It’s that time! The disastrous 2020 is coming to an end and even though this was a tough year for a lot of us, the basketball shoe market never stopped going strong. Let’s break down the best basketball shoes of 2020!
Now, I know this might sound cliche but 2020 was actually a VERY strong year for shoes. I really do believe that and part of the reason why it sounds cliche is that you’ve heard the same thing about 2019, 2018, and back.
What does this mean? This means that brands are continuously competing to put out the best product at the best prices despite the stuff happening in the outside world and that only makes it better for us!
Alright, let me explain how this will go…
THE STRUCTURE – HERE’S TO NOMINATIONS!
A few key points you need to know about to get a better idea of the list and how I came up with it.
BEST SHOE IN EACH RESPECTIVE CATEGORY
Just like last year, I’ve divided the list into a few different categories. I picked one favorite shoe that I thought took the crown in that respective field. I believe that this will be the most relevant way to provide exactly what people might need without confusing them with many different options.
Before the meat of the list, I’ll give you three honorable mentions and at the end, I’ll break down my top three overall favorites that I played in and loved the most.
The categories are the following:
- Three honorable mentions
- Best shoe for guards
- Best shoe for forwards/centers
- Best shoe for outdoors
- Best shoe on a budget
- Most secure shoe
- Most comfortable shoe
- Top 3 overall winners
ALL KICKS HAD THEIR RUN FOR THEIR MONEY
You can’t recommend a shoe you’ve played in for a couple of days or just by hearing about it. Plain and simple. Each shoe that’s on the list was personally played by me for at least 2-3 months. I believe that’s the minimum time required to properly evaluate what the shoe brings in terms of comfort, performance, and reliability.
Now keep in mind this is a 2020 list – nothing is normal in 2020. Even though there’s an outdoor winner on the list, MOST of my playing time in each shoe was outdoors.
I guess I don’t have to tell you why but I will regardless. Quarantine. Closed gyms. Sadness. You get the idea.
LOOKING TO FINALIZE YOUR DECISION?
In case you’re not fully sold on a particular shoe or simply looking for more in-depth information, I’ll have dedicated reviews for most shoes available to go to right from here.
If you see a shoe on the list and don’t see a link to the full review, this means that I’m still playing in that shoe and the review is in the works. But this also means that I’ve played in it enough to put it on the list, so a review is coming very soon.
Okay, let’s get into the fun, starting with 3 honorable mentions!
I. HONORABLE MENTIONS
3 shoes that were good but didn’t excel enough to make it to the list
NIKE ZOOM FREAK 2
Retail Price: $120 | My Rating: 7.9
Think of the Zoom Freak 2 as a solid little package that gets the job done for most players, distraction-free. You’d say it’s a shoe for big guys like the Greek Freak himself but the setup tells a different story.
The shoe’s got a very snug and secure fit, it’s extremely light and feels that way, it’s mobile, quick, and offers enough structure to keep it secure even for giants like Giannis. I think that’s a win. The upper’s a synthetic textile with Fuse overlays for extra structure – pretty standard for the $120 price range and plays well.
Not the best ventilation and you won’t get that luxury feel but you’re not paying $200, so I’m content with what I’ve got here.
If you’re looking for a low to the ground, responsive shoe that offers competent support yet doesn’t take away mobility – the Freak 2 is a solid shoe technically an improvement over the Freak 1.
WHY IT DIDN’T MAKE THE LIST
A couple of things. First, the cushion setup – for a shoe that Giannis plays in, the ride is surprisingly firm. I’m not saying Mamba Fury level firm or completely deal-breaking but enough for many people to be thrown off.
If you’re a big guy or play explosively – it will come down to personal preference but players aiming for strong impact protection and imminent spring back will have to look elsewhere. I think these are just a bit more barebones than what a supposedly versatile shoe should have for their tooling.
The second thing is the traction. The shoe grips the floor well but the two separated outsole portions perform AND deteriorate at a different rate. I’d say it’s an outdoor-ready outsole but when the forefoot area attracts a ton of dust and breaks down quicker than the heel portion, you’ve got a slight issue here.
Once again, not deal-breaking and you can play with these outdoors, just don’t expect these to hold for multiple hardcore seasons in the park.
