“Hello, I’m looking for a Cade Cunningham rookie card.”

In the past, I knew how to answer that question and which direction to point someone. When I was much younger, Topps basketball was all we knew. Over the next few years, Star and Fleer joined the club. Yeah, that’s how old I am.

A few years later, we were super pumped to welcome Hoops, Skybox, Upper Deck, and more – not realizing that this would become the overprinted “junk wax era.”

Fast forward about twenty-five years…. do you know how many types of Basketball Cards came out THIS year alone? How many new sets and releases bragged about their rookies, autos, and almighty “one of one” cards?

Try fifty-one.

That’s right – no less than FIFTY-ONE types of cards for the 2021-22 Basketball card collector or investor.

How do dealers, collectors, investors, and retailers keep track of it all? For fun, how many could YOU personally name? My brain explodes somewhere between Onyx, Obsidian, Optic, and Overtime Elite!

Perhaps you’re well aware of the most popular brands. Panini Prizm, Donruss, Select, Optic, Mosaic, and Hoops are often the highest-sellers and the most sought-after by collectors.

But do you know where to find high-quality cards? Of all FIFTY-ONE releases, which ones are the “cream of the crop” when it comes to design, rarity, creativity, price, and overall excellence? For the sake of time, I’ll propose four of my favorites. Here are four high quality Basketball Card sets for NBA fans in 2021-22… I’ll share some observations and you can click on each product name for a set checklist and photos, courtesy of Cardboard Connection….

NATIONAL TREASURES – Now, I’m biased, because National Treasures was my very first look at “deluxe” cards that had patches, autographs, and limited number prints all at the same time. And what’s not to love about the famous “Logoman” cards that super wealthy people seem to pull out of the $4,000 Hobby Boxes of this product? Well, this year’s “set” has about 30 different subsets of cards with different versions of rookie autographs, veteran autos and patches, and extremely rare cards. Good luck finding ANY of the “Colossal Logoman” cards, a 99 card release of “1 of 1” cards for not only guys like Luka and Zion, but also (WHY?) Terrence Ross and Enes Freedom! Seriously, though, just head to eBay and search for 2021-22 National Treasures and then your favorite current player, and you’ll be blown away by the shape, decor, and – of course – the prices of these “treasures” in Basketball Cards.

PANINI IMPECCABLE – Slightly cheaper, but just as beautiful, are Panini Impeccable cards. Did I mention for both of these releases, the BASE sets are limited to /99? The rarity is already built-in when you own one of these thick, strong, well-constructed works of art. Impeccable seems like it’s easier to find and more singles are available online. This year’s Impeccable cards were released earlier than some other sets, so they don’t have as many of the better Rookie names in all of their versions of Rookie Autographs and patch cards. For example, Bones Hyland is missing from at least two of their rookie series. Meanwhile, the set has many updates, veteran autographs, and Hall of Famer features. I love the look of the 75th Anniversary autograph cards, like this Magic Johnson hit…

IMMACULATE COLLECTION COLLEGIATE – I’ll list ONE option for people who collect superstars in their college or semi-pro uniforms. Some of us really want that Evan Mobley USC patch! Yes, I could have listed the Collegiate “Flawless” product, which is every bit as impressive yet again this year! In previous years, Immaculate cards came out for both college and NBA uniforms as separate releases and sets. Of course, this year’s release isn’t just full of the rookies… you’ll find NBA veterans with new Immaculate cards and autographs including Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Magic Johnson, and TRAE YOUNG. There’s also the Immaculate Sneaker subset, with parts of shoes (I guess) from Zion Williamson and (really?) Rui Hachimura. You’re welcome.

PANINI NOIR – Last, but certainly not least… the Panini NOIR set has some terrific photography and layouts this year. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a Hobby Box for just under $2,000 somewhere. Right? But that’s why online breaks are so stinking popular. You can buy a team or a player and have a chance at a Cade Cunningham auto like the one pictured below. NOIR’s serials set of 200 cards includes 50 rookies and every base card is /99 just like NT and Impeccable. It’s almost like these cards are created for a whole different type of customer and budget – and it works! If you’re chasing Rookie Patch Autos (RPAs), you’ll wonder about some of the rookie choices this product must have made early on. Several of their inserts feature Nets rookie Day’Ron Sharpe and omit the super-talented Cameron Thomas. I suppose this makes a Cam Thomas NOIR RPA, which they did print in two of the limited Rookie Auto sets, that much more desirable.

To get the most out of these sets, you have to be a patient shopper, perhaps saving searches on eBay for the player and product you want. A lot of these won’t even make it to the online market, because Hobby Box buyers will keep and save some of the more expensive cards or sell them at more exclusive auctions. These premium cards also retain their value much better than the over-printed popular cards, because these cards will always look better, display better, and attract a different kind of buyer that isn’t as worried about the budget. If you’re interested in shopping for premium types of cards and rookies and autographs, there’s no better time to buy than the offseason. Good luck finding your own Basketball treasures!