It’s been over a year since NBA-types could be heard frequently saying things like, “Don’t sleep on Jalen Brunson.” “Watch out for Darius Garland.” “Desmond Bane will fit in nicely in Memphis.”
When an unknown or overlooked player shows the possibility of stepping into a larger role and has a track record of bringing energy and scoring along with him, he gets labeled as a sleeper. Fantasy Basketball GMs take a late-round flier on that guy (like Josh Hart) because they believe he could “surprise” and put up some big numbers this season.
What about Basketball Cards for this season? Which players – currently not on anyone’s radar – could step into more playing time, more “usage,” and more sports card popularity? Well, I can’t promise you anything, but I can give you some of our best guesses. For these conversations, we usually like to target players who are younger, in the first few years of their careers. We are often talking about guys who handle the ball, make outstanding plays, and score points whenever they get the chance.
If you already know a lot of today’s NBA players, you might be preparing to see names like Jalen Green, Anfernee Simons, Tyrese Maxey, Desmond Bane, Jalen Brunson, Jalen Suggs, Coby White, Darius Garland, De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Malik Monk, Cole Anthony, Immanuel Quickley or Cade Cunningham. Well, most fans and collectors are already aware of those guys and put them in display cases or have sent them to PSA for grading. True “sleepers” are further down the depth chart, and unknown to most fair-weather NBA fans.
If you’ve heard of or watched some of the players on my list, then consider yourself an emerging NBA scout. These are the guys who could be ready to take some major steps, but we have no guarantees. Like Tyrese Maxey, Jalen Brunson, and Desmond Bane did last season, some of these guys have the chance to make their fan bases and card investors very, very happy… have you heard of them?
BRANDON BOSTON JR, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS – Young, raw, and buried on a playoff-team’s depth chart, Boston had a few starts last season where he exploded offensively. For now, it’s back to the bench behind Norman Powell, Paul George, and John Wall. But Boston is too talented and rapidly-developing to sit around much longer.
JAYLEN NOWELL, MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES – The “must-win-now” Timberwolves paid huge to add Rudy Gobert, as we all know. Meanwhile, the team had no problem saying goodbye to Pat Beverly, Malik Beasley, and several others in the backcourt. Why? Jaylen Nowell can play both guard spots, shoots incredibly well from the field, and his fans and coaches love his aggressiveness and athleticism.
TYUS JONES, MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES – Remember last season, when Ja Morant went down for a while and the Grizzlies actually had a better win-loss record without him? Jones filled in for Morant and the Grizz didn’t skip a beat. The team responded by signing Jones to another contract – a starter quality PG backing up their franchise player.
CALEB MARTIN, MIAMI HEAT – When this guy gets playing time, he’s a problem. Caleb can shoot the lights out and Miami loves his all around play. He’s like a younger, raw version of Miles Bridges, and he’s just starting to figure it out.
COREY KISPERT, WASHINGTON WIZARDS – The Wizards have too many average pieces, but here’s a young one who exceeded all the stats and analytic expectations for him in his rookie season. Expect Kispert to get starter’s minutes eventually, and he will not disappoint.
JALEN SMITH, INDIANA PACERS – Last season, Indiana’s addition of Tyrese Haliburton stole lots of attention. A lesser-known front court prospect, Jalen Smith stepped up in the last 20 games to average 12+ points and a lot of rebounds and blocks for the Pacers. Here’s another guy who could get starters minutes with huge upside.
MO BAMBA, ORLANDO MAGIC – It’s taken Bamba a while to grow into his 7’3″ frame, but he’s become a defensive force and a long-range shooting threat. The sky is the limit, but who knows what Orlando is doing with him. They have Paolo, Wendell Carter, and Jonathan Isaac along with Mo – and any of these guys could erupt.
KENYON MARTIN JR, HOUSTON ROCKETS – Alperen Sengun might assume Christian Wood’s starting role, but Martin is the better shooter, defender, and pace-setter when he’s on the court. K-Mart could be a very bright spot in Houston this season.
NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, UTAH JAZZ – This is why we call them “sleepers.” Walker had some tremendous scoring games in 2020-21, but was forgotten last year, traded by two teams, and buried behind four guys in Utah. I’m still rooting for him to figure things out and get a second chance, but it may never happen.
MOSES MOODY, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS – You know Wiggins, Wiseman, and Kuminga. But you don’t know as much about Moody. But he’s one of the very best shooters on this team. Expect the Golden State dynasty to last for years after Steph and Klay because of guys like these. Moody could start for most teams in the league.
OTHERS I CONSIDERED ADDING, BUT DIDN’T: Josh Hart (Portland), Amir Coffey (LA Clippers), Isaiah Jackson (Indiana), Malachi Flynn (Toronto), Brandon Clarke (Memphis), PJ Washington (Charlotte), Lamar Stevens (Cleveland), Jonathan Isaac (Orlando), Killian Hayes (Detroit), Quentin Grimes (New York), Lonnie Walker IV (LA Lakers), Theo Maledon (OKC), Malaki Branham (San Antonio), Josh Christopher (Houston) and Cameron Thomas (Brooklyn).