If you have read my lists the past two years (has it really been that long?! 2014 / 2015), you know this is probably my favorite story to write every winter. When looking back at all the shoes from 2016 I realized how many shoes we’ve reviewed this year — it’s mind blowing.
The past few years have seen a serious rise of smaller brands, all of whom are covered and reviewed on this site, right alongside the big boys. If it performs, it is played in. This year saw the recovery of those same big boys as adidas, Nike, and Under Armour all brought back performance-first shoes. But don’t think the other companies sat back and watched — PEAK, Brandblack, Anta, 361°, and Li-Ning all brought serious heat.
Who gets the trophy? Envelopes please…
This year saw a ton of improvements in upper materials. Thankfully, for the most part, rubber and fuse uppers that flex and pop are almost dead. Every company now has its own version of a fabric or woven upper — Flyknit, Primeknit, Threadborne, PEAK Surface, Performance Woven — and they all have different strengths and weaknesses. Which was the best for basketball in 2016?
That’s adidas Primeknit, specifically on the Crazy Explosive. Flexible, form-fitting, supportive, and breathable, Primeknit in this make-up is a top ALL-TIME material and will be really tough to top in 2017.
I just realized that all of these categories are going to be tough. 2016 was a GOOD year. On to fit.
If you didn’t know, or if you listen or watch other channels (why would you?!), you may think fit and lockdown are two different things. If a shoe fits there should be no movement inside of it, or at least very little, with minimal dead space around your foot — that leads to good lockdown. If the shoe is too wide, movement occurs, which results in zero lockdown, so the shoe fits wide. See?
Now, out of all the shoes tested this year, the best fit goes to…
The Nike Kyrie 2. Although the cushioning killed my knees, the fit was fantastic. Normally, I pull and lace as tightly as possible to minimize movement, but the Kyrie 2 fit me perfect. What a shame.
Runners up int his category were the Nike Hyperdunk 2016, 361° Mazer, and the Brandblack Rare Metal.
I love, love, LOVE this category. I can deal with a little issue in fit, or a shoe’s cushioning being a little dead, but if I’m sliding around like Tokyo Drift I don’t even want to look at the shoe anymore. Those kicks get banished to the wasteland (back of the closet — or they become yard mowers). That said, there was one clear winner for me this year:
The adidas Rose 7. That looks like it will bite your opponents, not just the floor. I have not slipped on any floor, anywhere, yet. If I am playing somewhere I’ve never been, they make the trip. This should never, ever change. Eff a story (although these are supposed to be inspired by the Chicago Fire), make it work.
Runner ups included the Kyrie 2, CrazyLight Boost 2016, Jordan Super.Fly 4 PO, PEAK DH2 (review is coming soon), Nike KD9 (solid outsole version).
With the arrival of full-length Boost this year (actual heel to toe, none of that split in the middle or stopping at the balls…of your feet), Nike had to step up — and it did. Really, there were only three brands to consider here, including Brandblack and the new Rare Metal Jetlon EVL. Under Armour was close with the Clutchfit Drive 3 (more MicroG needed), and the rest need to find their foam. So which shoe took the category?
The KD9 was a return of the Zoom I grew up on, and it felt great. Bouncy, responsive, controlled, stable, and most of all, it caused no pain in my old knees and ankles. Some complained about a lag time when pushing off, but no problems here. None of my three pairs have popped yet, but I have heard of some breaking between the toes and midfoot. Until they do, I’m in love.
It’s kind of funny that after years of pushing lowtops and promoting the flexibility of movement, we saw a ton of higher cut shoes this year. No, they don’t provide better ankle support just because of the height — it has to do with heel stability, heel fit, wide landing area, and cushioning stability (too much bounce or spring and your foot will wobble and roll). Ankle cut does help in fit in most cases, providing lockdown help, but overall, just get a shoe that fits your game. That said, here is my pick for best support/stability:
The Nike Hyperdunk 2016 and the adidas Rose 7.
