Playing ball means lots of jumps, cuts, sprints, quick changes of direction, and sometimes awkward falls or uneven landings – all during a short period of time. This is exactly why we’re going to be talking about the very best basketball shoes for jumping.
SHOW TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Who is this For?
- What Makes a Good Shoe for a Leaper?
- Here are the Best Cushion Setups for Leapers
- The Best Jumper’s Shoes – 11 Picks
- Hoop? Then You Do More Than Jump
- I’ll break down what makes a good shoe for jumping
- What key areas you should put your attention to so you’ll be informed next time you buy
- I’ll give you my 6 personal picks for the best jumper’s shoes
All of the shoes were played and tested by me for at least 2 months and all six shoes are released in the last 3 years.
They’re also great all-around performers on the court. It would be foolish to get a sneaker that provides a fantastic cushioning experience, yet fails in providing traction, support, adequate comfort, etc.
WHO IS THIS FOR?
Leapers and not only, listen up
Now, I have to mention that this guide and shoe list will not cater to ALL players and people who are looking for a shoe.
Why? Simple – not everyone likes their shoe to provide a springy, bouncy feel.
Some players are light guards who prefer maximum responsiveness and zero speed loss as opposed to a softer, bouncier ride with more impact protection, but at times a little bit of sacrifice in speed & response.
But if you’re like me and you love to play above the rim, drive to the hoop a lot, you base your playstyle more off of athleticism – then you simply must have a shoe that supplements your jumps well and provides competent impact protection in order to ensure your own safety and comfort.
Though it’s not just about picking a random shoe with an expensive cushion setup.
Let me break it down for you…
WHAT MAKES A GOOD HIGH FLYER’S SHOE?
It’s not just about BOUNCE
A good cushion setup & the way it’s implemented. This means basically the midsole of a shoe that contains a certain foam compound – it’s responsible for providing a supplementary ride for your movements.
Along with the shoe having the properties for a good overall performer – it’s all about the cushion for anyone who’s got an athletic playstyle.
So to give you a foundation of the general perception of what is a good cushion setup, let me first break down the components that make up a jumper-friendly ride.
I. IMPACT PROTECTION
First and foremost – we MUST ensure our safety when playing and especially when playing athletically. You need a good amount of full-length impact protection and a quality cushion setup should give you that.
You might not always feel the impact is being absorbed but if your jumps & landings feel comfortable and you don’t have knee/foot pain at the end of a game, chances are you’re good.
This is undoubtedly the foundation and a MUST have, something all 6 shoes in the list will provide.
II. QUICK ENERGY RETURN OR “SPRING BACK”
Fast energy return or that “bounce” feeling like you’re running on clouds is something a lot of players love to have in their shoes.
For an athletic jumper – not only it feels a ton of fun each time you perform a movement, but it also supplements them which sometimes feels like you’re jumping even higher or at least more comfortably & efficiently.
This will be one of our main focuses throughout the 6 shoes I’ve picked as it’s one of the most felt components in a cushion setup.
III. A SOFT RIDE, YET BALANCED ENOUGH FOR VERSATILITY
A cushion setup might provide impact protection and plenty of spring back but some setups aren’t as versatile as others.
This will come down to personal preference. Some people like a faster ride but with less bounce while others prefer a softer, slower setup that yields more impact protection & bounce.
I believe that a balance of both should be achieved. This isn’t easy to achieve but certain shoes have amazing setups that truly feel versatile & provide the best of both worlds.
IV. IMPLEMENTATION THAT PROMOTES STABILITY
Probably the most overlooked element when it comes to hunting for a jumper’s shoe. Sure, the ride itself might be very soft, bouncy and lots of fun but some foam compounds tend to be less stable than others.
This is why brands use techniques such as caging the shoe’s midsole with TPU to prevent the foam from over-contorting, thus keeping you stable.
Another way to achieve stability is to use a thinner slab of the high-quality compound. You ride lower off the ground which means you’re more stable. Riding higher off the ground means more chances of being unstable.
We’ll be looking for effective cushion setups but they MUST be either stable by nature or implemented in a way that promotes stability. Very important for playing securely.
HERE ARE THE BEST CUSHION SETUPS FOR LEAPERS
From your favorite brands
Now that you know the base requirements for a strong cushion setup, we need to get into the specifics.
More and more variations and different foam compounds are being used by brands and if you don’t have much experience with each of ’em – Lightstrike or Zoom Air won’t say much to you.
