And the envelope please…
The end of the year is here and we have seen shoes drop all year that were killer on court. While 2016 might have been the greatest year ever for basketball shoes (discussed here), 2017 was a little different.
This year the market for basketball sneakers continued to suffer; recent releases have seen discounts almost immediately and sell-outs of new Kobes and LeBrons are a thing of the past (won’t even discuss Jordan Brand retros…yet).
All of this is great for consumers, as the major movers in 2017 were lower-priced offerings -= Under Armour Curry 4, adidas Dame 4, Nike’s Kyrie 3 and PG1, and the Harden Vol. 1 (the highest priced of those offerings is the Harden, costing $140 for the mesh and $160 for the Primeknit version). Gone, for now, are the days of $200 regular edition basketball sneaks dropping and making an immediate impact on court.
All that is to say that we still saw great, great performance on courts in 2017. What were the best? Well, these are my picks, based on shoes I actually played in. Dim the lights, let’s do this…
With every company having their own woven/knit upper, the disappearance of raw materials seems to be on the horizon. If that is the case, it’s a sad day, but when a shoe like the Air Jordan 32 brings Flyknit and leather together, well, that’s a winner.
The forefoot is the most true Flyknit we have been given in a basketball shoe, providing stretch for comfort and flexibility for transition, but it holds great on lateral moves for stability and containment. The ankle collar being wrapped in leather (or suede, depending on the model) adds a luxurious touch while also adding some support. By themselves, the Flyknit and leather used are both contenders for the top spot. Together? Can’t be beat.
Runners-up: Nike LeBron 15, Nike PG1
With the endless count of knits and wovens, fit is the category that has benefitted most. Knits make a sock-like fit easy to obtain, which means there are a ton of shoes that fought a tough battle for this category. However, there is one athlete who seems to value fit and stability more than any other…
The Under Armour Curry 4 takes this spot. If you have read the multiple reviews by our WearTesters crew, you know the fit was crazy good from the start. It seems tight and almost too constrictive, but when playing, the lack of movement in any direction and the one to one fit make moving easy and effortless. No lag time in these, at all.
Last year we had a run-away winner in this category, with all of WearTesters agreeing the Rose 7 was it. In 2018, there has been no killer, stand-alone, grips everything and never lets go shoe. There have been a few that were better than the rest, but none that stood alone. So how do you pick a winner form that? Here’s how.
The Under Armour Drive 4. The shoe had its problems, including making a couple of our WearTesters bleed during testing (that heel counter is tough), but one thing that never failed was that thick, widely-spaced herringbone that works just as well indoors as out. When I need to grab a shoe to play in, not knowing the court conditions, I know the Drive 4 will be able to handle anything thrown at it.
Well, at least we know there are some shoes that won’t be qualified here. Some new technologies didn’t exactly deliver as promised and some shoes didn’t even hide the fact that cushioning was not high on the priorities.
However, there was no shortage of brands that gave us what we wanted when it came to response, impact protection, and comfort. That said, one shoe stood above the rest was…
The Nike LeBron 15. That is some serious Zoom, and when Zoom is tuned right, there is almost nothing better underfoot for bounce, response, and cushioning. Initially designed to be low-riding and quick, the LeBron 15 can’t be accused of doing either, but it feels great underfoot when running down the court.
Runners-up: adidas Rose 8, Air Jordan 32, Li Ning Way of Wade 6, Brandblack Future Legend Low
Two shoes stood out above the rest because they kept me standing upright more than the rest: the adidas Rose 8 and the Under Armour Curry 4.
Both of these players have had some serious lower-body injuries (Rose with his knees, Steph with his ankles) so it only makes sense that these two shoes are the winners of this category.
While the Rose depends on a stiff mesh upper around the ankle and a solid heel counter to hold the heel, the Curry 4 has a wide base and solid midsole to keep the shoe from wobbling and rolling over. Yes, we know D. Rose is out with an ankle injury, but that was not shoe related — dude got clotheslined in midair and fell backwards on his foot.
And yes, Steph is out with an ankle injury, but he stepped on a foot. All this proves is that even as supportive as these shoes are no shoe will prevent an ankle injury in the wrong circumstances.
Runners-up: Peak TP5, adidas Crazy Explosive 2017, Nike Hyperdunk 2017
Easy: the Jordan Super.Fly React 2017.
