Not entirely sure what to look for when reading my (or others’) basketball shoe reviews? Not familiar with how a shoe is properly evaluated? What do certain specifications, performance traits, and other subtleties mean?
If you need an answer to at least one of the questions above – start here.
I’ve been creating comprehensive basketball sneaker breakdowns and talking about useful hoop shoe topics for a few years now but I know that some of you could be newcomers to the scene. Whether you’re just curious or want to get familiar – here’s everything you need to know.
SHOW TABLE OF CONTENTS
- The Player Matters. A Lot
- When Do I Know a Shoe is For Me?
- How to Evaluate a Basketball Shoe
THE PLAYER MATTERS. A LOT
The game of basketball has 5 positions and even though the lines between each of them are blurred today more than ever, it’s to argue that different players like different types of shoes.
Even those who consider themselves versatile still have varied preferences as to what kind of footwear they ideally prefer on the court. No shoe is for everyone.
A certain model can be overwhelmingly praised by hoopers but you still might not like it due to a certain detail or circumstance.
This is never going to change and this is exactly why understanding what kind of shoe YOU personally like is important if you want to make an informed purchase decision.
If you’re not quite sure how you play and what you like yet – that’s totally fine.
Going through performance shoe reviews will help a lot, but nothing will help more than actually trying a bunch of different options ’till something sticks.
MY BUILD & PLAYING STYLE
I’ve been putting together comprehensive sneaker reviews for a while now and even though I still have ways to go, I feel like I kind of nailed down the key things I prefer to have in my hoop shoes.
So, if you’ll be reading my breakdowns – it’s useful to know what kind of player I am.
I’m a 6’1/185 cm guard at ~175 lbs/80 kg (it fluctuates in the range of ~173-180 lbs/78-82 kg). I’m definitely not a big guy in terms of basketball standards but I can hold my own at the guard position.
I like to consider myself fairly versatile, meaning I do a little bit of everything on the court.
However, I do excel in slashing to the rim, creating one-on-one opportunities, driving & kicking to the 3-point man, playing pick n’ roll with my big guy, and knocking down mid-range shots.
I’m a pretty good athlete too. I’m no Ja Morant-explosive by any means but I can play above the rim when possible and finish acrobatic drives when I get going.
This is why I’m able to push the shoes fairly hard during the period that I’m testing them. But like I said – you’ll NEVER fully know if a shoe that I love will even make your “consider” list.
I do my best to cover the shoe’s performance with a bunch of different styles and builds in mind but having said that, you should still take things with a grain of salt.
WHEN DO I KNOW A SHOE IS FOR ME?
Let’s say you bought a shiny new pair of hoop shoes and you’re pretty unfamiliar with the idea of evaluating a performance basketball model.
In that case, you might be wondering how long should you play in it ’till you can decide if it’s working for you?
That’s definitely a subjective question as there could be all sorts of variables in the equation. However, what I recommend is at least fully breaking the shoe in before coming to conclusions and trying a different option.
WHAT NEEDS BREAKING IN?
There are several components that usually need some break-in time before they start feeling optimal when it comes to basketball sneakers.
Those are the outsole, the midsole, the upper, and sometimes other components such as support chassis systems or torsional plates.
Sneaker outsoles are made of rubber and rubber needs heat and friction in order to start moving better and covering more ground.
Midsoles are your cushion, meaning they handle the load of impact protection and also your step-in comfort. Sometimes, certain foam compounds start off feeling firm and unresponsive but playing in the shoe a few times softens the foam and “unlocks” its potential.
The upper is pretty self-explanatory. Everyone’s foot shape is different, so a certain upper might feel overly tight for you initially. But if you got the size right, most materials stretch out if you wear the shoe for some time.
Nowadays, modern materials and improved technology mean that most shoes don’t take long to break in and get used to. A matter of a couple of weeks is what you’ll need at most.
HOW I TEST BASKETBALL SHOES
When it comes to my testing of hoop shoes before putting out a review – I try to put each shoe through plenty of situations and conditions before forming a conclusive opinion.