NIKE PG 4
Retail Price: $110 | My Rating: 7.6
Another mid-priced signature coming from Paul George’s lineup this time, and describing this shoe would be somewhat similar to the Freak 2. Competitive mid-tier pricing and tech specs, nothing really stands out but everything works well enough to get the job done distraction-free.
The PG 4 has got a full-length Air unit for its cushion setup, a textile upper with a mesh & knit zipper shroud (yes, the 1990’s looking thing with a zipper), and a multi-directional pattern outsole.
The shoe grips the floor well at all times, I’ve had no real issues with dust piling up that would affect performance either. Full-length Air, while definitely not very bouncy or fun to play in, does provide mediocre impact protection and prevents you from feeling like you’re running on bricks.
WHY IT DIDN’T MAKE THE LIST
Just as the Freak 2, these had a few issues that resulted in these not making the final list.
First – the cushion setup. A similar case to the Freak 2 – low to the ground, has a bit of impact protection but doesn’t provide any real feedback upon impact and it’s also not the most responsive setup. A basic Phylon + Zoom Air unit combo does feel quicker than this, so keep that in mind as well.
Second – there some containment tendencies I wasn’t a huge fan of. I don’t think an athletic and/or big player should wear these. I found the overall containment of my foot to be lackluster at times. The cause is mainly the flimsy upper – more structure to it likely would’ve helped but now it just feels somewhat unfinished for me.
Someone who’s less athletic, plays low to the ground or a spot-up shooter, for example, would likely find these sufficient though.
NIKE KD 13
Retail Price: $150 | My Rating: 7.4
KD’s latest signature is a shoe I freakin’ LOVED initially but then I’ve played in it for a while and was torn by the fact that one glaring issue was pretty much a dealbreaker for me and feel like it might be the same for a lot of you as well.
The KD 13 sports a full-length Zoom Air unit along with a smaller Zoom unit in the forefoot which is easily one of the best cushion setups of 2020.
It’s a TON of fun to play in these – responsiveness, bounce, imminent spring back but not too much of it, keeping you comfy and fast at all times. This is the pinnacle of balanced cushion setups right here.
Traction’s also great and consistent on most floors. Wiping won’t get into your head as I barely touched my outsoles while playing in these and it was fine. Not the most durable rubber for outdoors though – you can play in these outside but I wouldn’t put these among the heavy-duty outdoor rotation club.
WHY IT DIDN’T MAKE THE LIST
The support and upper departments are where the issues start occurring. For such a narrow platform the shoe is built on, not enough emphasis was put on making the shoe stable laterally. Certain movements just felt off and made me hesitate before an aggressive drive at times – not something you’d want in-game.
The flimsy textile upper adds to this as well. While it’s not a terrible upper so to speak and feels nice for your foot, there’s not enough structure to hold your foot in, mainly during lateral motions.
So lateral stability issues + containment issues make up for a shoe that not everyone will be able to play in safely & effectively. I’d be in that club.
But I just wanted to include the shoe here purely because they’re extremely solid in all other areas and my god, that cushion setup. If you want to find out how a truly leading cushion setup feels like, the KD 13 would be among the options to try out.
II. BEST SHOE FOR GUARDS
A solid all-around shoe that excels in fitting most guards: responsiveness, mobility, and unrestrictive security
NIKE KOBE 5 PROTRO
Retail Price: $180
☑ 13 oz light, balanced forefoot Zoom Turbo & Cushlon cushion
A true classic, a shoe that made low-tops in basketball ever so popular, is here with a modernized take. I’ve played in these for about 1.5 months so far and I’m a fan all of a sudden!
The Kobe V Protro has one of the most aggressive and reliable outsoles ever, and I felt every bit of that while playing, no matter the court. Well, no matter the outdoor court in this case. The modernized Protro model reminded us who’s the king of traction again.
Aside from the traction, I think it’s the best overall shoe for most guards in 2020. It’s got a forefoot Zoom Air Turbo unit + a Cushlon midsole for its cushion setup and it feels every bit of balanced. I love it.
The forefoot portion is quick and extremely responsive, while Cushlon adds that softness and step comfort just in case you’re not a fan of these all-out response setups. I think the best of both worlds is here – you’re getting quickness, some court feel, as well as moderate impact protection and a comfy ride.
Similar to the traction, the Kobe line continuously shows us how supportive AND comfortable a low-top can be at the same time. The shoe features a very secure fit, a large internal heel counter, outriggers for lateral protection, a flat platform that promotes stability, and a glass composite shank plate.