Okay, React wasn’t all it was made out to be, which we already discussed, but the addition of a nice insole in the Super.Fly 2017 made it playable. The fit, materials, and design — especially the materials — are all revamped, making they Super.Fly 2017 a really, really good performer.
The Super.Fly 2016 seemed to be an afterthought in design, using mesh from 2012 and an alleged forefoot Zoom unit that was dead to the point of non-existence. The SF17 gives us nubuck and leather (or mesh and fuse on some team colorways) and a killer traction pattern. Hopefully, besides React, this is a sign that the Super.Fly line is headed back to being a great team option from Jordan Brand.
RETRO OF THE YEAR
This is, for me, is a no-brainer-slam-dunk-rainbow-haired choice:
The Nike Air Shake Ndestrukt. This is the first time we have seen a retro of this shoe –the first time since 1996-1997 it has been on shelves — and Nike didn’t disappoint on the OG colorways.
Releasing the original Bulls colorways, seen above, and the white/navy, we have since been bombarded with 420 different colorways, but the Chi-town white/red and black nubucks are super classic. The materials were decent, the comfort was so ’90s it hurt (some idiot even did a performance review on them), and that lacing system was exactly as crazy as it was in 1997. Good job, Nike Sportswear.
Before we get to the list, some honorable mention shoes that just missed the cut:
- Under Armour Curry 3 Low — Yes, I really liked this shoe.
- Peak Streetball Monster — Just needed a little more cushioning feel
- Under Armour Drive 4 — The Icon versions felt way better for some reason
- Kobe AD NXT — I don’t like drop-in midsoles, but these were nice
- adidas Dame 3 — Really, really nice, just not nice enough
And with no further ado, here is my top 10 list for 2017. Again, these are only the shoes I played in this year.
10. Peak TP9.5
Good cushioning, good fit, killer traction. Only thing holding back the TP5 is weight — it is extremely bottom-heavy.
9. Nike LeBron 15
I wish I had more time in this shoe — I only had about three days of playing in it — but it is already rising up the list. Stability could be better, but for cushioning and comfort there are few better.
8. adidas Crazy Explosive 2017
If it ain’t broke…the Crazy Explosive 2016 was a top pick on almost every list last year, and the 2017 was a slight evolution to the process.
7. Nike KD 10
The KD 9 was my top pick last year, so the 10 had some huge, uhm, shoes to fill. It didn’t, but it was close. The traction dropped slightly and the Zoom wasn’t as springy, but the fit was improved and the looks, although they don’t count for performance, make for a beautiful shoe.
6. Nike PG 1
All the makings of a great shoe — materials, fit, traction — but the forefoot Zoom could have been a little more responsive. I know, it’s bottom-loaded, but overall, top six ain’t bad.
5. Nike Air Max Infuriate
Easily one of the most underrated shoes of the year, the Infuriate was “better forefoot cushioning” away from being perfect. Traction, fit, and materials were all great, and the Max in the heel actually worked. If the Phylon forefoot had been Cushlon, or had a real Zoom unit, this would have been number one.
4. adidas Dame 4
Really, this could have been number three, and I have more pairs of these in my closet than any other shoe except the KD9. The fit, cushioning, design, and overall playability are freaking awesome, and the colorways are killer — every single one.
3. adidas Rose 8
The Rose 8, for me, just played better than the Dame 4. Not by much, but I felt the traction was a little better on any court, and I like Boost more than Bounce. The materials, yeah, they weren’t good to the touch, but playing in them felt great.
2. Under Armour Curry 4
Now, this is a shoe made exactly for the athlete. Steph loves little to no cushioning, as we have covered here before after talking with UA designers, and the stability, traction, and fit all lead to shifty footwork and quickness with the ball. The wide base makes shooting off movements easier, and the shoe is so light that it just feels fast.
1. Air Jordan 32
Mid or low, the Air Jordan 32 is serious on court. The segmented Zoom units are big, beefy, and responsive once the Phylon softens up. The materials are exactly what I love — leather wings on the ankles and the best Flyknit ever on the forefoot. Traction is way improved. This makes me ready for the Air Jordan 33.
There it is, my performance wrap-up for 2017. Go ahead, discuss, argue, agree — whatever, let’s discuss. And whatever you do, play in your shoes. See you in 2018!