This is where I come in.
Let me break down what I think are the best foam compound choices brands are using to meet our leaper-friendly cushion requirements above.
One of adidas’s most revolutionary innovations. Boost launched in 2013 and has been providing amazing cushion setups for basketball shoes & other athletic sneakers.
Boost is a compound made up of thousands of small foam pellets – the foam contours upon impact and springs back extremely quickly.
Another huge advantage that Boost has is it can provide very strong impact protection while keeping the midsole thin & low to the ground.
Definitely one of the most effective setups from a performance standpoint but also one of the most fun to jump around in as well.
Bounce launched after Boost and effectively served its purpose, offering performance and feel close to Boost while keeping the price tag more budget-friendly. Think of it as a little brother of Boost.
Bounce is usually a bit more versatile than Boost but usually isn’t as bouncy as its big bro. Regardless, it’s still one of my favorite setups to date.
Still lots of impact protection, always very stable and even though it might not provide the biggest spring back of all, it’s a very well-balanced foam that most players would enjoy.
FULL-LENGTH ZOOM AIR
Probably the most beloved and most established setups to date, if implemented well, full-length Zoom is absolutely nuts.
It can be super bouncy, always provides a ton of shock absorption, and also propels movements like nothing else.
A full-length Zoom setup will usually bump up the shoe’s price tag but you get what you pay for. It can be one of the most versatile setups out there, while still providing A TON of fast energy return.
FULL-LENGTH MAX AIR
Very similar to how full-length Zoom is implemented – Max Air will feel right at home, though it’s usually softer, bouncier which comes at a cost of less versatility.
It’s still an amazing setup that everyone should try for the sheer fun and comfort aspects alone.
It’s pretty rare that Nikey drops a full-length Max Air shoe but it happens. A combo of Max Air & Zoom Air is more common, though not in a full-length fashion.
ZOOM AIR & MAX AIR
One of the most common setups Nikey puts out to cater to a mid-range budget is Zoom Air or Max Air units. These aren’t full-length, so the units are usually implemented in either the heel or forefoot area or both.
The lack of a full-length Zoom/Max Air midsole will mean less smooth step transitions and usually less impact protection but there are some exceptions out there, which I’ll talk about in the shoe list below.
UA’s OG flagship foam compound used to be implemented in most basketball shoes they put out. Not the case anymore though – you’ll usually find shoes with HOVR or a combo of HOVR & MicroG by Under Armour in 2020.
Regardless, if there’s any sight of MicroG in the shoe – chances are you’ll get a pretty damn good setup. MicroG is among the softest compounds EVER but it all depends on how it’s implemented.
Some setups are firmer than others but the performance properties are almost always there. A safe pick in my eyes.
BEST BASKETBALL SHOES FOR JUMPING
11 picks, in no particular order & my personal favorite at the end
Last updated on the 5th of May, 2021
I. AIR JORDAN 34
Heel & forefoot Zoom Air cushion
FULL REVIEW 💰 $175 🏆 8.4
I crowned the AJ 34 as the best all-around shoe of 2019 and that’s a MAJOR statement considering how good 2019 was for basketball. Not to mention it’s got a fantastic cushion setup that delivers what we’re looking for here.
One heel and one forefoot Zoom Air unit might not sound like much but it’s all about how they’re implemented & what kind of midsole is used to hold it together.
This setup is an athlete’s dream – tons of impact protection, moderate spring back, yet you still ride pretty low to the ground & the foam doesn’t slow you down. I found this to be one of the most versatile setups pretty much anyone can pick up & enjoy.
II. PEAK TONY PARKER TP7
Full-length PEAK Taichi cushion
Let me introduce you to PEAK and Tony Parker’s seventh signature shoe, the Tony Parker TP7 utilizes the brand’s Taichi cushion in full-length fashion, while caging it up laterally with TPU to make sure it’s stable, not over compressing and still providing some of the best underfoot sensations on the market.
Yes, even alongside your favorite flagship brands. The shoe has one of the most comfortable setups out there, no breaking in, no getting used to it, nothing. Just a great feeling setup right out of the box supplementing most high flyers exactly what they need.
Strong spring back upon impact, tons of impact protection even for heavier guys, super comfy step motions, and the implementation that takes care of stability and making sure you’re not overly sinking into the Taichi midsole, so guards will still move & feel quick.