Pair that with a structured Fuse upper, and you’ve got a special shoe. It’s light, it’s low to the ground, it’s comfortable and yields just enough flexibility, yet feels secure even for guys who are jumping out of the gym. A great selection for any guard.
III. BEST SHOE FOR THE FRONTCOURT
A shoe that best fits the big dudes of basketball: emphasis on quality cushion, impact protection & strong support
UNDER ARMOUR EMBIID ONE
Retail Price: $120 | My Rating: 8.3
☑ Frontcourt-ready MicroG & HOVR cushion, strong overall support
The big men’s shoe market almost feels abandoned by now but the Embiid One by Under Armour reminded us that these shoes still exist. Great ones in fact.
Joel Embiid’s first signature features an interesting looking traction pattern that performs pretty well for the most part and it’s actually solid for outdoors. And I’m not talking a few games here and there – a few seasons, is what I think of the outsole’s quality here.
A rare occasion in today’s sneaker market but a welcome one. Especially in 2020.
The cushion setup is UA’s two flagship compounds – HOVR and Micro G. The final product is awesome – it’s got that classic pillow-like feel to it with loads of impact protection and decent spring back but the midsole wraps around your foot and is stable enough by nature which means you won’t be feeling slow or clunky.
Something a lot of people tend to say while characterizing a big men’s shoe.
Not the case here – you’ll be protected, stable and the ride will be comfy, but you’re not losing all your quickness thanks to a great implementation of UA’s foam.
Of course, we’re also getting everything a frontcourt player needs in terms of support & security: a great fit, a wide platform, TPU wings for lateral coverage, the midsole cupping the rear section of your foot, and a torsional shank plate. Sweet.
The upper is a standard open mesh with touches of Fuse on key areas for more structure and durability. Nothing out of this world but gets the job done. Breathable, doesn’t add unneeded weight, and breaks in super quick.
IV. BEST SHOE FOR OUTDOORS
Here’s to quarantine and closed gyms: the best shoe for outdoor play. Emphasis on durable traction, overall build quality & adequate cushion for higher impact
ADIDAS DAME 7
Retail Price: $110 | My Rating: 8.8
☑ Durable build & balanced Lightstrike cushion
The Dame line never ceases to amaze me. I think a lot of people are sleeping on his shoes, and even though the Dame 6 wasn’t that great in my book, the latest Dame 7 is bringing back what we love about Lillard’s sneakers with some latest tech touches.
adidas’s Dame 7 features a durable outsole for great multi-directional grip even outdoors. Purely based on my 2-month experience, these likely won’t be on a Dame 3 durability level but not a lot of shoes can hold their own with those things, so this is barely a drawback.
I’m not seeing any signs of major wear & tear so far and I’m playing either on a concrete court or a synthetic rubber court outside. Minimal wiping required, awesome stopping power. A few slips here and there did happen but those will happen with most shoes, especially on older parks with tons of nasty debris covering the surface.
The upper isn’t too shabby either – we’ve got a pretty basic mesh material with some Fuse for additional protection. I actually think it’s almost an ideal choice for outdoor play. Why? Mesh is comfortable, fairly light, and breathable but not too flimsy or thin which would compromise security & support.
I think it’s right in between the two worlds and plays well. Nothing premium, sure, but it will get the job done and hold for a while. All you need for outdoor play.
Lastly, we’ve got a brand new cushion setup by adidas – Lightstrike is used and it feels pretty damn nice. The heel portion is quite insanely soft and pillowy, while the forefoot area is more responsive and quicker.
For those looking for a balanced ride and not leaning towards one side of the coin, this setup is great for those hard impact concrete/asphalt sessions.
V. BEST SHOE ON A BUDGET
Looking to spend the least $$ and get the maximum OOMPH? Here’s the best shoe that does it all at the lowest price
ADIDAS D.O.N. ISSUE #2
Retail price: $100 | My Rating: 8
☑ Bounce cushion & textile upper
Now, for the “bang for your buck” enthusiasts – Donovan Mitchell’s second signature just might do the trick for you. Priced just at $100, the shoe does pack quite a punch. Props to Donovan Mitchell, just like Dame – keepin’ the prices low while still offering plenty.
The D.O.N. Issue #2 offers solid traction, though not the best durability for constant outdoor play. If you keep your outdoor games to occasional rather than regular, you should be fine for a while though.
