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 best basketball shoes for jumping.
- 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?
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.
LEAPERS – LISTEN UP!
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 SHOE FOR A LEAPER?
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
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 UNITS
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 awesome 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.
THE BEST JUMPER’S SHOES – 6 PICKS
The time has finally come! Let’s break down the 6 best shoes for an athletic player based on the criteria we’ve talked about in the guide.
#6 – AIR JORDAN 34
Cushion: heel & forefoot Zoom Air
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.
With that though, it’s coming in at number 6 because there are 5 other shoes that offer even more…
#5 – NIKE LEBRON 17
Cushion: heel Zoom Air & forefoot Max Air & Phylon midsole
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 – 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.
#4 – NIKE LEBRON 16
Cushion: full-length Max Air & 3 Zoom units
Take everything I said about the LeBron 17’s cushion and make it a bit more versatile & quicker. You get the LeBron 16.
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 when compared to the 17th LeBron. 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 not feel sluggish and it’s a bunch of fun to jump around in these.
#3 – NIKE KD 13
Cushion: full-length Zoom Air & forefoot Zoom unit
Alright, so now take everything I said about the LeBron 16’s cushion and make it a bit lower off the ground & add quicker energy return. There’s the KD 13 for you.
I called it a near-perfect setup in the review and I stand by it – it’s so good, there’s hardly any other shoes that achieve such a balance without taking away any fun.
The KD 13 plays fast, it’s not as high off the ground 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.
Bravo to the tech team on this one, the definition of a balanced ride that truly feels what you paid for!
#2 – ADIDAS CRAZY EXPLOSIVE 2017
Cushion: full-length Boost
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.
#1 PICK – NIKE ZOOM RIZE
Cushion: forefoot Zoom Air & Phylon midsole
What’s this? A random team release beats all the signatures? That’s right. The Nikey Zoom Rize’s cushion setup truly shocked me, seriously.
Forefoot Zoom Air and 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. And don’t forget about in-depth reviews. You can have a read about the Zoom Rize below to get a better idea of the shoe.
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?