10 Best Nike Basketball Shoes in 2021

Dimitrije Curcic
Dimitrije Curcic on
10 Best Nike Basketball Shoes in 2021

When it comes to sports footwear, Nike leads. This holds true even in performance basketball where the brand and its subsidiary Jordan hold more than 80% of the market. This makes quite an extensive range to choose from.

Some models come with extra cushioning, some have outstanding grip, and some provide the most secure lockdown around your ankle. On top of that, you can also find those all-around performers that successfully blend all of the above.

To help you find the right option, we have reviewed over 100 basketball shoes and selected the cream of the crop.

How we come up with the top 10 

The best Nike basketball shoes are determined by ranking them according to their Corescore. A corescore is an aggregate numerical assessment that is based on reviews by players, expert reviewers, and even ordinary users. 

For the list below, we were able to survey more than 930 experts and more than 64,000 users.

Best overall

As the leader in shoes and other sports apparel, everyone waits for Nike to outdo itself whenever they release a new model. Hence, it’s really a big thing that we were still taken aback by the amazing performance of the Nike KD 14. We expected greatness, but it dished out even more than that.

Made for one of the most prolific scorers in the game, the KD 14 is designed to aid movement, not restrict it. Indeed, our runs to the basket were smooth when we played in this. The midsole tooling even felt like it was fueling our movements, and it did that without sacrificing impact protection. Now, that’s what we call EFFICIENT!

Aside from that, when Nike says this provides all-around support, it really means it. The strap, the collar, and even the rather simple upper materials all work together to deliver no-frills lockdown. Hell slippage? Wobbliness? We surely did not have to worry about them!

As for the traction, it ironically felt better over time. You see, some will bottom out with use, but this one just got stickier and meaner! Talk about a gift that just keeps on giving.

We really had to be nitpicky to have something “bad” to say about the 14th Kevin Durant shoe. All the good stuff that it offered were only unleashed after a short break-in period. But is this a dealbreaker? Absolutely NOT!

See our full review and facts

You’d know that a shoe is great when after playing in it full speed, you still feel that your feet are free from pain or even fatigue. This is exactly what you’ll experience with the Nike Kyrie 7, so it’s a must-have in your rotation, especially if you are an aggressive type of player who just cuts past opponents and does wild jumps for a score or rebound.

The shoe’s anti-fatigue benefits are surely because of its lightness, which in itself is amazing considering that it has too many features to offer. For one, it has a decoupled midsole, which we truly appreciated because of the flexibility that it offered. 

The shoe also has a wider heel, which definitely made it a lot stabler than many basketball shoes. With this, we didn’t wobble upon landing and when aggressively planting the foot. 

The seventh Kyrie is also rich in court feel and support, which were achieved through the complementary functions of the upper and midsole tooling. Hence, we were able to run with better control and less worry. The fact that the bite was really good just made the experience better.

Being a signature shoe unfortunately has its high price. But the Nike Kyrie 7 surely compensates for it with topnotch performance. It is, after all, designed for one of the most notable players in the league.

See our full review and facts

Best grip

Though Paul George’s name is not as loud as fellow Nike endorsers LeBron James or Kyrie Irving, he makes sure his Nike PG 5 does the talking for him. This one really got a great grip on clean and even on slightly dirty courts. Focusing on traction is a good call; a basketball shoe, after all, is close to nothing if it doesn’t bite well.

Besides grip, the PG 5 also does so well in terms of cushion. When we played in it, we noticed that even the most aggressive strikes didn’t hurt us. The impact absorption was simply phenomenal. We think that even those with slight foot injuries can play in these; this is simply how comfortable this low-top is.

Surprisingly, the generous cushioning was not at the expense of court feel. When playing as guards, we noticed that control and a fairly low-to-the-ground feel were still there. The shoe surely felt like it’s giving us the best of both worlds. 

Of course, the PG 5 is not as expensive as other signature shoes from Nike. This is purely good news! Who doesn’t want to get great performance for less? The fact that it has a fairly noticeable lifestyle appeal is just the icing on the cake.

See our full review and facts

A shoe that sticks like glue is every basketball player’s dream. The Nike Zoom Rize 2 is the realization of that dream, especially when the game is played on well-maintained courts. We were able to stop on dime quite easily. There were no blind spots, either! Nike really meant it when they say this offers multidirectional grip.

That this shoe has a good grip comes as no surprise. After all, the tread pattern used on this shoe takes cues from the Nike Kobe 9, which arguably had among the best traction from Nike’s collection. 

Though grip is definitely its strong point, it’s not the end of the story for the second Zoom Rize. We felt the Zoom Air unit in the forefoot as it bounced back massive amounts of energy. Aside from that, the padding in the heel was so effective that hard strikes didn’t hurt as much as we would have expected.

Though it’s definitely not the lightest in terms of actual weight, the Zoom Rize 2 still felt light on foot. We believe that this is because of how closely this shoe fits.

We mention this shoe here because of its phenomenal grip, but the Nike Zoom Rize 2 satisfactorily delivered on aspects that matter. It’s a well-rounded offer that will give you no room for regret.

