Been playing Nidalee for a decent amount of games now. I won't go so far as to say I am pro, but I certainly think I am an above average player with her. When I first read Elementz 5v5 draft list and saw Nidalee near the bottom I was a little taken aback considering all the success I have had with her. I used to go 10/0 11/1 12/0 in my TT fights when I first started playing. However, recently after my wins have gone up and I am fighting smarter opposition, my kill/death is not as high. It's been a few games since I got 9+ kills. Even when I have a great game my kills are much lower. Every time I lose I think about what I could have done better. After some thinking I realized that Elementz complaints about Nidalee were pretty spot on and one of the main reasons why my kills have declined and my deaths increased as my opponents have gone up in skill.
His complaints are that she is:
1) Hard countered by high HP/high dodge
2) Very squishy with caster like HP - instantly dies in team fights while in cougar form
I will address each of these big problems and throw in a third - Nidalee's damage isn't all that impressive. *GASP* I know - let me explain later.
Hard Countered by high HP/high dodge
When I am fighting against someone who has enough of an HP buffer, I can't get them down in life fast enough to make my Takedown benefit from extra damage as a result of their low life. So I end up doing sub par damage and having to pounce away from the fight because my own HP is not high enough to stand toe-to-toe and exchange blows. High dodge champs (Jax) affect Nidalee the same way. They avoid Nidalee's attacks/Takedowns so that the champs life does not get down to a level that she can benefit from Takedown bonus damage. Even if a high dodge champ gets down to low life, they can still dodge a Takedown which really hurts her damage.
So the solution you say is: NOOB! Don't attack high HP champs or tanks! Fair enough. But here is where Nidalee's next problem rears it's ugly head.
Very Squishy - Especially in team fights
Nidalee has caster level health points. So even if I decide to attack a caster or a ranged squishie dps I will still probably lose in a straight up fight. Especially when you consider that a lot of casters or ranged dps have some kind of CC mechanism and Nidalee does not.
So then the logical thing to do would be to not attack squishies with full health, wait until they are injured or low on health (<60% life). Yes, in the instances that you are able to find a squishie who is alone, <60% life, and has no ultimates that can ruin you, Nidalee will own. But there are very few characters who wouldn't own in this situation. Nidalee just has the added benefit of pounce that allows her to keep pace with her target and Takedown benefiting from low health. Other characters have CC abilities and their own set of high damage skills. That being said, Nidalee is probably one of the best champs in this situation, but there are many other champs out there that can do it almost as good. And what skilled squishie player is going to put themselves in too many situations where they are low life, no CC, and totally alone without an ally nearby? This is very situational.
Ok, so we have established that Nidalee can't really fight anyone in a straight up fight and has to prey on low life squishies in order to get any kills. What about team fights? The problem with team fights is that they really highlight Nidalee's weaknesses. Her low HP and the fact that most teams will focus her means that as soon as she initiates she most often melts before her pounce refreshes. I find myself circling team fights throwing javelins for the first few seconds hesitant to even engage because I will be a free kill to the other team. Yes this reduces my team's DPS and lowers our chances of victory, but so is pouncing into a fight where I instantly explode. Having caster level HP and being at melee range to do any reasonable damage is a very bad combination. Especially when Nidalee doesn't shine in her DPS potential until after the first few seconds when someone is low HP; by the time she can do any real damage she is almost dead herself.
Nidalee's Damage isn't THAT impressive (very item reliant).
Let me preface by saying that Nidalee does do good damage. But this damage is very reliant on getting certain damage increasing items - Sheen, Brutalizer, Trinity Force, etc. If you don't have these items, she isn't really going to be all that impressive. But if you take all these + damage items, you can't really shore up her biggest weakness, her ability to take any damage. You end up being a glass cannon except without the ability to deal high alpha (Nidalee does high Omega damage with Takedown :P). So even though you can do respectable damage after your opponent is under 50-60% health, you can't take any real focusing yourself or you will die very fast. If you do concentrate on health, you will do **** for damage and still not be able to take all that much of it.
1) Nidalee can't fight anyone 1v1 unless they are already severely injured.
2) Nidalee dies way too fast in team fights
Her role is reduced to that of a scavenger, 2v1 ganker chasing down weak targets, and trap layer. This is a very narrow role that doesn't focus on the most important element of the game: winning/controlling team fights.
What needs to change?
There are a few things that could change which would really help Nidalee be a more viable champ overall against non noobie opposition. Despite her flaws, she is still a good champ so she doesn't need a lot of tweeking. And too much tweaking will make her imba. I think a modest HP boost of +15-20 HP per level would go a long way to give Nid some badly needed survivability. Ideally bringing her more in line with how much HP Katarina has (Medium-low).
Additionally, I would like to see Primal Surge changed to a heal over time spell from a direct heal with it's AP ratio increased from .8 to 1. I think this would make Primal Surge more synergistic with Cougar form. It would allow someone to cast it before changing to Cougar to benefit from it's heal over time while in combat. The increase in AP ratio would offset the overall value of the heal changing to a HOT from a direct heal in addition to further increasing Nidalee's survivability.
Finally, it would be nice to see Nidalee receieve a temporary indirect defensive bonus while simultaneously granting a debuff to surrounding enemies that would make her more valuable in a team fight. I think an attack speed debuff to surrounding enemies after a pounce of 20%/30%/40%+.2 AP lasting for 3 seconds with a 9 second cooldown would not only give Nidalee increased survivability from melee, but also give her increased team synergy.
And there you have it. My assessment of Nidalee and proposed solutions.