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Duke4005’s Top Performance Picks of 2022

Here it is – issue 12 (or 13?) of my top performers on the basketball court, this time for 2022. As I age, and not very gracefully, I find my needs changing almost every week. Sometimes I feel I need a super-cushioned shoe like the Lebron 20. The next day I may feel I need a little more minimal and stiff, quick cushioning, like the New Balance Two Wxy V3 or All City 10 from Way of Wade/Li Ning. One thing is for sure – I played in a LOT of shoes this year, and I have opinions on all of them. Sit back, relax, and enjoy some New Year’s reading…

Biggest Comeback Brand

For those of you who are new here, I don’t just start with the rankings – I like to build the tension. One of my favorite categories is Comeback because it’s usually a brand I loved as a kid or younger man that is back on the scene. This year is no different – I choose Avia. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Avia was HUGE in the sneaker market. They weren’t big like Reebok or Nike, but they had a nice share of the market. When the Air Jordan 2 came out, and then the AJ 3, with no swoosh anywhere, Avia became the wanted sneaker in my area of Texas. Great materials, GREAT traction and durability, fat, puffy tongues, and super-comfy. This year they hit back on the scene (and not the Wal-Mart scene) with some help from And1 (also no stranger to a bad rap from Wal-Mart products). They released the 830, a super-high top basketball retro that sold exceptionally well and still holds to the old-school qualities that made Avia big. Next year we’ll see the even higher-top 880 (the shoe LV/Virgil knocked off) and maybe the 825, the low-top version of the 830. Next up…hair metal makes a comeback…

Biggest Dropoff

This was a tough one because I like and respect both brands, but… adidas and Under Armour. Remember, this is purely from a basketball performance standpoint, not streetwear or training. adidas had a nice run a few years ago with Boost in the Crazy Explosive, Crazy Light, and the Rose line then went and threw the bank at Harden, one of the most unlikeable and unmarketable players in the league. Then they dropped Boost from everything EXCEPT the Harden shoe (and I guess the Trae line, but it’s hard to feel it like a full-length shoe). The Dame 8 is a BEAST on court, the Trae 1 was good, the Harden 6 is GREAT, but what have they dropped in late 2022? The Trae 2 is waaaaaay down the list, there’s no Harden 7 release date yet, the team models are not moving the needle, and Dame is using his budget model instead of a Dame 9 (but that budget model is nice). For all the momentum they had going just 4-5 years ago, it’s crickets now. Hopefully the new campaign “Remember the Why” and the new design team will bring the heat ASAP.

As for Under Armour – the first shoe I reviewed all those years ago was the Rose 1 from adidas. The second was the Under Armour Black Ice. For the first few years, with Micro G and a young, talented crew, Under Armour was making STRIDES. Then, nothing. They signed a few players who didn’t pan out, signed perennial MVP candidate Joel Embiid (but only gave him one shoe in 6 years), and gave Steph Curry his own brand. Don’t get me wrong, the Curry signature line (and most of the budget/team Curry models) have performed well, but… what else? No energy at all. Maybe that’s just the basketball market now, but someone somewhere has to shake it up, and that’s what UA used to be great at.

Best Retro

Now, most people will say the best retro this year was the Lost and Found Air Jordan 1. I considered it, even though I LOST ALL 11 DRAWS I ENTERED (not bitter), and that was designed as a performance shoe, so I could have gone there. I didn’t. My pick for best retro was the Nike Lebron 2, specifically the Maccabi colorway. I know most like the USA color better, and actually, I do too, but the Maccabi was never originally released, and if you were into sneakers in 2004-2005, you KNOW how much we wanted that colorway to drop. The Maccabi has better leather than the USA and all of the performance features are there – great traction (sticks and is durable), HUGE forefoot and heel Zoom units, great fit – and the shoe would have made my top 5 if I didn’t exclude retros from the list. If you get a chance to grab a colorway on discounts, don’t skip.