III. NIKE LEBRON 17
Heel Zoom Air & forefoot Max Air
FULL REVIEW 💰 $200 🏆 7.3
Probably the softest & plushiest rides out of the whole list. The LeBron 17 packs a serious punch when it comes to cushion.
It’s got forefoot Zoom Air units and Max Air in the heel, all supplemented by a Phylon midsole. The end result is beautifully smooth step transitions, a TON of bounce, and unrivaled impact protection.
Personally, this is the most comfortable shoe of 2019 and the cushion setup adds to that greatly.
With that being said, this will be the least versatile setup on the list. These ride very high off the ground, so court feel is virtually eliminated. There are also quicker setups out there for those who are looking for more responsiveness.
But for those who are looking for all-out cushion instead of more of a balanced ride, there are hardly any better options than the 17th LeBron.
IV. NIKE LEBRON 18
Full-length Zoom Air, heel Max Air & Cushlon midsole
FULL REVIEW 💰 $200 🏆 8
You thought the LeBron 17’s ride was tons of fun? Wait ’till you step into the next one. The LeBron 18 is a kind of shoe that won’t be for everybody. But for guys who play with a ton of force & athleticism or perhaps you’re built like The King himself – this one will introduce you to an addicting experience on the court.
Everything Nikey could jam inside is packing in the shoe: a full-length Zoom Air unit providing the responsiveness and most of the energy return upon movements, while the heel Max Air unit takes care of impact protection at the rear, no matter the player.
And to top it all off, the awesome Cushlon midsole adds another level of step comfort and a super fun overall experience that puts all the other beefy setups to shame. Well, maybe not all of ’em but you get the idea. Of course I crowned it as the most comfortable shoe of 2020. That wasn’t even much of a question.
Some could argue this is too much cushion. Even though it never felt unstable or overly clumsy, I can’t deny that not everyone’s needs will be fully fulfilled. The lightest & fastest of guards will probably want something faster & lower to the ground. But that’s not why you came here, right?
V. NIKE LEBRON 16
Full-length Max Air & 3 Zoom units
FULL REVIEW 💰 $185 🏆 8.8
Think of it this way. The LeBron 18 brought the most ridiculous cushion setup available, while the LeBron 17 shares a similar ride, though not as beefy in comparison. The oldest of the bunch, the 16th LeBron is what I call the “balanced” approach of the three.
Taking things down a notch and optimizing the ride for a faster & slightly lower to the ground ride while retaining some of the awesome bounce the two shoes after it gave us.
Full-length Max Air is phenomenal on its own by providing a ton of softness & impact protection but the extra Zoom Air units placed strategically to promote natural motions just top it off.
In result, we get a more refined package. No, this is not the fastest nor the most responsive setup but that’s not what we’re looking for.
It’s just fast enough to keep all your quickness, precision, and stability but it’s still a bunch of fun to jump around in these.
VI. NIKE KD 12
Full-length Zoom Air, heel Zoom unit
FULL REVIEW 💰 $150 🏆 7.9
Full-length Zoom Air is amazing. But it’s all about how it’s implemented into the shoe and how it plays on the court. The KD 12 I think shows us the near-limits of what Zoom Air can really do, and from a performance perspective, it can do it all.
This ride feels fast, explosive but never overly crazy to cause instability. The additional heel Zoom unit packs impact protection in case you’re a heel striker but the overall experience is something that’s not often replicated.
I always felt super fast & explosive, yet each and every step is super comfy. There’s enough impact protection for even the heaviest of big dudes but each movement is still supplemented by a ton of bounce that doesn’t sink you into the foam. You’re fairly low to the ground but it doesn’t really feel like it.
That’s what a refined, carefully engineered Zoom setup feels like, and it’s quite a shame not a lot of shoes marketed as the “next best thing” reach the level of balance the KD 12 did in 2019.
VII. NIKE KD 13
Full-length Zoom Air & forefoot Zoom unit
FULL REVIEW 💰 $150 🏆 7.4
I called the KD 12’s setup a near-perfect one and I still stand by it – it’s so good, there’s hardly any other shoes that achieve such a balance without taking away any fun. But here’s the KD 13 for you – keeping the same overall setup but taking things to an even crazier level of bounce.
These things feel like springs underfoot. Some soft, comfy springs, but springs nonetheless.
The KD 13 plays fast, it’s not as high off the ground as a LeBron shoe so there’s still court feel there. Not once I felt too sluggish or the opposite, too firm. What I always felt though is prominent energy return and no sacrifices.