WHAT! Cop out? Nah, never us. Honestly, whenever I was on court in either of these shoes there was absolutely no worry about side-to-side stability or support underfoot. Both lace solidly and have great constructions — the Hyperdunk with the semi-burrito tongue, and the Rose 7 with the synthetic overlays and Geofit padding on the ankle. Heel counters are solid in both and come in high enough to protect from rollover. Both are just good designs all around.
BEST UPDATE SHOE OF 2016
I thought this would be an easy category, but no, there are no easy categories this year. With the complete disaster that was the Hyperdunk 2015, anything would have been a vast improvement. And the 2016 was so far above it should carry a different name. But then I thought of the CrazyLight Boost 2016. The 2015 wasn’t bad by any means, but the 2016 was waaaay above last year’s model. Then the Jordan XXXI came up, and except for traction, it was a major move. But, the winner is…
The Under Armour ClutchFit Drive 3. Last year’s CFD2 wasn’t terrible, but it sent the line in a direction completely off course from the amazing ClutchFit Drive 1, a shoe that still gets played in even two years later. The reintroduction of Micro G to the basketball line, coupled with Charged, is news enough. And yet, UA went and added the real ClutchFit to the upper as well, meaning the 3 is more similar to the 1 than the 2 is to either. Confused? yeah, try reviewing them all.
Retro of the Year
This is tough, since Jordan retros the whole line every year it seems, but for me, there is only one choice:
The Nike Air Unlimited. Yeah, the white leather is so plastic-coated that it may not have even seen a cow. But the visible Air unit, straps, ankle collar, and the fact that I played in these back in the day, make this a highly anticipated release for me this year. Now, if we could just get the ‘Slate’ colorway.
Now, what you all came here for, THE list…
But first, the ones who just missed the top spots:
13. Jordan Brand Air Jordan XXXI
12. 361° Mazer (yes, it’s I good)
11. Under Armour Clutchfit Drive 3
10. Nike Kobe XI
9. adidas Crazylight Boost 2016
8. Brandblack Rare Metal
7. Nike Hyperrev 2016
6. adidas Lillard 2.0
Here. We. Go.
5. Nike Hyperdunk 2016 – Just a solid all-around shoe. Cushioning is good, almost great, traction never fails on any court, fit is dead on, support is solid, and the materials (while not groundbreaking) are comfortable and durable. Definitely a “sum is greater than the parts” shoe. The Hyperdunk is back.
4. adidas Harden Vol.1 – Boost, so that’s good, right? Lower profile than the other Boost shoes in the line, the Harden still has excellent impact protection while maintaining court feel. Heel fit is way improved over the CLB16 while the materials are beauteous. Another big hit from Three Stripes.
3. adidas Crazy Explosive – What I’m about to say may sound crazy: the CE has the best materials and almost the best fit and cushioning, but it’s still number 3. Why? As nice as the Primeknit feels, the Boost here is a little mushy for me. Great protection and feel, and I love the shoe’s design and performance, but it was just behind the…
2. adidas D Rose 7 – Crazy traction. Crazy cushioning. Support is great. Fit is awesome. When I need a shoe that I know will perform the Rose 7 is one of two I go for. I have been an unashamed Rose fan (of the player and the shoes) since day one, and every year his signature is the one I am waiting on. This year, I was not disappointed.
1. Nike KD9 – The only shoe I have bought more than one pair of this year, the KD9 has everything I need — once I got my size right. Zoom that works, Flyknit that doesn’t feel like week-old toast, and traction, on solid rubber outsoles, that stick to anything like Spider-Man. Now if we could just get some Warriors colorways, or those Duke PE’s on my Instagram, I’ll be broke in 2017 too.
There it is, so let the hate begin. For all of the progress of the smaller brands, this year was really dominated by the big two. It just goes to show when the larger companies put their money where their product is, we, the consumer, get great results. Don’t discount the push Nike and adidas get from brands like Brandblack, PEAK, and even Under Armour — if those brands push limits and make some noise, we all win. It just so happens this was a listening year, and a great one at that.