I’m primarily an outdoor hooper, so each analysis is based on outside action at its core. I play on a rubberized court and on classic asphalt.
When I’m able to – I start off playing in a new shoe indoors. A group of us usually rent a high-school gym with a soft rubberized court that mimics hardwood. I rarely get to step on real pristine hardwood.
A couple of months is the minimum time I play in a shoe before calling a job done. I form an opinion much earlier but I like to test shoes for longer solely due to the reliability aspect.
What if the upper starts tearing a month in? Or the outsoles are naked after two weeks? I feel like it’s my responsibility to let the reader know stuff like that.
HOW TO EVALUATE A BASKETBALL SHOE
Let’s get to the meat of things. Let me break down what core components of a basketball shoe you should look at in order to evaluate it.
This is based on how I put together my reviews but you’ll see a very similar concept on most other reviews or opinions from hoopers.
SPECIFICATIONS TO KNOW
First things first, I always let the user know the basic specifications of each basketball shoe. You’re not always going to find ALL of these for each shoe but if that information is available – I’ll always let you know.
These are the specs I always recommend you to find out if possible:
Ankle cut: how high the ankle collar is. Some prefer traditional mid-tops, while others like low-tops due to more freedom. High-tops are becoming a thing of the past but you can still find some here and there.
Weight: how heavy the shoe is. Don’t overthink this TOO much as the number can be deceiving. Sometimes, a certain shoe feels and plays lighter than the number might suggest. The average weight range of shoes in my size 10 US (44 EU) is 12-15 oz (340-425 g).
Heel-to-toe offset: how much of a slope there is from the heel to the front of the shoe. Basketball shoes are fairly flat in this regard (commonly in the range of 4-9 mm/0.16-0.35 inches).
The bigger the offset is, the more propulsion is felt towards each step but that might also come at a cost of stability laterally and medially.
Upper: what are the materials of the upper used. Most shoes today utilize lightweight synthetic compounds such as textile, woven, knit, and jacquard. Some of the more classic choices that are tougher to find nowadays are leather, nubuck, and suede.
Support components: what kind of support/security features the shoe has. To get you started, look for at least a heel counter, a midfoot torsional plate, and outriggers.
Build: does the shoe have a traditional lace & tongue construction? If not, one-bootie or half-bootie builds are common today. Those mean that the upper of the shoe is a single piece and there’s no separate tongue.
That can offer a great fit and security but usually at a cost of flexibility and difficulty in putting the shoe on.
Cushion: what’s used for the shoe’s cushioning properties? Is it just a foam midsole or there’s additional proprietary technology implemented, such as Nikey’s Zoom Air pods?
After getting familiar with the specs, it’s time to move on…
SIZING, FIT, AND COMFORT
How a shoe fits your foot is the ultimate foundation of the whole experience. The first three things to find out are: which size to go with, how will that size (approximately) fit, and how comfortable the experience will be.
I break down these three components with each review.
So, you’ll be able to decide if you should stick with your usual size or go up/down, you’ll roughly know how snug the shoe will fit you based on my explanation and what’s the general comfort level while playing.
But there might be additional questions you’ll need answers to when evaluating the fit. Are you a wide footer? If yes, then make sure the toebox is roomy enough (that’s usually described in reviews).
Or perhaps you love a very snug, second-skin type of fit and the shoe you’re eyeing seems roomy? Going down half a size might be needed in that case.
Traction is the shoe’s foundation when it comes to performance.
If you’re not receiving proper grip with each move you make on-court, there’s almost no point in looking at other components since everything falls apart on a weak foundation.
A shoe’s base level of traction needs to be evaluated & its consistency no matter the movement.
Sensitivity to floor dust debris or moisture also needs to be evaluated as some outsoles aren’t affected by it, while others get noticeably more slippery the moment some dust makes it into the thread.
