weak era.

Moreover, it’d be foolish to dismiss Duncan as a system player because he was willing to concede being a franchise player to Leonard. Though a lot of his success came as a result of an amazing front office, head coach and supporting cast, not all of those strengths were always present. In the NBA, you almost always need a superstar talent to become relevant, but you also need a second star to ensure a shot at a title. Tim Duncan is one of the few cases in NBA history where a franchise player single-handedly led a team to an NBA title.

On the surface, the 2003 Spurs had no business even getting to the NBA Finals. After Duncan, their team leader in playoff minutes played was 20 year-old Parker, while Duncan’s most impactful teammate was probably the still-effective but old Robinson. They were lucky to even qualify, given Nowitzki’s untimely injury in the Western Conference Finals.

The end result:  Duncan easily put up one of the greatest Finals performances in league history. Not to mention, a casual near-quadruple double to close out the series. Not bad for someone casual basketball fans used to criticize for being “boring.”

Compare 2003 Duncan’s run to anyone else in league history. Since 1980, only 1994 Olajuwon has succeeded with so little supporting talent. That’s a hell of an accomplishment when put into comparison with Jordan and other greats. It doesn’t mean Duncan’s better, but it puts his name in a select group of players that carried their teams to championships. Calling him a system player clearly doesn’t work.

Make no mistake, Duncan is the league’s greatest power forward ever and the man to remember most of his generation. A role model athlete and unselfish franchise player, Duncan is just below the likes of Jordan, Russell and Abdul-Jabbar in terms of his all-time standing among careers, but Duncan is without a doubt the epitome of brilliance, humility and consistency. We’ll be lucky if we see anything like him on a basketball court ever again.

Analyzing Hungrybox’s Punish Game

Hungrybox’s fifth-place finish at WTFox 2 was his worst tournament of the year. His 3-0 loss to Wizzrobe was the first time Hungrybox lost to a player outside of Armada, Mango and Leffen in 2016. As for losing to Mew2King, the 3-0 marked the end of Hungrybox’s nine-set winning streak against him, as well as the first tournament of the year he failed to place in the top three.

While it’s natural to question if Hungrybox’s opponents are catching up to him, heading into this year’s EVO, it’s still foolish to count out the world’s best Jigglypuff. In fact, one thing stood out during his less-than-standard set against Mew2King: Hungrybox’s brilliant conversions off grabs.

Although the set was a 3-0 loss for Hungrybox, let’s take a look each grab by Jigglypuff in the loser’s quarters match. For the sake of data collecting, let’s count regrabs during a combo or follow-up as part of the initial grab combo.

Grab 1 (2:16 to 2:27)

Hungrybox gets  his first initial grab of the game and converts it into two edgeguard scenarios. He’s not able to kill Fox, but sets himself up in relatively high-reward situations where guessing or reacting correctly could have led to a stock. Unfortunately, he either guesses wrong or misses on the second edgeguard.

Grab 2 (3:54 to 3:58)

At this point in the first game, you could practically see the Crimson Blur wince as he increasingly yells “that’s so dangerous” during Mew2King’s recovery, but Hungrybox covers the offstage jump a little bit too early and is too late later to finish him off. These moments are especially crucial in last-stock macro situations, even if they are sometimes tossups.

Grab 3 (4:31 to 4:36)

This is a fairly standard grab conversion from Hungrybox, but he exceptionally succeeds in the face-to-face skirmish before landing the grab. Having already called Mew2King’s dash forward with a pound, Hungrybox preemptively shields to avoid a stray shine/hit after seeing Mew2King’s tech-in-place. Immediately afterward, you can see Hungrybox reacts to Fox’s spot-dodge by wavedashing back out of grab/shine range, which Mew2King whiffs. Noticing Mew2King instantly shielding (probably expecting a high Jigglypuff aerial on shield), Hungrybox then grabs Mew2King, follows his DI towards the platform and rests him.

Grab 4 (4:50 to 4:56)

The way Hungrybox gets the grab in this situation is pretty silly (as Mew2King dashes through him), but nonetheless, his conversion is phenomenal. He doesn’t instantly hit Mew2King off his tech option, but Hungrybox sees him crouching in the corner and, rather than back airing him, launches Mew2King with an up air at the beginning of Fox’s up-smash animation. Hungrybox then covers the DI and reacts to the tech in place with an another up air, easily resting him afterwards.

Grab 5 (5:17 to 5:25)

To Mew2King’s credit, he tricks Hungrybox into going too low, but given Hungrybox’s stock lead in the game, the aggressive followup was arguably worth it at the time. He instantly recognizes Mew2King’s DI away, but doesn’t get tricked by the presence of platforms, back airing Fox to oblivion. Hungrybox could have probably spaced his initial off-stage aerial a little better or perhaps grabbed ledge after seeing Mew2King drop down, but the result is still an amazing punish.

