words & images // Nick DePaula & Zac Dubasik

As the NBA season moved along this past year, we saw a bit of a shift in the balance of power throughout the league. Obviously, there was quite a bit of free agency movement, but we even saw several less hyped teams and players make giant strides forward. For the footwear industry, it was much the same. Both adidas Basketball and Under Armour enjoyed a great season of new models and releases. Similarly, both Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant had meteoric rises both on the hardwood and with their footwear, as they enjoyed the respective releases of their best performing sneakers yet.

To really play favorites and highlight our favorite sneakers from the season, we decided to compile a list of worthy shoes in our official 2010-2011 Basketball Performance Awards. The awards list features all of the same awards that the NBA hands out. (Plus the additional “Biggest Disappointment” designation, which we guess the NBA might’ve awarded to either the Milwaukee Bucks or the Portland Trail Blazers’ medical staff, were it a real thing). We tried to also factor in strictly performance attributes of shoes that were released during the season. Yes, we did play in literally every basketball model that was released above the $85 price point. Player endorsements, aesthetics or brand had absolutely nothing to do with our criteria.

It’s also worth pointing out that shoes released during this year’s NBA season were considered when selecting our top picks, and the newly released adidas adiZero Crazy Light, while  an outstanding lightweight performance monster, is considered a summer release. We expect to see it ranking high in next year’s awards.

Without further delay, enjoy a look at our top basketball performance picks below, and PLEASE debate and weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments section!

Nike Zoom KD III Redskins

MVP – Nike Zoom KD III

When choosing our MVP, the deciding factor was pretty simple. What basketball shoe, regardless of price, was our favorite of the year to play in? If we weren’t reviewing multiple shoes, which one would we choose to hoop in, day in and day out? Looking back on all of the different shoes we played in this season, the answer was surprisingly easy to come up with: The Zoom KD III.

No other shoe offered the combination of cushioning, a smooth ride, secure fit, traction, durability and value like the Zoom KD III did. The Hyperfuse was probably the closest match, and still a great shoe and value, but its narrow last made it inaccessible for too many players to take the top spot. For the second year in a row, the KD line has given us a no-compromise performance monster that also just happens to be one of the most affordable hoops shoes out there.

adidas Superbeast Dwight Howard

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER — adidas SuperBeast

“Big men can’t sell shoes.” If you’ve been paying attention to the sneaker world for long, you’ve no doubt heard this adage before. And to be fair, there are few, if any, examples to disprove it. When you even have one of the most marketable athletes in the history of the sport in Shaq struggling, it’s tough to imagine anyone being able. So while, at least on the surface, it may appear to be true, I think a more accurate saying might be “Big men can’t sell big man shoes.”

“Big man shoes,” of course, refers to the stiff, restrictive, overly protective shoes of old. I’m not sure about you, but I haven’t heard too many players, of any shape or size, say they are looking for something to slow them down. What the Super Beast does so well, is provide all of the cushioning, protection and support a bigger player would want, without sacrificing mobility. The team at adidas has been on the right track for a while with Dwight’s shoes, but the adidas SuperBeast got the combination of protection and mobility just right.

Under Armour Micro G Lite

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR – Under Armour Micro G Lite

Even though Brandon Jennings wore the Prototype last season on-court, Under Armour didn’t have a single hoops shoe at retail until this season. So, if Blake Griffin was eligible to win Rookie of the Year in his second season in the League, then UA is definitely eligible as well, for our version of the award. Out of the four shoes that launched their line, the Micro G Lite stood at the top in terms of performance.

The Under Armour Micro G Lite didn’t have a signature athlete attached to it, but its weight, breathability, lockdown, transition and stability were more than enough to make up for its lack of superstar endorsement. The Micro G Lite wasn’t perfect – its traction on less-than-pristine floors was a fairly big issue – but it did a lot right for a company making its first venture into performance hoops. It even did more right than some shoes by companies who have been doing this for years.

Jordan Melo M7

6TH MAN OF THE YEAR – Jordan Melo M7

The 6th Man award is pretty straightforward, and recognizes that one shoe that we like to call “The Trunk Shoe.” It’s a shoe that you might not initially choose to take to the gym on a given day, but you always keep it around, just in case you need to switch out. It might not be your absolute favorite shoe, but it’s one that’s durable, supremely cushioned and comfortable, and as well-rounded as possible. And the shoe receiving that honor this season, is the Jordan Melo M7.

The M7 is a shoe that got about as much performance as you possibly could from a given design. For example, sure, you can design a shoe with a lower collar, and have more ankle mobility. But you couldn’t have gotten much more comfortable and mobile than the M7 did, with the collar design it had. While it was a bit expensive to be considered a true team shoe option, it’s a shoe that does just about everything well, and will work for almost any player.

Reebok Zig SlashLeo Chang, designer of the KD III, Hyperdunk, Hyperfuse

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT — Reebok Zig Slash

To say we were disappointed in the Zig Slash would imply that we had expectations to begin with. Unfortunately, from the start, it was fairly obvious to most anyone that the Zig platform from the hugely popular and respect-due-earning Zig Tech runner was being carried over into the Basketball category moreso because of marketing reasons than any particular performance benefits.

Once we actually got to playing in the Zig Slash, the shoe continually felt dead, transition was clunky and the traction was simply terrible. Because of all of our problems with those shortcomings, it came as no surprise that John Wall switched out of them mid-season for the antiquated Question. When he later returned to the Zig Slash, his on-court shoes appeared to have a second generation of the tooling, which included enhancements to the traction.

COACH OF THE YEAR — Leo Chang (Hyperfuse / KD3 / Hyperdunk 2010)

Designing our choice for MVP shoe definitely makes one a frontrunner for the “Coach of the Year” category. But Nike’s Leo Chang not only designed the Zoom KD III, he also designed the only other shoe in our MVP discussion, the Zoom Hyperfuse. From that point, it was pretty much a no-brainer. Add in the fact that Chang also designed the Hyperdunk 2010, and you most likely saw a shockingly large percentage of players, not only in the League, but in high schools and pickup games across the country and world, playing in his designs.

Chang’s designs this season were defined by tried and true performance highlights, like fit, support, traction and transition. Aesthetically, they shared sharp, sleek lines, which gave the shoes an appearance that looked as fast and smooth as they played. With Chang’s responsibilities recently expanding to include design direction for the basketball category at Nike, we’re hoping to see even more of his influence across the line.