NBA Sneaker King Rankings: Zion Williamson, LeBron James are contenders but P.J. Tucker remains No. 1
It's time to get caught up on the players who will contend to be this year's Sneaker King
NBA players have spent most of their offseason training and grinding to do away with the flaws in their game. Countless hours in the gym hoisting up shots and dribbling between cones -- all that to come an inch closer to lifting up the Larry O'Brien Trophy at the end of this season. But there's a unique group of players that didn't just limit their offseason work to the things done inside a gym. For them, it's not just about the grainy iPhone footage of them hitting jumpers. This group was building their collection. And not their collection of go-to moves during the game, but rather their collection of sneakers to show off on the court.
Last season, Rockets swingman P.J. Tucker made a statement to the rest of the league something monumental needs to happen. But with a new season, all bets are off. Clippers big man Montrezl Harrell is a formidable threat to Tucker, so are LeBron James and Russell Westbrook. This season's battle for the Sneaker King throne will be intense and there are a number of newcomers that want to make a splash in the shoe game.
In our preseason primer, we'll break up the NBA's biggest Sneaker King contenders into three groups: those on the outside looking in, the darkhorse candidates and the bona fide contenders.
Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma enters this season in a unique position. The third-year player inked an endorsement deal with Puma in the offseason, joining a loaded roster of young NBA talent. Playing for the Lakers gives Kuzma a boost in popularity, and marketability, so he'll be one of Puma's marquee stars. Kuzma, a former Nike athlete, established himself throughout his first two seasons as someone who's always willing to shake things up with his on-court sneaker choices. This season should be no different.
Zion Williamson enters his rookie season with a level of buzz and hype that probably hasn't been seen since LeBron James made his NBA debut over 15 years ago. The rookie inked an endorsement deal with Jordan Brand, making him the brand's shiny new toy. Williamson will break out as many player exclusive colorways of the newly released Jordan 34 as possible and he might mix in some classic retro Jordan kicks in as well. Like his ability on the court, Williamson has all the tools to compete for the Sneaker King crown.
Kings point guard De'Aaron Fox is one of the NBA's premier young talents. He's expected to continue his upward trajectory as he enters his third season while possibly leading Sacramento into playoff contention. Fox is a Nike athlete and he takes advantage of the perks that come with it, regularly lacing up older kicks from the Nike Kobe Bryant line.
Taurean Prince might have to update his sneaker color schemes heading into this season. Prince established himself as a legit NBA sneakerhead as a member of the Hawks, but an offseason trade landed him with the Nets in Brooklyn. Prince is as versatile as they come when it comes to the shoe game and a new jersey scheme should be a factor in how he portrays his creativity this season.
As a rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander made a ton of heads turn and that was just with the heat he brought with his shoe game. He can also hoop, which doesn't hurt at all. If we were ranking players with their pregame tunnel fashion, Gilgeous-Alexander would be one of the leaders in all the NBA. Since we keep it to strictly on-the-court kicks, the second-year player is still in the mix and we're projecting him to make a substantial jump this season.
If you enjoy the NBA and have a passion for sneakers, you need to get familiar with Pistons guard Langston Galloway if you aren't already. Galloway embraced the NBA's leniency on what colors players could wear on their kicks last year and broke out as one of the leaders when it comes to customized kicks. He frequently paid tribute to family, national icons and his childhood with personalized shoes. Expect more of the same from Galloway this season as he makes a push for the Sneaker King crown.
Mavericks point guard Luka Doncic took the league by storm during his rookie season, breaking all sorts of records en route to winning Rookie of the Year. Doncic also established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the NBA sneaker game. You never knew what you were going to get from him on a given night as he shifted from retro Nike's, the latest from the Kobe line and unique custom kicks. We all expect him to somehow take another step on the court, we're also keeping an eye on his shoe game.
You won't see much of Clippers forward Paul George early on this season, but once he does hit the court it's a safe bet he'll have a full arsenal of kicks ready to go. George is one of Nike's premier athletes and has his own signature line with The Swoosh. Last season, he debuted the Nike PG 3 to much success while also bringing out gems from his previous silhouettes. Expect more of the same from PG-13 this year.
If you're not familiar with Heat forward Derrick Jones Jr. by now, you should be. He's a high-flyer that provides jaw-dropping dunks on the regular. Jones Jr. is also one of the more underrated sneakerheads in the NBA. He doesn't hold anything back when it comes to his on-court kicks. Last season, he shuffled between the rarest shoes from the Nike Kobe line, the Nike LeBron line and when he dabbled into customs they were beyond memorable. He has a legit chance to contend for the Sneaker King crown this season.
Another Nike signature athlete, Kyrie Irving is always pushing the limits of creativity with his kicks. Last year, the Nike Kyrie 5 was one of the most popular signature shoes in basketball. Irving showed off a number of player exclusive kicks from his line and left so many wanting the shoes to be released to the public. There's already much anticipation for the Nike Kyrie 6, which Irving will debut this season, but it won't be easy to live up to the elevated expectations set by his previous model.
Bona Fide Contenders
Spurs swingman DeMar DeRozan doesn't have his own Nike signature line, but he might be the best ambassador to the Nike Kobe line in the league today. DeRozan, a huge Kobe Bryant fan, wears the best from that line night in and night out. There's seemingly nothing DeRozan can't get his hands on whether it be player exclusives, retros or upcoming releases that are months away from dropping. DeRozan's consistency makes him a legit Sneaker King contender.
Russell Westbrook is known as one of the NBA's style gurus. He's flashy, creative and versatile and all those characteristics help him when it comes to his shoe game. Believe it or not, having a signature shoe under Jordan Brand isn't easy. The brand itself is very selective on who it adds and once you're a member you'll always have the shadow of the greatest basketball player of all-time and sneaker icon Michael Jordan over your shoulders. Westbrook is built to overcome and his Jordan Why Not Zer0.2 kicks created a buzz last season unlike any signature Jordan shoes in a long time.
Lakers star LeBron James doesn't slow down. He still hoops at an elite level despite being in his mid-thirties and still pumps out amazing sneakers despite being 17 models deep into his signature Nike line. James will debut the Nike LeBron 17 on the court this season while looking to supplant the success of last year's LeBron 16. How will LBJ's newest shoe outshine his last? Well, James usually saves his best kicks for the biggest moments like playoff time. His Lakers missed the postseason last year, but with the addition of Anthony Davis, a deep run seems likely this time around. Be on the lookout for The King.
Clippers big man Montrezl Harrell is another name fans need to get familiar with sooner rather than later. While establishing himself as a contender for the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award last season, he also went toe-to-toe for the Sneaker King crown. He brings it all when it comes to his shoe game, he's a legit sneakerhead that doesn't limit himself to any single brand. Harrell is the No. 1 contender for the crown.
You know who we're talking about here. He's the NBA's undisputed Sneaker King. The guy who's worn over $200K worth of different kicks in each of the last two seasons. The guy who rocks two, three, sometimes even four different pairs in a single game. P.J. Tucker earned the crown in, and he's the front-runner to take it all again this time around. How could he possibly top his performance? Tucker was a Nike athlete, but he's now a sneaker free agent and isn't limited to just the rarest gems Nike has to offer. He can simply break out the craziest kicks from any brand now. There might not be much of a challenge for Tucker this season, the real race might be the one to be named the NBA's second-biggest Sneaker King.
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