Now for some awards:

Best Traction

The candidates are the Nike Lebron 20, New Balance Two Wxy V3, and Curry 10. The first thing I look for in a shoe is traction. Bad thing is, I won’t know until I get in on court. All three of these shoes work FANTASTIC on a clean, finished court, but how many of us have that? Luckily, all three of these work just as well on a bad court too. I have been let down with Flow on dusty courts the past two years, but this year UA made the surface “peak” on the tread, giving some extra bite and eliminating some of the slip from dust collection. The Two Wxy V3 has suction cups – really- that grip almost too well. And the LeBron 20, well, it was the most consistent for me under all movements and conditions. Winner: Nike LeBron 20.

Best Cushioning

This is always a very subjective category. Some need or want max cushioning for joint pain. Some want a low, responsive ride. Some want a stable, no-cares feel. With all that in mind, the best-cushioned shoe this year is…the Nike Lebron 20. It’s the one shoe that caters to the largest crowd – great impact protection, decent ride, and court feel, responsiveness from the Zoom, and stability under foot.

Best Materials

I’m a sucker for raw, natural materials (leathers and suedes), but unless it was a retro, there wasn’t a lot of leather to go around, except for two that directly come to mind – the Kyrie Infinity and the Brandblack Villain. I tend to try not to review Brandblack shoes because of our relationship with the company, but EVERYTHING they make is premium and quality and performs fantastically. The Kyrie Infinity has nice leather on the back half of the shoe – soft, and supple, but still sturdy enough to wrap the ankle and provide that supportive hug. And the forefoot of the Villain is more of the same premium materials we have come to love from Brandblack since Day 1.

Best Fit

Two shoes come to mind when I think of the best fit – the New Balance Two Wxy V3 and the Under Armour Curry 10. Under Armour has been a MASTER of fit for a few years now, probably from the apparel experience and finding the perfect fit there. New Balance also puts a premium on fit, as they are the only current major company to accommodate wide-footers. That said, I think I prefer the Two Wxy V3 by a severely slight margin because of the supreme lockdown the lacing system offers.

Best Support

No doubt – the Jordan Zion 2. Wide base, solid outrigger, strap that works, thick upper materials, and LARGE achilles pillows that fit precisely where they are supposed to above the heel and around the ankle to completely lock your foot in even when you don’t lace tight. I mean, look at Zion – of COURSE, it will be solid.

The Top Ten

Now – the Top Ten…

10. Jordan Zion 2 (pictured above) – A shoe that had to grow on me. I grabbed the first colorway and thought it was TERRIBLE. A lack of cushioning was the main thing, especially with shoes like the KD 15 in my closet. Boy, did I give up too early. Given a little time to break in, the foam midsole feels great, allowing the Zoom to become springy and responsive, and the traction is absolutely reliable on any court. Pair that with the great fit and support and specific colors having actual leather and nubuck and you have a sleeper for 2022.

9. Li Ning Way of Wade 10 – Many people have the WoW 10 ranked WAAAAY higher, and I can see why – cushioning has great bounce and protection, traction is solid on clean courts, and the fit is perfect. But… I felt like my heel sat lower than my forefoot, straining my achilles. It could be my weight (I’m around 215 at 5’9″) but if you are a lighter guard/forward who loves to fly, the WoW 10 is definitely a great shoe.

8. adidas Harden Vol. 6 – After the absolute DISASTER of the Harden Vol.5 (possibly the worst shoe I have ever reviewed) the Harden 6 had nowhere to go but up, and it blasted off like a rocket. With herringbone traction (like Harden had on his player version 5’s instead of the squares we got), full-length Boost midsole, huge midfoot shank, and materials that actually flexed when running, the Harden 6 was a GREAT on-court shoe and probably should have been higher but, again, this was a GREAT year for performance.

7. Puma Melo MB.02 – A definite evolution of the MB.01 that made EVERYONE’S list last year, the MB.02 is a streamlined version with slightly stiffer underfoot cushioning which makes the shoe feel faster on the run (I thought the MB.01 was a little mushy when changing direction). The midfoot and ankle are slimmer, and the traction is just as solid, making this a shoe for players at any position and playing style. Plus, the colors – is there a shoe out there anywhere that exudes the player’s personality more than the MB.02?

