words & images // Zac Dubasik

On paper, there is not really anything that stands out about the Zig Encore. If you look at each individual aspect of the shoe (which we will), nothing is really outstanding. And that makes this a hard shoe to grade, because I somehow ended up really enjoying playing in it. Make no mistake – the Encore is a decade behind a lot of the season’s best performers – some of which are much cheaper. But everything that the Encore does right came together pretty well, and made for a satisfying playing experience.

My biggest gripe with last year’s Zig Slash was its awful traction. It did have a herringbone pattern, but unfortunately, most of it was grooved into the tooling foam. Much more rubber was used on the Encore though, which resulted in solid traction. Unfortunately, the rubber compound used is a little on the firm side, and doesn’t grip as well as I’d like. But overall, and especially compared to last year’s, it’s dependable when clean.

The Zig Slash featured a sky-high cut that wasn’t very comfortable, but was supportive. The Encore has a much more modern cut, and offers far greater range of motion. Combined with the improved traction, it is a much faster and more mobile shoe. The collar lockdown isn’t perfect – I would have liked to have seen more molded padding to keep the heel in place better. Thankfully though, a solid internal heel counter kept things in place when I was laced tightly.

As for the rest of the upper, the patent leather-based colorway I played in was stable, yet flexed well. And despite how busy it is, I had no rubbing or hotspots where the many layers come together. It also held my foot securely over the footbed. The shape of the upper, on the other hand, is puzzling to put it frankly, and one of my bigger issues with the Encore. The shoe fits great through the midfoot, but the toe has far too much room at the tip. This is an extreme comparison, and an exaggeration, but it helps illustrate my point. Imagine a pair of men’s dress shoes with a pointed toe. The shoe fits close through the midfoot, but then has empty space in the toe to accommodate the pointy shape. While this may create a pleasing aesthetic in certain situations (I guess), I am lost as to why a similar last shape would be used on a performance shoe.

The Encore isn’t nearly as bad as that example, but any amount of excess toe room in a performance hoops shoe is just unnecessary. I don’t feel that it’s a matter of sizing up or down either, because if your foot is narrow enough to fill the midfoot, the shoe will be far too wide and roomy across the ball of the foot. The last shape wasn’t a deal breaker when it comes to playability, but it did make for a sloppier fit than what would be ideal. That excess toe length doesn’t work in its favor.

Moving on to the tooling, the revamped ZigNano midsole is much more basketball friendly than the original. This sleekened out version is lower to the ground, resulting in better court feel, and it also has better flex. What’s interesting is that this new version has more foam through the forefoot than the original. The platform’s exaggerated wavy midsole is filled in for more stability and a consistent ride up front. While the shoe’s Zig technology itself was of course adapted over from Reebok’s Running division after the instant success it experienced, the Reebok Basketball team did a nice job improving on the sport-specific needs of a Zig concept this time around.

Cushioning wise, I found the heel to be much softer than the dead-feeling Zig Slash. It’s not particularly responsive by industry standards, but very good when it comes to impact protection. The forefoot on the other hand, is firm. This is often the tradeoff when you get lower to the ground, and upgrade court feel. If court feel ranks highly among your preferences, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. I found myself wanting a little more protection up front though after long runs.

The single biggest issue I have with the Zig Encore though is its price. At $115, it just doesn’t offer the quality, innovation and playability that we’ve come to expect at that price range in today’s market. It didn’t seem to cause any durability issues, but the construction is downright shoddy. There are crooked stitch lines and excess threads throughout the upper. The bonded seams and smooth lines of its competitors make the Zig Encore feel dated in comparison. And it just doesn’t offer enough from a performance standpoint to make up for it, and justify the price.

That doesn’t mean it’s a bad shoe – just not a good value. It’s hard to recommend at $115 over the competition, but I did enjoy playing in it from a sum-of-its-parts perspective. If you are a Reebok or John Wall fan, the Zig Encore is a perfectly capable on-court performer. If you’re after exact fit, great cushioning or modern construction, you may want to look elsewhere.

Grade Breakout:

best for: casual players who like the aesthetic of Zig-based shoes

colorway tested: White/Black/Red

key tech: ZigNano midsole

pros: transition, heel cushioning

cons: last shape, build quality, price

improvements: refined last shape, more attention to detain in construction of a $115 shoe

buying advice: The Zig Encore is a major step forward compared to last season’s Zig Slash. Nothing about the shoe stands out as amazing, but I thoroughly enjoyed playing in it. At $115 though, it there are better playing options from almost every competing brand. But if you like the aesthetic of the Zig tooling, and are looking for an alternative to the bigger names, the Encore does play well.

Available Now: Reebok Zig Encore