words // Zac Dubasik
images // Nick DePaula
From pretty much the first time I tried on the Zoom KD II, it became my favorite shoe of last season. The cut, near-perfect transition, cushioning – just about everything about it, played to what I look for in a shoe. When I discovered that my initial try-on impression carried over to the court, it immediately became my go-to pair of kicks last year. Whenever I wasn’t playing in something new to review, I was in the Zoom KD II. If I was traveling, I took them along. It literally took the 2010-2011 season of new kicks to finally get me out of playing in them. And I’ve still pulled them back out a few times, specifically to compare them back to the subject of this review: the Zoom KD III.
The KD II is really the perfect starting point when examining the Zoom KD III, because they are very similar shoes. I’ll go into much more detail on the similarities and differences, but to sum it up, I’d say that the KD III is a more supportive, more stable version of the KD II. But only slightly.
Beginning with the KD3’s upper, the cut will be very familiar to fans of the KD II. In a heel-to-heel comparison, the KD III’s cut is a touch lower, but felt and played very similarly. Carried over from the KD II’s collar are molded notches in the heel, which provide just enough resistance to lock your heel securely into place. My heel felt securely locked down both laterally and vertically, which gave me confidence in the ankle support department. The key to great ankle support is controlling the heel, and while this collar isn’t quite up to the best heel stabilization out there, it was never a concern.
While the upper has some similarities to the KD II, it also features some of the biggest differences – and in my opinion, improvements. The KD II’s strap offered some midfoot security, but wasn’t entirely necessary. I lace my shoes tightly enough that I wasn’t really getting much support from the strap. My favorite thing about it, actually, was that it gave me a way to lock down the laces so they wouldn’t flop around or come untied. I’m willing to sacrifice the place to stash my laces, though, for the actual support gained in the KD III with it’s integrated medial support overlay.
You can almost think about it as a half of a strap, which pulls across the arch and up the midfoot. But rather than Velcro holding it down, it’s laced up through an innovative eyelet system. At the end of the mini-strap, you have two options for eyelets: a near and wide option. Underneath this strap are two slits rather than eyelets. If you choose the near option, it laces up at the top of the slits, and holds basically like a standard eyelet would. But if you opt for the wider eyelet in the strap, it pulls up through the slitted-eyelet, offering greater midfoot and arch support. It’s actually a very simple principal, but perhaps hard to explain. It does, however, work as designed. Before I played in the KD III, I tried on each shoe laced differently, to see if I could tell the difference, and ended up opting for the extra support.
The other big difference from the KD II, in terms of the upper, is the addition of Flywire. Like pretty much every aspect of the KD III, the use of Flywire has been highly targeted. When you are keeping a shoe this far under $100, there’s not much room for excess, so everything has to count if it’s being put into the design. And the placement of the Flywire here is ideal. In conjunction with the slight forefoot counter coming up from the midsole, the Flywire placement added lateral stability that wasn’t as prominent on the KD II. My foot felt more securely held over the footbed than on the previous model. I’m not a huge cutter, but could definitely feel improvement.
From a cushioning standpoint, the KD II and III are very similar. A full-width 6mm Zoom bag offers as-good-as-it-gets responsiveness in the forefoot, while Phylon is responsible for the impact protection in the rest of the tooling. More cushioning (think Max Air) doesn’t necessarily mean better cushioning, and as someone who places an absolute priority on court feel, I find this responsiveness-in-the-front/protection-in-the-heel setup to be ideal. While the cushioning is basically the same in the two models, the transition of the 3 isn’t quite as good as the shockingly smooth feel of the II. Thanks to the TPU support shank, the III’s tooling is more supportive and protective, which may be preferable to some players. But it does decrease the smoothness of the transition. That said, the KD III’s transition is still one of the best out there this season – just not quite as good as its predecessor.
The KD II’s traction was as reliable as you could ask for, offering security on both clean and dusty courts. The KD III largely follows suit, although the herringbone doesn’t wrap up the midsole on the medial forefoot and toe to the extent the II did. This didn’t necessarily hurt the performance of the 3, but if I had to choose between the two options, I prefer the additional wrapping. What I did like better on the III’s tooling was the addition of the aforementioned lateral forefoot counter, as well as a medial counter. These small sections of rubber wrap up into the upper, and help provide additional lateral stability.
The negatives of the KD III are pretty few and far between. The quality of materials screams “cheap.” By the time I tried my pair on, took a few steps, and looked down at them, they looked like I’d already played a few tough games in them. It almost seems unfair criticizing the materials of an $88 shoe that performs this well, though. This is especially true when the materials are no worse than on the KD II, which have held up great, considering it’s my most-played-in shoe over the past year. I’d still like to see a little better breathability, too. The mesh side panels on the colorway I played in, combined with the open mesh tongue, made for better breathability than the II, but if I’m looking for areas that could be improved upon more, this is one of them.
The Zoom KD III is a truly great and well-rounded performer. The fact that it also comes in at an $88 price point makes it easy to recommend as my shoe of the year. Over the course of the past two seasons, KD has become both one of the league’s most valuable players and most important commodities. At the same time, his sneaker line has changed what we can expect in value-based performance, and both the NBA and sneaker world are better off thanks to these contributions.
best for: Players of all positions looking for an all-around performer at an exceptional value
colorway tested: Black/Photo Blue/Team Orange
key tech: forefoot Zoom Air, full-length Phylon footbed, TPU midfoot support shank, medial integrated support overlay, lateral forefoot Flywire inset
pros: value; traction; heel-to-toe transition; forefoot cushioning
cons: materials quality
improvements: wrap traction further up the medial forefoot like in the KD II
buying advice: While I may have preferred the Zoom KD II’s performance just slightly better, there’s no doubt that the Zoom KD III is by far the best value of the year, and like the KD II, one of the best performers at any price. The materials may look and feel cheap, but that’s no surprise in such a moderately priced shoe. The good news is rather than your cash going towards aesthetic embellishments, it’s going straight to performance, which makes this a shoe that comes highly recommended to almost anyone.
Available now: Nike Zoom KD III