Let’s start with this – I love the NBA’s recently-added “play-in” round. More teams have a chance. More teams play meaningful games during this last week of the regular season. More spotlight on young NBA stars this year, including LaMelo Ball, Darius Garland, Anthony Edwards, and BRANDON INGRAM.

This season, the rankings and stakes of the NBA play-in – for playoff positions 7-10 in each conference – comes down to the FINAL DAY of the NBA’s regular season. It’s crazy to think that the Eastern Conference’s teams 7-10 are all within ONE GAME of each other in the standings. Last night, when Brooklyn hosted Cleveland, it meant that the 7-seed was at stake between those two teams. Instead of showing up to a primetime NBA game and having to suffer through backups, free-agent-signees and career journeymen, fans were treated to a full-on tilt including Kevin Durant, Darius Garland, Kyrie Irving, and the return of NBA Rookie of the Year favorite, Evan Mobley.

The race in the West appears more settled in the standings, but the lineups are anything but ready. You’ve got huge question marks like Kawhi Leonard, Brandon Ingram, and Dejounte Murray. You’ve got shocking additions like the Zion-less Pelicans and the “who plays for them?” Spurs, and playoff veterans like the Clippers – a team that, if healthy, could actually win the West!

For card collectors, the possibilities are endless here. You could invest now in play-in superstars like Trae Young, Kevin Durant and Edwards, young upstarts like Garland and Dejounte Murray, or roll the dice on a big Kawhi Leonard purchase. Some “lesser-known” players I’ll be watching and perhaps buying next week include Keldon Johnson (Spurs), DeAndre Hunter (Hawks), Jaxson Hayes (Pelicans), and maybe even Amir Coffey (LAC). Your list might not include any of those guys, but this year’s play-in stars could see a brief or first jump up in their card values over the next 7-10 days.

Here are some things to think about when it comes to buying or selling the play-in Basketball card market…

#1 – Watch for Superstars who could step up and lead their teams deeper into the playoffs. Instead of watching these games and trying to profit on one game or one week, consider these games as a preview for the actual playoff series that follows. For example, any number of players could dominate the play-in game(s) and take their teams to an eventual series win (or three) over the next few months. Nobody would be surprised if Trae Young, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, or even CJ McCollum shows up with amazing performances in April, May, and…

#2 – Don’t overpay for Young Players who might have One or Two great games, or, “The Terance Mann principle.” Last year, Mann had one or two amazing games for the Clippers and his card prices skyrocketed for about four days. A year later, he’s a role player on a play-in team and he has the talent to tease card investors once again. In 2022, anything could happen. James Bouknight or Kira Lewis Jr could drop 30 points and help their teams advance to a bigger stage, but I won’t touch their cards. Same for Terry Rozier, Cam Thomas, Jaden McDaniels, Malik Beasley, Devin Vassell, Isaac Okoro, or Onyeka Okongwu. I’m telling you now – resist the urge. I’d rather focus on the guys who have already proven their abilities over time and will sustain that “next step” in the playoffs, like Darius Garland, Keldon Johnson, Miles Bridges, Anthony Edwards, and yes, Brandon Ingram.

#3 – Some of these teams made the playoffs “ahead of schedule” and might add to your summer shopping list. Teams like Cleveland, Charlotte, New Orleans, Minnesota, and San Antonio are just loaded with young players who could be terrific guys to collect and invest in over the summer, when nobody is thinking about the NBA. This could be the first of countless playoff appearances for Evan Mobley. The LaMelo vs Trae rivalry would be can’t-miss television for the next decade. Everything Anthony Edwards does is worth watching, tweeting about, and probably also investing in. The future of the League is extremely bright, and the play-in gives us some high-pressure looks at the guys who will dominate the sports card market for a long, long time.

#4 – Consider the All-Star caliber players who entered the league before Optic arrived. Players whose rookie cards were pre-2016. Guys who are in the middle of their “primes” and have cards that are a little older, lesser-printed, lesser-graded, but perhaps more proven as great players in the NBA. I’m talking about Paul George, Karl Towns, Kyrie Irving, KD, D’Angelo Russell, CJ McCollum, Terry Rozier, LaMarcus Aldridge, and even Kevin Love. All of these players still feel like bargains if you can find graded paralleled, autographed, or numbered versions of their cards. A PSA 10 of any of them feels like a buy and hold if you love these players. For a few, this year’s playoffs presents another opportunity to add to their resumes and legacies.

#5 – If it feels like the play-in is all about Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard, that’s because it is. These are two of the NBA’s Top 75 of all-time, and each one (if healthy) could steal all the play-in headlines. Collectors of these players have an opportunity now and a better buying season this August. It might be worth trying to flip a nice Durant rookie – buying it this week and listing it on eBay as a “buy it now” for 50% more and waiting for it to sell when KD drops a 50-spot on the Sixers in a few weeks. Kawhi, to me, is the biggest question mark of the postseason overall. The Clips haven’t said much, but the rumor is that he’s ready to play if and when they need him. How quickly we forget Leonard, one of the best players of the last 10-15 years in the NBA, and that he’s still got some great years ahead.

#6 – You don’t have to “invest” or “sell” the Play-in at all! – Remember this, especially after you read an article like this. If you wind up NOT making any card purchases or sales in the next two weeks, you might wind up looking smarter than the rest of us. The ensuing playoff series are truly the bigger deal, and please – these teams are competing for the bottom seeds! You’re fine if you decide to check out for a week and set your game plan for May, when hopefully Ja Morant, Jayson Tatum, Luka Doncic, and all the stars battle it out for the Larry O’Brien trophy.

For my own purposes, I’ll be fixated on what the players I already focus on are able to do in these next two weeks. Guys like Garland, Keldon, Ingram, Mobley, LaMelo, Ant, and Miles Bridges have been trending up for quite some time in my collection and in NBA accolades. With all of that in mind, I’m ready for the Playoffs to finally get started. Best of luck on your investing and collecting, and check out our updates on Instagram (@hoopsandcards)!