Grab 6 (5:28 to 5:35)

Somehow, Hungrybox manages to regrab Fox off of a downthrow. Then, in typical Hungrybox fashion, he up airs Mew2King on the platform, but instead of resting him off the tech roll away, he back airs him, probably expecting Mew2King to DI out. As Fox falls down,  Hungrybox seemingly messes up an input by up airing while following Mew2King’s descent from afar, though it’s unclear if a back air would have hit or not. Either way, had Jigglypuff gotten the rest on the platform, this would have been four grabs, four deaths for Hungrybox in the game.

Grab 7 (7:27 to 7:32)

After hitting an initial drill, Hungrybox grabs Mew2King, up throws him and then catches the DI away with back air. Notice how Hungrybox positions himself so that even if Mew2King jumped, he could reactively up air him. Sadly for Hungrybox, he back airs again a little too early, either underestimating Fox’s hitstun or expecting Mew2King to jump. I’m not sure whether the edgeguard was guaranteed or not, but the initial throw certainly put Hungrybox in an optimal place to succeed.

Grab 8 (7:43 to 7:50)

It’s unclear why Mew2King rolled to ledge while coming down – possibly out of fear? Either way, Hungrybox grabs him and throws Fox off stage, catching his jump and high Firefox attempt. Hungrybox then grabs ledge, able to react to both a high recovery and sweetspot attempt. Holding on does enough here.

Grab 9 (7:55 to 8:01)

As Melee players, we’d like to think that everything done in high-level play is intentional. In this situation, however, Mew2King gets extremely lucky. Hungrybox nair-grabs him and does a standard up air into rest combo (on questionable DI from Mew2King), but the rest lands as a phantom hit. Go figure.

(Sidenote: I wonder if nair to rest – was possible in this situation. Maybe not as a guaranteed punish, but perhaps Hungrybox could have reacted to Mew2King’s downtilt in the wrong direction with an immediate rest on the move’s lag).

Grab 10 (9:49 to 9:55)

This is the last Hungrybox grabs of the tournament, but it’s his most impressive conversion off a grab in the set. Down two stocks to one, after just taking Mew2King’s second stock, Hungrybox manages to land a grab off Mew2King’s landing from a jump. He instantly up throws him, up air regrabs him and reacts to the missed tech with a rest. All things considered, it’s not super flashy – and is mostly possible because of Mew2King’s bad/panicking DI – but the result still highlights Hungrybox’s efficiency, as well as his incredible clutch factor. You can even hear the dread in Webs’ voice when Hungrybox gets the grab. It’s the kind of brilliance Hungrybox has spoiled viewers with over the last year.

Conclusion

Looking at Hungrybox’s punish game prowess doesn’t mean we should dismiss his loss as a fluke or take credit away from Mew2King. In this set, the latter made several improvements to his own play. For example, instead of shooting lasers too close to Hungrybox or trying to crouch cancel so many of Jigglypuff’s aerials, Mew2King played more confidently and assertively, adding in more dash dancing and using uptilt/back air to fight Hungrybox head to head.

But even in the set above, which he loses 3-0, Hungrybox lands a grab ten times. Five of his ten grabs led to Mew2King losing a stock, either directly or as a result of a situation. Four of the other five grabs led to edgeguard situations, where Hungrybox simply guessed wrong or mistimed an aerial off-stage. That’s still not counting a phantom rest that, if landed correctly, would have put Hungrybox at above 50 percent for the amount of kills taken from a grab.

Some more numbers warrant a look:

Average starting percent before a grab: 39.6 percent.
Average ending percent after a grab conversion: 76.1 percent.
Average combo length: 36.5 percent.

When we think of the best combo artists in Melee, we often think of players like Armada, Mew2King or Westballz, who each have reputation for embarrassing their opponents after landing a hit. If you’re a smartass, you’ll probably mention dizzkidboogie or any wobbling Ice Climbers player.

Against Fox, Hungrybox has every reason to be mentioned in the conversation for best punish game. His prowess in destroying Fox is arguably more impressive than anyone else on the planet, considering the tremendous matchup disadvantage he faces as a Jigglypuff player and how deceptively easy his combos are. Hell, judging by just his conversions off grabs, you can see how one missed punish each game can play a crucial role in determining a set outcome.

Even in situations where he can’t immediately hit his opponent, Hungrybox places himself in a position where he anticipates the opposing player’s interactive options and makes a mix of educated guesses and reactions regarding what they do. If he’s not instantly resting or comboing off a grab, he’s still gaining an advantage, all while collecting data on your habits, as you can see from the first game, where  Hungrybox plays passively, not going for many grabs and preferring to let Mew2King be the aggressor in numerous situations. These aren’t traits unique to Hungrybox and can pretty much apply to any top player – but they’re especially noticeable with him in any set he plays, even the ones where he isn’t perfect, like above.

Celebrate the 3-0’s of Wizzrobe and Mew2King, make as many anti-Hungrybox memes as you want and joke about the ending of 666xx. Just be sure to appreciate brilliance when it’s in front of you

Kevin Durant’s Decision Broke Basketball. Here’s How.

“With this in mind, I have decided that I am going to join the Golden State Warriors.”