See our full review and facts

Best cushioning

Basketball players are often divided into two groups: one that adores plush cushioning, and one that disdains it in favor of a more pronounced court feel. However, the Nike Cosmic Unity offers the best of both worlds. Indeed, it delivers the perfect blend of court feel, impact protection, and even some bounce.

With such an amazing feature, the Cosmic Unity is a versatile model that suits every player regardless of their preferred style of play. Heavier players get the compression that they need while quicker runners and guards get to enjoy unparalleled explosiveness. 

Besides a great midsole, this low-top shoe also provides containment like no other. We enjoyed the upper not only because of its light premium feel but also because of its ability to securely fasten the foot to the footbed without compromising comfort.

Side-to-side movements are also made more stable by the shoe’s wider base and foam that comes up the sides. It feels as if the foot is being cradled. 

Given all that has been said, the Nike Cosmic Unity is already a must-have. But it’s not done yet. It is stylish. It is neat, and it’s also made of recycled materials. If this shoe were a stone, we seriously doubt if the two birds were the only ones hit by it.

See our full review and facts

Given his extraordinary size and totally destructive style of play, we automatically expected LeBron James’s shoes to be generously cushioned. The Nike LeBron 18 did not disappoint, and it delivered plushness like there is no tomorrow. Saying that we were like walking on clouds is still an understatement.

This high level of plushness is reinforced by the premium feel of the upper. Royalty! It felt as if the foot was wrapped in a delicate comforter and then laid on a soft mattress. Well, the shoe is built for The King; it’s an abomination to expect less.

Besides great cushioning that shames the nobility, the 18th LeBron also delivers above average grip. We were able to stop on a dime and even make sharp turns without losing balance. On trashy courts, however, we experienced some dust pickup. But it was definitely nothing that a quick wipe won’t fix.

Still, we have to point out that this insanely plush and comfortable shoe is not for everyone. Guards complain about it sitting a little too high off the ground. Then there’s us complaining about its brick-like weight. 

However, we are talking about THE LeBron James here; and these things are not issues for him. Besides, it’s definitely not his fault that many of us don’t (or just can’t) play like he does.

See our full review and facts

Best support

Widely recognized for its rather eccentric looks, who would have thought that the Nike Kybrid S2 actually has a lot more to offer? In fact, it has swept us off our feet with the type of support that it offers. We didn’t have qualms jumping, running, and even sliding on the court; that’s just how securely this one wraps around the foot.

When it comes to cushioning, this Kyrie shoe is really one for the guards. It sits really low to the ground, so the court feel is really very much pronounced. We felt in control and we just did not second guess any of our movements on the hardwood or even on cold cement. 

With that, it goes without saying that this shoe is suitable for outdoor use. Now that most gyms are closed, the Kybrid S2 is a good shoe to buy since it will be a good partner even on the blacktop.

Did we already talk about the eccentricity of its look? While we recognize that it may not be appealing to everyone, we are sure that this shoe will always make a statement. If your personality is as flashy as Kyrie Irving’s, then it’s a crime to miss the opportunity to wear and play in this shoe.

See our full review and facts

Basketball is a game that requires numerous skills. Given its name, the Nike Air Zoom GT Cut is for those who are in charge of the offense where multidirectional footwork is badly demanded. We already expected the GT Cut to have great support; but it still managed to surprise us!

The upper material, laces, and even the cushioning setup all seem to work together to securely hold the foot in place. It surely ain’t going nowhere with this one! As a result, we had the confidence to cut, turn, and even trick opponents. 

Besides praiseworthy support, the shoe also offers a cushioning setup that is magical! You see, a shoe is usually either only for court feel or only for plush cushioning; but the GT Cut didn’t force us to make a choice. It delivered everything, all in the right amounts. 

How about traction? Well, as long as you don’t play on really dirty courts, this shoe has got you covered. Multi-directional coverage. Stopping on a dime. There’s just nothing to worry about.

If we are to be nitpicky, we’d say that the price was and still is an issue. But hey, if you are getting a shoe this well-rounded and durable, we urge you to just think of the hefty price as your investment for the long-term.

See our full review and facts

Best budget shoe

It’s rare for a regular basketball shoe, let alone a budget one, to please all the different sectors within the basketball community. Yet, the Nike Precision 5 did that without breaking a sweat! 

Why? What goodness does it bring, you ask? Well, this budget shoe from Nike offers high levels of comfort. Its upper just feels really light, soft, and really minimal on foot. We can wear it casually at work for the whole day, and you won’t hear us complaining about pain or fatigue.

When it comes to on-court performance, the Precision 5 comes to slay. Its tread mechanism works really well, better than some signature shoes even! Whether the court is pristinely clean or just a bit dirtier than what we would have liked, the bite was unaffected.

As for the cushioning setup, this one’s for guards. The tooling is firm and there is a lot of court feel. You won’t get worried about your feet sitting too high off the ground with this one! 

