Updated: Sep 7, 2021
Sports cards have exploded over the last year or so and heading into the 2021 NBA season, there are players that are currently undervalued when compared to the dominant forces in the market. Players like Zion, Luka, Trae, and LaMelo are some of the names that see the most money in cards routinely. They are viewed by many collectors as the best young stars in the league with some of the most promising upside. Below is a chart of high-end rookie card sales for each of the aforementioned players.
When you begin to see the numbers these players’ top cards sell for, it is mind boggling. Being able to enter one of these players’ high-end card markets is nearly impossible for most investors due to the lack of card availability and price point. This is where the “value-level” players and cards come into play.
While the names already mentioned are regarded by many as some of the most exciting and watchable in basketball, there are numerous players who are undervalued in comparison and deserve much more hobby interest. Below I have selected 4 players that are undervalued when looking at their price compared to current market prices. I also will give recommended buys for all the players at both a high and low level.
In my opinion, Jayson Tatum is one of the most undervalued players in the card market. Jayson Tatum is widely considered one of the top 15-20 players in the NBA and he plays for a great, passionate organization in the Boston Celtics. I understand he may not have the undeniable, top-level skill people see in Luka or the hype and excitement seen from Zion, but he is still an ultra-entertaining player who is capable of exciting sequences, such as dunks, step-back 3’s and contested fadeaways. In addition, Tatum has found more success (regular season and post season) than both Luka and Zion, yet his top selling card sits at less than half the value of what a similar Zion card would sell for ($44,845 vs. $18,988) and the comparison with Luka is even more drastic (Luka’s Immaculate Base /99 last sold for $20,100 and Tatum’s version of that card last sold for $4,050)
Even if you aren’t entirely sure Tatum has the potential or upside of Zion or Luka, it would be hard to deny that Tatum is at least as likely to be a top 5-10 player in the future as Trae Young and is definitely more likely to be one than LaMelo Ball. Tatum to this point in his NBA career has shown more than both LaMelo and Trae, yet both players’ cards sell for a higher amount than Tatum’s on the higher levels. I believe the biggest reason for this sentiment is recency bias from the market. Seeing LaMelo have a dazzling rookie season and Trae exceed expectations in the playoffs has bolstered their card prices across the board. I understand Tatum has obviously played for a longer period of time than Trae or LaMelo, but I view his body of work as a plus. To me, it represents a larger sample of play that can be viewed as repeatable and improvable.
Overall, I believe there is a lot of value to be had in Tatum cards if you are looking to get in on a young, premier, NBA player. He is a star poised for a playoff run and it will be no easy task to stop him and the Celtics due to the situations (leading his team to the Conference Finals, battling through Covid) that he has already operated under. Jayson Tatum cards are by no means “cheap”, but many, if not all of them, come at a much more obtainable price when compared to Luka, Trae, Zion, or LaMelo.
Recommended Card To Buy
I understand this card will fall out of most peoples’ price range, but if you are going to buy a nicer card of a player of Tatum's caliber, it is best to get Flawless. Flawless often comes at a more inexpensive price for a patch autograph when compared to the National Treasures /99 and the Flawless patch is game-worn, not event or player-worn, making it a much safer option to hold long-term.
These cards represent more affordable options to get into Tatum’s market. Spectra’s patch autograph cards still possess relatively low numbering and feature on-card autographs, making them a good option at their current price ($600-$800, 8/2021). In addition, the Court Kings Fresh Paint autograph is another quality and affordable option when looking at Tatum cards. This insert card features an on-card autograph that’s on a cool and unique canvas-type material, albeit not numbered.
Ja Morant cards represent a slightly more affordable option for investing into promising young stars than Jayson Tatum and, like Tatum, is also undervalued when compared to other top young players’ cards. Ja Morant, the second overall pick out of the 2019 class, exploded onto the scene as a rookie with Memphis and showcased his ability to be an ultra-athletic playmaker. Fast Forward to this past season, and while he did not show much improvement to his shooting, he showed an ability to efficiently execute the skills that he is already good at as well as the ability to get in position to use these skills (layups, floaters, lobs, and dunks) more fluidly.
Morant is by no means the undeniable prospect that either Luka, Zion, or even Tatum and Trae are, but he is still an incredibly talented player and perhaps the most exciting to watch out of the bunch. Morant’s explosiveness and ferocity when going to the rim is a skill few other players in the league possess. He is also capable of games in which he single-handedly wills the Grizzlies to wins. In addition, there is no reason that LaMelo cards should already be worth multiples of what a similar Ja Morant card would sell for. I understand LaMelo is the new popular player to have, but I believe Morant has a more complete resume at this point in time and should, at the very least, command a price similar to LaMelo’s.
Overall, I believe that Morant could see a large uptick in his value with strong campaign this upcoming season. He has the personality and flare to hold a similar value in comparison with any of the aforementioned names, and this will especially reign true if he is able to find some consistency in his outside shooting, While Memphis is not the most lucrative market for both basketball and basketball cards, the league’s current visibility across social media and other sources wipes away most of this detractor.