The cushion is adidas’s more low-key variation of Bounce. You’ll get impact protection and some minimal energy return but the main emphasis is quickness, staying low to the ground, and keeping the court feel at maximum.
Support is fantastic, something adidas quite literally never fails in. The upper is nothing out of the ordinary in 2020 – textiles and synthetics. Not the most durable but breaks in super quick, it’s light, fairly breathable, and comfy once you adjust to it.
Definitely a surprise of 2020, I can’t say it’s the best shoe ever but it delivers in just about every area. It gets the job done and for $100 or less, that’s absolutely a compliment.
VI. MOST SECURE SHOE
Looking for the ultimate protector? Here’s a solid all-around shoe that excels in providing the toughest support & overall security in all areas
LI-NING WAY OF WADE 8
Retail Price: $225
☑ Insane all-around support & no apparent restrictions
In case you forgot or weren’t aware, Dwayne Wade’s signature line with the Chinese brand Li-Ning is still going strong. It’s just that not many people are aware of it due to Nikey’s mainstream appeal. What came as a surprise for me is how much emphasis was put on support and security. And man, it shows.
Aside from solid & outdoor-ready traction, Li-Ning’s BOOM cushion that’s actually pretty good, and the Cordura’s fabric upper, the security department is where the shoe shines.
Check this out.
We’ve got a beefy heel counter and heel tab that comes up to your achilles area for a comforting feel, there are lateral outriggers in place, there’s an aggressive carbon fiber shank plate for torsional support, the midsole is caged for further stability and then there’s the nylon upper with some Fuse overlays in high-wear areas.
If that’s not enough, I don’t know what is. And the best thing about it, I barely felt any of these features getting in my way. After a break-in period that is. Normally, it’s quite difficult for brands to nail that support and comfort/mobility balance but I think the WoW 8 killed it.
Give these some time to fully break in though. They did feel quite stiff and plasticy during the first 2 weeks but got better every day. Once you get used to it, you can ensure you’ll have the most secure experience a basketball shoe can bring.
VII. MOST COMFORTABLE SHOE
For those sleeping in silk sheets, look no further: here’s a solid all-around shoe that excels in providing comfort & a luxury experience for your feet
NIKE LEBRON 18
Retail Price: $200 | My Rating: 8
☑ Insane Zoom Air, Max Air, and Cushlon cushion setup & premium Knitposite 2.0 upper
There really has been no debate in this particular category for me. The LeBron 18 is the pinnacle of a “luxury” basketball shoe if there is such a thing. If you can afford it and you’re looking for something fun to play in, look no further.
The main component that transforms the LeBron 18 from a good shoe to a ridiculously comfortable shoe is the cushion setup. It’s got a Max Air unit in the heel, a Cushlon midsole, and a full-length Zoom Air unit inside the midsole. Talk about a crazy, over the top setup. In a good way.
I don’t even know if I’ve played in anything that feels softer or bouncier than the LeBron 18. It’s plain ridiculous and never gets old – these are just as fun to lace up just about every time I do so.
Of course, performance-wise, there’s everything you need: unrivaled impact protection, fast energy return & spring back, tons of heel compression.
These do ride pretty high off the ground and definitely not the quickest setup available. Light guards with quick intentions, you might need something a bit thinner in terms of cushion offered.
But I can’t accurately tell you what you possibly need regardless of position – everyone has their own preference. If yours is this type of ridiculous setup – then you’re in for one hell of a ride.
Another component that adds to the experience is the Knitposite 2.0 upper. Not the same crazy scenario as the cushion but still a premium build.
A thin, soft knit glued together with TPU for structure. Even though it might look pretty plasticy at first, it feels buttery smooth for the feet, requires virtually no break-in time, it’s fairly light, and wraps around your foot like a sock. Wide-footer friendly too.
VIII. THE FINAL TOP 3
My personal top 3 best overall shoes of 2020. I can’t stop playing in these.
#3 – NIKE KOBE 5 PROTRO
Retail Price: $180
The earlier mentioned Kobe 5 Protro takes the #3 spot for me. It’s just an awesome low-top that demonstrates Nikey’s design capabilities and their development in terms of technology. A shoe released over 10 years ago is among my favorite shoes this year – all it took is a few modern touches in the right places.