Nothing in sports is ever guaranteed. If you don’t believe me, look at the failures of the 2013 Lakers or any messed up superstar-trio experiment. Injuries could easily derail this upcoming Warriors team. But barring that, here’s a few reasons why the Warriors should be feared.

1. The massive jump in production/efficiency

The Warriors were already an all-time great scoring offense throughout the year. You don’t have to be a basketball genius to realize that their three-point shooting success was practically unparalleled in NBA history. That was with Harrison Barnes playing heavy minutes. Now imagine that team with Kevin Durant replacing Barnes.

Most of the Cavaliers’ defensive strategy in the NBA Finals was simple: play physical in the paint, limit the production of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson from the arc and force role players like Barnes and Draymond Green to step up and hit open shots. In the NBA Finals, this worked to tremendous success, as Barnes practically cost his team so many scoring opportunities by bricking open three pointers, missing layups and taking ill-advised shots.

Replace Barnes with Durant in that series and there’s very little chance of the Cavaliers’ defensive strategy working. Unlike Barnes, who is primarily a shooter from beyond the arc, Durant is better at creating his own shot from there, playing off the ball and also a much better passer. That’s not even going into how monstrously effective Durant is at finishing near the basket and drawing fouls.

Last year, the Warriors’ “Death” lineup of Curry/Thompson/Andre Iguodala/Barnes/Green outscored their opponents 145 to 98 per 100 possessions. With Durant, that disparity is almost guaranteed to increase, making it maybe the best five-man lineup in NBA history.

2. The Warriors will have even better defensive rebounding

I just brought up the offensive benefits of replacing Barnes with Durant. What might be even more crazy than Durant’s superior scoring is how much better he is as a rebounder.

In both the series against the Thunder and Cavaliers, the Warriors were beaten on the boards, both with their small-ball lineups and against opposing big men. For segments of the playoffs, Golden State played rotations with Barnes and Green as the primary big men on the court. While this created offensive mismatches, it also opened up the Warriors to be physically beaten up on the inside, as they were by Cleveland and Oklahoma City’s big men.

Durant isn’t exactly the largest guy, but as a defensive rebounder, he’s about as effective as you can get for a small-ball stretch four. For comparison, Barnes’ defensive rebounding percentage through last season was 12.4 percent, while Durant’s was at 21.8 percent.

In basketball, lineups is often a game of trading one advantage or matchup for another. Small ball lineups are traditionally supposed to give more spacing and shooting on offense, but they’re also supposed to be at a disadvantage in the paint. With Durant, the Warriors get a rarity: a guy that can both provide additional size in the paint and shooting on the outside.

3. The Warriors have their second shot creator.

Although Golden State has a legendary offense, they’re actually enormously dependent on how Curry plays. Per 82games.com, the Warriors score 120 points per 100 possessions with Curry on the court, while that number goes down to 106.5 when he’s off the court. If you don’t get the difference, it basically marks a change from between being the best offense ever to being average.

With Durant, the team can safely play lineups without Curry on the court and still succeed. Real Plus Minus grades Durant’s offensive RPM at 5.51, which ranks fifth in the NBA. Given the offensive success of the Thunder last season, Durant has proved that he can be the primary option on an offense and succeed if another player like Westbrook (or in this case, Curry) is torching their opponent.

The Warriors as a whole has great passing, but any offense needs not just good playmakers, but strong individual shot creators. As I’ve written earlier, Cleveland stands as an example of a team with multiple scorers that has an incredible offense. Golden State was already the best offense in the NBA with Curry on the court- with Durant, it looks to become even better.

How good will Golden State be?

It’s hard to imagine a 73-9 team needing to improve, but if the Warriors are healthy, there’s no reason to believe they won’t. Don’t confuse Durant joining Green and Curry with other “super-teams” like the 2011-2014 Heat. The level of talent gained on an already talented team is unprecedented in NBA history.

Golden State’s top eight players in terms of minutes played through the regular season were Green, Curry, Thompson, Barnes, Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa and Andrew Bogut. They have five of those guys returning and one of the three leaving is being replaced with Kevin Durant. This is like if the Michael Jordan-led Bulls replaced Luc Longley with David Robinson.

I already touched on this earlier, but that’s how important it is: the gap between Durant and Barnes is incredible. Per number of wins provided to an NBA team over the course of a regular season, Durant grades at exactly 16 wins, while Barnes ranks only at 2.47. That’s not to say a 73-9 team is going to go undefeated, but it goes to show an increase in talent.

ESPN’s Kevin Pelton projected that the Warriors with Durant would win 66 games per RPM, but he also added that these predictions were often conservative given the nature of the statistic, mentioning how last year’s Golden State squad were lined up at 60 wins. Moreover, like Pelton said, total RPM doesn’t take into account how much worse the Thunder and opposing Western Conference rivals become.

Will this be an 82-0 team? Definitely not, but don’t be surprised if this team wins more than 66 games. The Cavaliers may be the defending champs, but come October, we’ll all know who has the biggest target on their back.