Given all the goodness that it brings, it comes as a surprise that the Nike Precision 5 is as affordably priced as it is now (not that we’re complaining, though!). This shoe is an enduring proof that a shoe doesn’t have to be expensive or flashy to be good.

See our full review and facts

Signature shoes are great, but they are not always practical. Many of them can be priced as high as $200. However, Kevin Durant proves with his Nike KD Trey 5 VIII that a signature sneaker can bring its price down without really jeopardizing performance.

Built for one of the most versatile players in the league, the eighth iteration of the KD Trey 5 delivers a cushioning system that leaves no blind spot. While playing in it, we noticed that it gave us just the right blend of impact protection, bounce, and court feel. We didn’t have qualms switching between positions! 

Furthermore, it is equipped with an outsole that not only provides great grip but also withstands the pressures of outdoor gaming. How convenient it was to not have to bring another pair just so we can play on the streets!

When it comes to looks, this Kevin Durant basketball shoe can’t be overlooked either. Sporting a streamlined look, it was so hard not to fall in love with this shoe. Is this for all-day wear? Definitely! Especially that it’s really super light and really comfortable.

Yeah! The Nike KD Trey 5 VIII is all that and (still) more! You just have to try it for yourself to really get what we mean!

See our full review and facts

What sets the best Nike basketball shoes apart

Nike dominates the basketball market definitely not by chance. It offers a good deal of innovations that help with performance on the hard court. 

Many of the proprietary technologies featured in Nike basketball shoes debuted in running shoes.

 

Technology

Description

Cushion

Air 

Polyurethane pouch filled with dense gases, achieves that feeling of comfortably ‘walking on air’

Zoom Air

Air unit with tightly stretched tensile fibers knit inside it for a more perfect balance of responsiveness and impact protection

Lunarlon

Special foam, bouncier and 30% lighter than phylon 

Vapormax

Air packets that are put directly beneath known pressure points for a more targeted and efficient cushioning

React

Special lab-produced foam that is both soft and responsive

Upper

Flywire

Suspension-cables-like wires on both sides, cradling the foot and holding it securely in place especially during motion

Flyknit

Digitally engineered knit that is light, form-fitting, and seamless

Battleknit

Flyknit innovation for LeBron James that becomes increasingly stiff at the midfoot where stability is most needed

Knitposite

First used on LeBrons shoes, this is basically Flyknit infused with heat-molded yarn that makes it more durable and supportive

Beyond technologies: Other factors to consider

Apart from technologies, other factors play important roles in ensuring your enjoyment of Nike basketball shoes

Playing style

Expectedly, many of the top Nike basketball shoes are from signature lines dedicated to some of NBA’s most prolific players like guard Paul George and power forward Kevin Durant. This should make choosing the right shoe easier. Shoes from signature lines are sensitive not only to the star player’s personal preferences but also their playing positions.

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According to Basketball Reference, Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James are versatile players who can handle almost all playing positions. We can expect their shoes to be as flexible as they are.

Style and aesthetics

Nike basketball shoes are as pretty as they are high-performing. They will be of use even when you are off the court. 

Low or high, know what you want. High-top basketball sneakers are espoused by players like LeBron James. Low-top basketball shoes are worn by many of Nike’s NBA stars, the most prominent of which being Kobe Bryant. Wanting one collar length over the other is just a matter of preference. 

Know your color. Nike basketball shoes are available in thousands of colorways. Many of them commemorate important events or holidays such as Black History, Christmas, Easter, and the NBA Championships. There are also colorways that reference the lives and careers of their signature athletes. 

To know more about the general steps to consider when buying basketball shoes, read our detailed buying guide.

Indoor or outdoor? The sturdiness test

The basketball shoe industry in general is largely driven by the NBA. With this, Nike releases basketball shoes that are deliberately for indoor hooping on a well-kept hard court.

You need to know how to assess a shoe’s outdoor playability before you use it on asphalt or any other type of outdoor court. Here’s how you can assess the shoe:

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Get the best Nike basketball shoes for less

The top Nike basketball shoes are going to be even greater if they are NOT expensive.

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Non-signature models are not expensive simply because no big names are attached to them. 

The price of older models are deliberately brought down in clearance sales. Remember, the presence of a newer option does not automatically make older models less effective. They still have the technologies that make them desirable.

Even within signature lines, Nike develops takedown models to appeal to a wider audience. These basketball shoes are cheaper because they use non-premium materials. LeBron’s Witness line and Kyrie Irving’s Flytrap series are examples of takedown signature releases from Nike.

Author
Dimitrije Curcic
Dimitrije Curcic

Dimitrije Curcic has been playing basketball for over 22 years. Like Manu Ginobili, he’s a left-hander whose moves led him to a better career-shooting percentage than the Argentine himself. After playing professionally for 10 years, Dimitrije moved to coaching for two seasons before he became a basketball statistician for StatScore, and FanSided contributor for the San Antonio Spurs. Dimitrije loves to tell hoop stories through numbers and graphics and has been featured on Fansided, FiveThirtyEight, Eurohoops, and TalkBasket among the others.