Outsole durability is something that’s especially critical for outdoor hoopers. The more abrasive the surface you’re hooping on, the more friction is generated, thus the faster the rubber will degrade.
Basketball shoes nowadays aren’t usually built for outdoor hoops but you can still find some options that have stronger outsoles slapped on.
Impact protection, energy return, and general step comfort are handled by the shoe’s cushioning setup which is most commonly the midsole.
The more cushion a sneaker has, the softer and plusher each step will feel, thus more impact protection is available for you.
But a beefier midsole also means a ride that’s higher off the ground which some people aren’t used to.
A more fluffy cushion compound is also not an ideal choice for quick, light players who need maximum speed and precision.
Additional variables to consider: how noticeable is the spring-back effect after a movement, how stable is the cushion’s implementation, and how resilient a certain compound is before it starts to lose its effectiveness.
I’ve got a Nike basketball shoe technology guide to get you familiar and other brand guides are coming soon!
SUPPORT & SECURITY
A very important aspect of each hoop shoe is security. Basketball is an intense, dynamic sport that requires users to pull off movements at various angles in a short amount of time.
Your shoe needs to be able to handle that and properly support each movement without overly restricting the wearer.
Proper security starts with a proper fit. If that’s not there – no features will likely save you. The upper also has to be structured enough to hold your foot in at all times.
Support components that you should look for in a shoe: heel counters for ankle & heel lockdown, midfoot plates for torsional rigidity, a good lacing system, lateral outriggers, a widened forefoot, and several others.
Breaking down the support/security aspect for today’s basketball shoes isn’t very complicated because manufacturers have nailed it down.
It’s pretty rare for a shoe to have weak support these days, no matter how lightweight or flexible a shoe might be.
The upper of the shoe will ultimately decide on how comfortable you’ll feel, how contained your foot will be, and how much freedom of movement you’ll have. Of course, along with how durable your pair is.
I always evaluate the shoe’s build in two major areas: performance and reliability.
A well-performing upper means it’s lightweight enough to feel agile, it’s flexible enough for the foot to move properly, and it’s also well-structured in order to contain the foot on the footbed at all times.
A reliable upper means that it will last you a long time before needing a replacement. Material choices nowadays don’t match the longevity of raw leathers, suedes, and nubucks back in the day but they’re undoubtedly superior performance-wise.
Some other things I evaluate when it comes to the build are: ventilation, break-in time, and value for the price you’re paying.
ADDITIONAL THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
Next to the base pillars of evaluation, there might be a few bonus details you might want to think about before clicking that Buy button.
Is the shoe versatile enough in case you consider yourself an all-around player? If it’s not a well-rounded option, does it sound like the right shoe for YOUR play style?
In terms of saving cash, perhaps the shoe you’re aiming for is not a demanding sneaker and it’ll soon go on sale? Or maybe there are alternatives that do certain things for you better at the same price range?
Or the current iteration in the series is on its last legs and a new entry is coming in a few weeks? That means you could pick up the 1-year-old sneaker for cheaper when the new one comes out.
These are just some of the ideas to think about when deciding, and also the points I go over in my own reviews.
Now that you’ve learned how I evaluate a basketball shoe – you can apply it to your own shoe hunts and hopefully make a better-informed purchase decision.
But remember, not all shoes can be universally fantastic for everyone. We can share some traits that are appealing to most but there are a whole slew of things that vary based on the player.
This is why you should never take someone’s sneaker review to heart 100%.
What you SHOULD do is go through as many breakdowns of that shoe as you can to rack up information from a multitude of people and ultimately come to a conclusion.
That doesn’t mean you’ll 100% get it right but it does mean you gave your best to do so.
And if you’re not quite sure who you are as a player yet and what you prefer/don’t like – TRYING as many shoes as you can is the best option.
Those that can’t afford to spend $100+ every few months on a pair of shoes should then strive to get something that’s considered versatile.
I wish you the best of luck in your basketball shoe endeavors. In the meantime, dive into the most comprehensive basketball shoe reviews online below!