The Players to Watch This NBA Season (Based on Sneakers)

The biggest sneaker stories heading into the 2016-17 NBA season.


With the New York Knicks and world champion Cleveland Cavaliers set to tip-off the 2016-17 season tonight, it's time to dive back into our NBA #SoleWatch coverage. Each night, we highlight the best sneakers worn around the league with posts on our social channels and here at Sole Collector. It culminates in an end of the season recap, in which we crown one player as the official #SoleWatch Champion.

To give you an idea of what to keep an eye on, we're running down the biggest sneaker-related storylines heading into Opening Night. From the impact of a Cleveland championship on LeBron James and Kyrie Irving's lines, to James Harden's first season as a signature athlete, these are the points of discussion that will shape #SoleWatch this season.

p.j. Tucker : Reigning Champ

Team: Phoenix Suns
Brand: Nike
Expected to Wear: Rare Nikes and Air Jordans
Final 2015-16 #SoleWatch Ranking: 1

P.J. Tucker is the "sneaker guy" in this group. It'd be an understatement to say that he's dominated our nightly and weekly #SoleWatch features for the past two seasons, taking the top spot in our end-of-season power rankings each time.

We've already seen Tucker play in Nike Yeezys, rare vintage player exclusives, and unreleased samples. After watching him wear so much heat on the court, one has to wonder what he could possibly have planned for the new season. In our interview with him last season, Tucker said everybody is begging him to break out Nike Mags, but singled it out as the one shoe that's off limits to play in. Here's hoping he'll reconsider his stance on the matter this season.

Kevin durant : The next chapter

Team: Golden State Warriors
Sneaker Brand: Nike
Expected To Wear: Nike KD 9 "Warriors" PEs
Final 2015-16 #SoleWatch Ranking: 16

Like LeBron James in 2010, Durant is set to take on the role of villain after deciding to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for Golden State in free agency. Fortunately for him, silencing critics is a little easier when joining a team that won a record 73 regular season games the previous year.

The story here in terms of sneakers is finding out how Nike will take advantage of its new position in the Golden State spotlight. Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala have been Swooshed up, but having the MVP in Stephen Curry allowed Under Armour to take center stage during key Warriors moments. Now, Nike gets a real piece of that pie with arguably a better player wearing their products in the same uniform. Watching the brand attempt to upstage Under Armour in the Bay Area on Durant's behalf will be a fun subplot to follow.

james harden : signature moment

Team: Houston Rockets
Brand: Adidas
Expected To Wear: Adidas Harden Vol. 1
Final 2015-16 #SoleWatch Ranking: 10

For the first time in his career, James Harden will enter an NBA season as a signature sneaker athlete.

With the introduction of his debut model, Harden Vol. 1, Harden isn't only established as one of the league's top stars, but hopes to change the way sneaker endorsements are viewed forever. Adidas promises one-on-one collaboration with Harden, meaning he's being given the opportunity to create with the brand the same way somebody like Kanye West does. Harden's sneakers will no longer just be player exclusive colorways—they'll offer a little more insight into exactly who he is.

demar derozan : mamba mentality

Team: Toronto Raptors
Brand: Nike
Expected to Wear: Nike Kobe 11 & Kobe 12
Final 2015-16 #SoleWatch Ranking: 14

It's been more than 20 years since an NBA season has began without Kobe Bryant on a roster. His absence from the league this season not only has basketball ramifications, but shakes up the sneaker scene as well. For one, the athlete behind the popular Nike Kobe line is now at home working on his business acumen.

That void could potentially be filled by DeRozan, an unapologetic Kobe Stan and faithful wearer of Kobe sneakers since entering the league in 2009. When the next Kobe signature model debuts early next year, count on DeRozan being among the players tapped to get it on the court first. It wouldn't be new territory for DeRozan—he debuted the "Achilles Heel" Kobe 11 back in January.

nick Young : unlock the Swag

Team: Los Angeles Lakers
Brand: Adidas
Expected to Wear: Anything
Final 2015-16 #SoleWatch Ranking: 5

Nick Young is the wild card for Adidas the way guys like P.J. Tucker are for Nike. He proved that last season when he became the first player to wear Adidas Yeezy Boosts in a game. He also has a habit of borrowing his buddy Gilbert Arenas' old Adidas signature shoes straight from his closet.

Understanding that some players have the "it factor" beyond statistics, Adidas blessed Young with his own Player Exclusive Crazy Explosive release earlier this month. Current performance models aside, Young could dare to wear Yeezy 350s in a game, or better yet, those rumored Kanye West-designed Yeezy hoop shoes.

LeBron James & Kyrie Irving : Comeback Kids

Team: Cleveland Cavaliers
Brand: Nike
Expected to Wear: Nike LeBron Soldier 10 & LeBron 14, Nike Kyrie 2 & Kyrie 3
Final 2015-16 #SoleWatch Ranking: 2 (James) & 3 (Irving)

Nothing seems to bring more energy to signature sneakers than the signature athletes winning championships while wearing them. That's the sweet reality for LeBron James and Kyrie Irving as they head into the new season looking to defend the title they won this past June. James' legacy was taken to new heights when he fulfilled his promise to end Cleveland's championship drought, while Irving will experience the adoration that comes with being a made man for the first time.

​The exciting thing about these two is that their next signature sneakers haven't yet released. At this point, they haven't even leaked. Nike will be able to squeeze a little more out of the championship-winning shoes before an in-season pivot to the new models.