(This is the second article of three, where we focus on players who absolutely balled out in the last 20-40 games of the NBA season just a few months ago. These players are worth a first (or second) look as investments for next season, believing that they will “finally” be noticed by Basketball Card collectors and investors who often take a while longer to recognize the superstars that the League never takes for granted.)
To the Basketball card market, timing is everything.
In early 2020, the hobby values and hype exploded and rallied around newfound stars like Zion, Luka, and Ja. Prizm basketball cards – even the BASE – were flying off the shelves at record growth rates and prices. Back then, it seemed like anything we could buy would be worth more in a matter of a month, a week, sometimes even a day.
For the card values of nearly every rookie of the 2019-20 class in the NBA, this was perfect timing. Crowds of new investors filled their showcases with silvers of Rui Hachimura, ruby waves of Tyler Herro, insanely-prized off-centered Zion base cards, and stacks of Bol Bol. Grading companies like PSA were flooded with shipments full of base Cam Reddish, Matisse Thybuille, and Kevin Porter Jr.
If you were a rookie in 2019, it seemed like every dealer, collector, investor, and podcaster knew your name and had some take on how much profit you could lead to in life.
With the rise of the Basketball card market in 2020, how quickly did everyone forget about what actually happened in the NBA in 2019?
In 2019, the Toronto Raptors won the NBA Championship. Toronto beat the Golden State dynasty in six games. In Game 1 of that series, a lesser known talent from Cameroon scored 32 points with 8 rebounds and 5 assists on 14 of 17 from the field. Just before receiving his championship ring, this same player was voted the NBA’s Most Improved Player. While we were bidding up online auctions for RPA’s of Talen Horton-Tucker and Coby White, this player became an NBA All-Star in just his fourth season. Though the Raptors said goodbye to Kawhi Leonard after one season, they unleashed a new young star who became second-team All-NBA in 2020. During the following year, COVID restrictions forced his team to play far away from their home crowd and families for a shorter 20-21 season in Tampa. Toronto fans watched from afar as Kyle Lowry hurt, Serge Ibaka left, and Norman Powell was traded.
Meanwhile, the Basketball Card market fell head-over-heels for Ja Morant, Luka Doncic, Jayson Tatum, and Trae Young. Giannis became the new king of Basketball and investors flocked to Kobe and Michael. It just made sense to focus on GOATS and GREATS and young stars moving deeper into the playoffs!
While Giannis was “hoisting” a couple of trophies, our Raptor was having surgery and watching his team acquire two insanely-talented players who are physical copies of himself – tall, athletic, defending-wings who can score and attack from anywhere named Scottie Barnes and Gary Trent Jr.
At this point, the whole sports card market finally came off i’s mountain and started to decline. Sales and prices dropped. Fringe-buyers chased after other things. Long-timers started to dump their base and their risky assets and “level up” into numbered autos of GOATS.
The rise and fall of the sports card market came and went, with no regard for the recovered-and-healthy leader of the Raptors entering just his sixth NBA season. Beginning in November on a minutes restriction, he gradually played himself back into superstar form.
He earned another All-NBA selection (3rd Team).
He led the Raptors to the second-best record in the East over the last 40 games and a Playoff spot as the fifth seed.
Over the last 40 games of the regular season, he averaged 24.1 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 1.3 steals on a smoking 50.% shooting from the field.
Though he played the first half of the season on a minutes restriction, he worked himself into the MVP conversation. He started games at point guard, center, and everything in between. He’s the ultimate expression of a point-forward, a 3-and-D guy, who is as switchable as Kawhi Leonard in his prime.
Meanwhile, the whole league was talking about a rookie on his team, the fourth or fifth scoring option on offense. (Ironically, it was the “Scottie Barnes watch” that led me to take a second, third, and fourth look at the player I’m writing about right now… the guy Raptors fans hope Scottie will be like when he grows up.)
Meanwhile, our superstar and his Silver Prizm PSA 10 rookie fell more than 66% in value ($450 high to $135 low according to Card Ladder) over the course of the season.
He’s become a prime example of how Basketball investors and collectors sometimes pay no attention to actual on-court performance, achievements, potential, and team building.
For next season, I’m telling you that Toronto will be one of the “must-see” playoff contenders in the East. With super-scorers like VanVleet (also a 2-time All-Star), Barnes (with everyone chasing his rookies all year), Trent Jr, and a terrific supporting cast that can out-gun, out-dunk, out-shoot, and out-defend pretty much any starting five in the League, we will be talking about Toronto every May and June for the foreseeable future.
While the hype machines and card prices will follow unproven and risks and names (read: Zion Williamson), perhaps there are other diamonds in the rough out there.
Like I said above, “timing” is everything for the card market. If this guy’s rookie cards had come out during the same boom as Zion and Ja and Lamelo and Trae, we would all rank him among the best investments and consider him the next Giannis.
Instead, I’m looking at a Card Ladder graph showing his Prizm Silver PSA10 sells for far less than the same rookie cards of far lesser players. The graph looks the same when you compare him to guys drafted in the same year – well-known guys who have done little in comparison to him at this point (the aforementioned Brandon Ingram, Dejounte Murray, Jaylen Brown, and Jamal Murray). After six years, he’s arguably the most-accomplished, most-talented, and most-coveted player in his draft class.
The timing of his rookie class, his championship, his all-NBA performances, and his teammate transitions have kept his name out of Card investors mouths as they speculate about how wonderful Josh Giddey and Jordan Poole could be one day. The arrival of Scottie Barnes could somehow overshadow the growing legacy of a player he may never surpass.
NBA followers and Toronto fans say his name with respect and excitement all the time, appreciating the talent and leadership he already gives, and excited for his future as the “alpha” for Raptors moving forward. They envision the Raptors winning the East and contending in a Finals series where, realistically, this player is the team MVP and leader who has been there before. It’s not crazy to think that, in two years, Toronto fans will have debates about where to rank him as one of the best Raptors of all-time.
But the “guy whose name I haven’t said” is the best-kept secret in the world of Basketball cards, and maybe it will stay that way.
Those who invest in his cards will do so in the hopes that his time will come.