There’s not a lot different about how they feel underfoot when stacked against the KD 12 but if you need even more bounce and explosive energy return to propel your jumps – the KD 13 could be considered a step-up from the last shoe.
VIII. ADIDAS CRAZY EXPLOSIVE 2017
Full-length Boost cushion
FULL REVIEW 💰 $150 🏆 9
Boost is life. We all know that. 2017’s Crazy Explosive straight-up showed you what Boost can do. To this day, I still think this is the best Boost implementation in a basketball shoe to date.
This Boost feels just right. It’s soft but not overly soft to slow you down. It’s bouncy, yet it’s caged in TPU to prevent instability. It’s got a ton of impact protection for such a layer of Boost and you already know Boost is king when it comes to effective energy return.
Everything about the setup feels just right. Pair that with the shoe being a fantastic all-around performer and you got yourself a winner.
IX. NIKE ZOOM RIZE
Forefoot Zoom Air & springy foam midsole
FULL REVIEW 💰 $140 🏆 8.5
The Nikey Zoom Rize’s cushion setup truly shocked me, seriously.
Forefoot Zoom Air and (likely) a Phylon midsole definitely don’t sound like much. But boy were we wrong.
Like I’ve mentioned in the dedicated review, I’ve never quite felt anything like this before. Next to solid impact protection, mad comfort, and softness of the midsole, the amount and quickness of energy return surprised me the most.
These feel like a formula. It’s pretty tough to put it in words but the Zoom Rize just springs back upon impact like no other shoe on the list.
If you’ve heard anything about the myths of “basketball shoes increasing your vertical“, this is literally the closest we can get to it. I encourage you to try it to see for yourself.
Maybe you’ll like it, maybe you won’t – but that’s the beauty of variety. Okay, let’s be real. Not a lot of people aren’t going to like this one.
X. NIKE COSMIC UNITY
Full-length Zoom Air Strobel
FULL REVIEW 💰 $150 🏆 8.4
Made up of at least 25% recycled material, the Cosmic Unity from Nikey is looking to both protect the environment and shake up the basketball shoe market. I don’t know how the whole saving environment thing is going for them but all I know is that this shoe’s an all-around treat. Especially for leapers.
Full-length Zoom Air is back but this is an even more refined version of it now. The KD 12 and the KD 13 both had phenomenal rides utilizing a Zoom Air Strobel going from heel to toe but this version of the Cosmic Unity is thinner and more stable now.
The ride is lower to the ground, yet keeps all its bounce and impact protection we all want from Zoom.
So for those who perhaps found the setups on the KD 12/13 a bit lacking in the stability department or you’d like to ride lower to the ground while still having fantastic cushion underfoot – the Cosmic Unity is probably the closest you can get. I loved every second of playing in these.
MY CURRENT FAVORITE
My current go-to when I feel like jumping out the gym, need plenty of protection for long & explosive games, or when I just want to have some FUN
XI. NIKE ZOOM RIZE 2
Forefoot Zoom Air & springy foam midsole
FULL REVIEW 💰 $160 🏆 8.4
Take everything said about the first Zoom Rize shoe and modify it to a version “on steroids” – the Zoom Rize 2 follows the same path of ridiculous spring and explosiveness and applies just a few small tweaks.
They’re barely noticeable but when both shoes are stacked against each other, I’d crown the second shoe for even more bounce and fast energy return that’s felt upon each and every movement.
The forefoot Zoom unit is now larger and the front portion does feel slightly softer. Not to a point where it’s clunky now but just a tad bit mushier in comparison. The heel & midfoot portions are still felt by a great foam midsole (Nikey still hasn’t disclosed if it’s Phylon) that looks to be even bouncier this time.
This is a crazy setup that propels an explosive player’s game in the clearest possible way – it’s a solid all-around shoe but the aggressive spring back these deliver catches me off guard sometimes and you really gotta try these to understand it.
HOOP? THEN YOU DO MORE THAN JUMP
Arm yourself with simple but trusty knowledge in the hoop shoe world
That’s a wrap for the guide! I hope you were able to take something useful from the guide and the shoe list will propel you towards an informed purchase!
If you’re looking for more awesome picks for your rotation – check out my nominations for 2019’s best shoes!
As usual, I’d love to hear your opinion on this. Perhaps you got one of those shoes and would like to share your experience? Do you have any questions?