6. Under Armour Curry 10 – From the first look, the Curry 10 seems like a slightly different Curry 9 upper. That is not the case – the Flow outsole pattern has more peaks and ridges than the 8 and 9, meaning a better grip through dust and bad floors (my only complaint about the 9 was the dust effect on the Flow). The upper has integrated support straps woven through the knit and the overall fit of the shoe is more locked down than the 9. Also, the Flow seems to have slightly more bounce than any other iteration and gives the shoe an actual cushioning feel.

5. Nike KD 15 – Now it gets serious. I firmly believed this shoe would be top 2 or 3 when I was playing in it, and any other year it might be #1. GREAT cushioning, great traction, great fit through the mid- and forefoot, and GREAT colorways (I freaking LOVE the 9th Wonder series). However, the heel slip I experienced held it back. It isn’t bad enough to consider the shoe unsafe, but to stop it I had to lace the shoe super tight, making the midfoot cage painful, or modify the lacing system. If you don’t mind a little heel slip, I GUARANTEE there is a colorway for you, and the cushioning will blow you away.

4. Way of Wade All City 10 – Here we go, the first shoe from a “small” brand, although Li Ning is HUGE in China. The AC10 is a low-riding, sleek, bouncy foot rocket that fits like a glove and stops on a dime. The colorways are great and if you need a little more support, you can grab the AC10 V2 that dropped a few weeks ago. A perfect example of how Chinese brands have caught up and passed a lot of bigger brands, the AC10 is a shoe for speed and bounce.

3. Nike Kyrie Infinity – It is very, VERY rare over the years for me to buy multiple colorways of a performance shoe. I have seven pairs of the Infinity. Some of this has to do with the price (once Kyrie called them garbage the prices hit bottom on StockX, even before release day, so I began grabbing them). What I found out, and Kyrie should have kept quiet, was the Infinity is the best performing Kyrie in the line, great court feel but also great cushioning from the Zoom strobel in the forefoot, heel Zoom for the first time since the Kyrie 4, low ride, controlled transition, traction that is strong on clean to semi-clean courts, and a great fit, the Infinity is a great shoe at the retail price of $130. It’s even better at half price, which is where it can be found now. If you liked the Kyrie 5/6/7, you will LOVE the infinity.

1. Oh, I skipped #2… well, there’s a good reason for that. The top two shoes this year are so close I can’t decide, so I took the easy way out and decided they tied. It’s my list – I can do that. Sooooo…(drum roll please)…the LeBron 20 and the New Balance Two Wxy V3 are my picks for the top shoe this year. First, the LeBron. This is simply the best-performing LeBron ever, and after 20 models that says something. The knit upper holds solid on any cuts and movements, the Cushlon/Zoom midsole is super bouncy but gives great impact protection, lateral containment is solid, and the transition is so smooth it feels like a runner. The sphere lining is crazy comfortable, and the little touches of leather on most pairs give a luxury feel. Traction is also serious, as you could guess if you read the whole story.

The Two Wxy V3 is a revelation. The V1 was one of my favorites last year, and the V2 kept the same great fit and added better cushioning. However, the V3 is the shoe that should cross New Balance over to the mainstream. One of the best fitting shoes out there with a great heel lockdown and a lacing system that completely locks over the foot, the traction is actual suction cups, and the combination of Abzorb and FuelCell is springy, protective, and gives a low ride for quicker changes of direction and better transition. Then the colorways, and the price ($120), position the V3 to be a shoe for everyone at every level.

Well, that’s it – my favorite performers of 2022. Yes, there were some I left off that others loved (notably the PG 6 but I skipped that shoe completely), but overall, again, 2022 was a GREAT year for performance. I love the fact that you can get ANY of these shoes at any time right now if you have the money and time to look. Just a few years ago a LeBron, KD, or Kobe would sell out like a retro Jordan (even Hardens were moving like crazy). Now, with the focus on street and “dad” wear, companies are trying all kinds of new technology and designs to see what sticks. Keep your options open and try new things, if you have the funding, and keep finding those lost gems on court. Here’s to a great 2023 and all the new technology and kicks!!!

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