The shoe offers amazing traction that’s also ready for outdoor play. It’s got a great cushion setup – quick forefoot Zoom Air turbo for plenty of response up at the front and a soft Cushlon midsole for smooth step transitions and added comfort. It feels just right – not too much, not too little.
Support is phenomenal for a low top, it’s got all the features you’d need, even if you’re a larger player. The notion of “low tops aren’t as secure as high tops” has to top NOW!
I think it’s a fantastic shoe that you forget about while playing – that’s actually one of the best compliments a basketball shoe can receive. I’m excited for the Kobe 6 Protro now.
#2 – ADIDAS DAME 7
Retail Price: $110 | My Rating: 8.8
2020’s best outdoor shoe also happens to be my 2nd favorite overall shoe. I don’t know what’s up with me and the Dame line but his shoe always manages to creep up among my favorites, one way or another.
Need fantastic traction durable enough for regular outdoor play? You got it. Need a balanced cushion setup that delivers both performance-wise and comfort-wise? Lightstrike is there for you. Need trusty & unrestrictive support? The Dame 7 has got you covered.
Or perhaps you need a reliable upper that holds up outdoors and gets the job done performance-wise? Here’s the basic, yet trustworthy mesh upper the Dame 7 has got. Oh, and perhaps you’d like to get the whole package at a price only a handful of other signatures EVER has put out at? Here’s the Dame 7 for $110 or less.
Everything about the shoe seems to be consumer-friendly which is why I always loved the Dame line. You could see the shoe is made for the people, not only for Dame himself.
The pricing has been consistent for many years now, performance is still killing it, and Dame’s shoes have always been among the most durable. The signature line has my utmost respect.
#1 PICK – AIR JORDAN 35
Retail Price: $180 | My Rating: 8.1
I loved the direction Jordan Brand took with the AJ 34, making it lighter, quicker, and more mobile. This year, looks like that’s continuing, as the Jordan 35 feels even lighter, yet everything else feels almost the same as last year’s release. And that’s far from a bad thing.
The outsole has been tweaked a bit as it looks a bit different visually but performance-wise, the traction is more or less the same. And by that, I mean awesome and consistent. Covers every movement and angle as well as any other shoe.
Wiping isn’t an issue either – I’ve only done it a handful of times per few hours. The only thing that could be better is the rubber used – definitely not the best for constant outdoor use. A few sessions here and there should be fine though and these grip the concrete equally as well.
The cushion setup is also very similar to the AJ 34 – unlocked Zoom Air in the heel and forefoot areas. Compared to last year’s model, it’s a tad bit firmer and quicker, so people who wanted a bit more of a balance should be happy now.
With that said, don’t get it twisted – this is still one of the best setups out there. It’s still fairly bouncy, still offers loads of impact absorption, and provides those beautifully smooth step motions. All while not slowing you down. Not one split second. This is surely tech development at its finest.
Along with solid all-around support, we’ve got a new upper this time. Depending on the colorway, it’s either a suede or leather overlay along with textile for a mixture of raw and modern materials. Nothing I can complain about – durability, structure, and comfort are all there.
There’s hardly a better shoe released this year, and even though lots of things will come down to what you prefer, there’s no denying that the Jordan 35 delivers everything most hoopers need in all areas and does so in a spectacular fashion.
CHECK BACK LATER – NEW KICKS MIGHT AWAIT!
That’s a wrap for 2020’s best shoes! Or is it?
I think it’s important for me to mention that I haven’t yet played in ALL basketball shoes released in 2020. Chances are, that’ll never happen, or at least not soon but I am currently still playing in several other shoes you might wanna know about in the future.
Some of ’em are early in the testing period, as I normally give each shoe 2-3 months before I feel confident in putting out a review.
Regardless, once I knock out the shoes I wanted to test, you might see some changes in this list. Maybe there will be a better outdoor option or a guard’s option?
So, the bottom line is – check back here regularly if you’re interested in what 2020 has to offer to the full extent!
But for now, check out my other lists/guides if you’re looking to get more specific:
- Best Traction Shoes
- Most Supportive Shoes
- Best Shoes for Wide Feet
- Best Shoes for Flat Feet
- Shoes that Make You Taller
Regardless, I’d like to know what you think about the list. Do you agree/disagree with the picks here? Perhaps you’ve got a question? Or you’d like to share your own experience with a shoe?