Recommended Card To Buy
I will apologize in advance, but Flawless will be making an appearance in both of the remaining players’ recommended buy sections as well. This is a testament to my belief in Flawless going forward, which is heavily based on the fact that the patches used in the set for rookies are game used, setting it apart from the other sets. The Opulence patch autograph is another option to consider when looking at nicer Morant cards. The patches are often multi-colored and the cards feature a blue on-card autograph and gold foil. These cards are also available at a fraction of the price of a National Treasures or even an Immaculate patch autograph, making them a more affordable piece to consider.
The Impeccable set is one that garners a fair amount of hobby interest, and a part of that interest is due to unique design choices such as the stainless stars insert. The stainless stars cards are made out of metal and feature blue on-card autographs. I think the base autographs numbered to 99 represent a nice value at their current price ($400-$500).
Out of the players on this list, and out of almost any other NBA players' cards, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander cards do one of the best jobs of striking a nice balance between affordability and buying into a player that has the potential to be a transcendent talent for years to come. Shai is a player out of the 2018 draft that has proven he has the ability to lead a team individually. Just last season, Shai lead the Thunder to a 16-19 record while operating as the primary creator in most games. Following the Thunder shutting Shai down for the season, they posted a 6-31 record and looked like a low-level NBA team with a lack of direction.
I believe that if Shai gets the opportunity to lead the slightly improved Thunder roster this year without amassing any injuries, he will see a large increase in his value. If you look at the way he plays or his per game statistics, he is similar in a lot of ways to Trae Young. The two main differences in their unique situations is that Shai's team is not very talented and Trae's team has been tailor-made to fit his play style. With that being said, I believe that if Shai was given the opportunity to lead a team comparable in talent to the Hawks, he would produce similar, and maybe even better results than Trae Young has.
While the impressive play and efficient stats hold a level of importance in determining his card values, the biggest factor that causes me to view Shai cards as a good value currently is their price when compared to players of a similar skill level. Shai's top selling card (National Treasures) sells for roughly a fifth of the price of a comparable Trae Young card ($11,750 vs. $50,650). While Trae has clearly established himself more as a top talent in the league, it is hard for me to imagine Trae being nearly five times as valuable going forward as Shai. It seems very feasible that the value of Shai cards could reach half the value of Trae's cards by season's end (An approximate increase from $11,750 to $25,000) .
Overall, I wholeheartedly believe that Shai is currently undervalued given his price in the card market when compared to the type of player he currently is and projects to be. He has given solid proof of being a quality primary option, although it occurred in limited playing time. Oklahoma City likely wont be winning any titles this season or soon, but a strong effort will not go unnoticed from Shai, and he will be the main contributor of any Thunder team that finds itself in the playoffs.
Recommended Card To Buy
Again, the Flawless patch autograph cards are the go-to cards to own if you're willing to spend some more money on a player you believe in. In addition, given their current lower price when compared to NT, it makes sense to opt for one of these cards over NT. Another strong option to consider, that is also more affordable, is the base Immaculate patch autographs out of 99. These cards feature player-worn patches as opposed to game-worn, but the overall design of these cards possesses a strong premium feel,
While the lower numbered parallels will obviously come at a higher price, Shai's Silver Select Rookie Signatures card is available for under 500 dollars in most situations (Graded or Raw). The Select Rookie Signatures insert is also a good one to look at because this is the only autographed card type from the Select set and, in addition, the insert features an on-card autograph, which is always a plus.
Collin Sexton is the last player on this list and also the most affordable by quite a wide margin. As lottery pick out of the 2018 draft, Sexton performed well as a rookie and has built on that play in each of his 3 seasons. This past season, he put up his best numbers yet, posting averages of 24.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 4.4 assists through 60 games, putting up a very promising season. It also wouldn't be unimaginable to think he could improve upon these results given his documented and relentless work ethic.
Sexton most likely will never reach the peaks of stardom that the aforementioned players will, but he is a still a quality young player who has the potential, with hard work and some luck, to be a top 20-25 player in this league. In addition, the Cavaliers are a young, up and coming team with quality prospects such as Evan Mobley, Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro, and Jarrett Allen. The Cavaliers look to be a legitimate playoff contender if not this year, then definitely next year, and a large part of that is due to Sexton's ability to play at a high level.
Overall, I wouldn't advise putting large sums of money into a player like Sexton, as ultimately, his role could diminish and tank his value in the card world, but I would say that Sexton is definitely worth a flyer due to his current pricing. Being able to own a top-tier card of his for under $1,000 dollars is an intriguing risk because a slightly improved perception of his ceiling as a player due to strong play this season could increase his card value exponentially. If he was even able to garner a 1/4 of the hobby interest Morant does, his cards would be worth 4-5 times as much as they are currently (Morant's NT sale was $17,000 compared to a similar Sexton NT that sold for $800.
Recommended Card To Buy
If you are going to buy a nice Sexton card, I would recommend one of the ones listed because with such a low price for his best cards when compared to other stars, the most exclusive cards will see the most rapid growth given he plays well. I really like the card Immaculate produces as well and the gold parallel adds an extra premium feeling, although not many come around often, as it is only numbered to 10.
Noir is a solid set for patch autographs and being able to snag Sexton's card from that set for $200-$250 is an interesting opportunity for getting into a nicer card at a fairly low price. Cards from the Noir set are fairly nice cards with medium patch windows and on-card autographs. I would try to get a patch that is at least two colors, but most Noir cards already fit that bill.