During the NBA offseason, I like to look back and find players who may have had breakout performances after the All-Star break. I make lists, ask questions, review stats, and ask questions. This time, I compared NINETEEN players who had surprisingly stellar finishes in the 2021-22 NBA season. Some of them took their talents into the playoffs and performed even better, like Tyrese and Desmond. Others seized the opportunity to put up huge numbers in games that had no playoff significance whatsoever. I’m looking at you, Kevin and Jalen.
And then there’s a very complex type of player. The kind of unstoppable scorer that can win games that their teams would prefer to lose. Theses “tank” teams don’t want to give up their high lottery odds, and so they start shutting their best players down sometime in April. Or was it March. And yes, February. And my personal “study” of the best breakout performances of the past NBA season led me to rank THREE players in a tie for “best breakout player in the second half.”
His team may have told him to sit down for two months, but I am asking him to stand up. Let’s go, SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER!
Many Basketball fans and card collectors know his name, his cards, and perhaps even a little bit about his game. But a lot of people fail (or failed) to notice his overall emergence as one of the very best players in the NBA. It’s not just the stats, but let me share those from the last twenty (20) games he played this past season:
34.2 minutes per game.
28.1 points per game.
7.0 assists per game.
5.3 rebounds per game.
51% shooting from the field.
You can just hear the Thunder team-management whispering to each other in late-January, “Guys, if he keeps playing like this, we’re never gonna get a shot at Chet Holmgren!” “We have got to stop this madness – Shai is too young to play this much – we don’t want to wear him down!” And, one of my personal favorites, “Boss, we didn’t draft Josh, Tre, and Theo to sit around and watch Shai become the next Kobe Bryant – we need to see what all of our guys can do!”
And this isn’t the first year the Thunder have shut him down. It’s like Sam Presti is the one defender in the NBA who can stop this guy. As a result, the Thunder AGAIN missed the playoffs, scored a lottery pick, and built up their war-chest to add to their insane collection of talent. If they’re smart, they’ve had conversations with SGA and his agent well in advance of these season-ending team slumps. In order to rebuild, you have to truly rebuild!
In the meantime, the Basketball Card market has all but forgotten Gilgeous-Alexander. He’s seen as a guy who very few have actually followed, will never make the playoffs, and is often injured. In reality, his game is must-see-TV, he could make the playoffs THIS year, and perhaps he’s never actually been injured!
As a Basketball fan, I’ve wondered when OKC would cash in on all of these picks and put a playoff team on the floor. Perhaps it’s NOW, with Holmgren’s arrival and the steady growth of guys like Dort, Mann, Giddey, Poku, Theo, and more. SGA is the guy they picked to lead this new generation, giving him a 5-year, $179 million extension last summer. No matter how tall and quick Chet Holmgren is, this is SGA’s team. No matter how much fun Josh Giddey is to watch, it’s SGA who is worth building around.
As a Basketball investor, I’ve felt since early 2020 that SGA’s game is headed for stardom and that buying or holding on to his rookie cards is as good of a “sure thing” as any current player. His upside in the market has yet to be realized because his team has yet to arrive. But he’s not the only 23 year old superstar to get his feet wet in Oklahoma City – think about KD, James Harden, and Russ!
There’s no doubt SGA is one of the most talented, gifted, well-rounded, unstoppable players in the NBA. I’m holding on to the cards I have, and waiting for better deals later this summer. If you’re interested in buying in on this young, breakout player who should probably be an all-star this season if they let him play enough games… it helps if you’re willing to buy and hold his rookies until the Thunder become a contender.
Then again, if Chet could be to Shai as Evan is to Darius, this young team might be ready to rock into the playoffs in less than a year! For now, I think SGA is one of the best-kept secrets in the card market. Early buyers have already sold his cards and to them, he’s not much different than Marvin Bagley III. But Shai’s day is coming, friends, and I’m here for it.