The sports card market is just like any other market — it moves based on speculation. It’s a big part of the reason why rookie cards for guys like Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green routinely sell for more than those of established stars. Everyone is chasing the next big thing, and no one wants to miss out on a potential superstar.
In the NBA, no stage can amplify a player’s value in the card market like the playoffs. Finding success in the postseason – when casual fans are paying attention – can often result in a significant upswing. We’ve already started to see that in the 2021-22 NBA playoffs despite still being in the first round. The deeper that a star player goes into the postseason, the more you can typically expect to pay in the card market.
With that in mind, let’s dive into a few players that could see a significant boost in value over the coming weeks.
1. Jayson Tatum
Tatum was someone who always seemed a bit underappreciated in the card market, but that has already started to change. You could grab his base rookie Prizm in a PSA 10 for approximately $175 at the end of January, but that card is hovering at around $285 currently (price chart via Alt):
Of course, sweeping the team that entered the year as NBA title favorites out of the playoffs will do that for you. Tatum was spectacular in the Celtics’ sweep over the Nets, averaging 29.5 points, 7.3 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game. He legitimately outplayed Kevin Durant, who many believed to be the best player in the league entering the playoffs.
Given the Celtics’ utter domination of the Nets, it’s not surprising that they are now the favorites to win the Eastern Conference. Their odds of +370 to win the NBA Finals also trail only the Golden State Warriors’ mark of +280.
If the Celtics can make a deep postseason run, it will cement Tatum’s status as one of the best young players in basketball. He just turned 24 years old, already has three All-Star Game selections, and will likely make his second All-NBA Team this season. If he can add a trip to the Finals to his resume, Tatum will have accomplished plenty through his first five seasons.
Ultimately, Tatum is a prime target of mine, even at a slightly higher price tag. I think he’s a better player than guys like Ja Morant, LaMelo Ball and Anthony Edwards, who are viewed in the card market as more promising prospects.
2. Stephen Curry
The only reason Curry is No. 2 instead of No. 1 is that he’s already pretty darn expensive to begin with. Curry’s resume is already loaded. He has three rings, two MVPs and two scoring titles. He’s a member of the 75th Anniversary Team, an eight-time All-Star and the 2021-22 All-Star Game MVP. He holds the record for career 3-pointers made, has seven All-NBA selections and is generally considered one of the most revolutionary players in basketball history. Curry is beloved by fans and collectors alike, so getting a premium Curry card is going to set you back quite a bit.
That said, the standard Curry rookie card – which was made by Topps instead of Panini – has actually decreased over the past three months:
I would not expect that trend to continue. The Warriors slumped down the stretch this season, but they were almost never at full strength. In fact, the trio of Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson logged less than 10 minutes together during the regular season.
However, the Warriors have been the clear best team in basketball with Curry and Green on the floor this season. Including the postseason, they’ve played 867 minutes with that duo on the court. They’ve averaged 118.1 points per 100 possessions in that situation, and they’ve limited opponents to just 102.8. That’s good for an absurd Net Rating of +15.3. To put that in perspective, the Suns led the league this season with a Net Rating of +7.5. With Booker out for the next few weeks and the Suns struggling to get out of the first round, it’s not surprising that the Warriors have become the favorites in the West.
The one thing that Curry is really lacking from his resume is a Finals MVP trophy. Andre Iguodala won the MVP during the Warriors’ first title, and Kevin Durant won the MVP in the following two. If he can add that to his already stacked trophy case, Curry’s stock in the card market should only increase.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo
The Bucks have fallen a bit out of favor in the NBA Finals market. They’re expected to complete a 4-1 series victory over the Bulls on Wednesday, but that sets up a brutal matchup vs. the Celtics in the next round. Unfortunately, the Bucks will also be without Khris Middleton for the next few weeks, so he will likely miss the entirety of that series.
Still, I’m not ruling out Giannis. He established himself as the best player in basketball last season, and he threatened for another MVP award this season. If not for the fact that the Bucks didn’t need him to play big minutes – he averaged just 32.9 minutes per game this season – he may have won it.
He remains a dominant force on both ends of the court. The Bucks averaged +6.5 additional points per 100 possessions with Giannis on the floor this season, and they allowed -4.3 fewer points per 100 possessions on defense. That’s a double-digit swing.
Losing Middleton obviously hurts, but Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday are the Bucks’ top two players. As long as both of those guys stay healthy, they’ll have a puncher’s chance against the Celtics. If they can beat the Celtics, there’s no reason they can’t win the whole thing.
Winning another title – and another Finals MVP – would start to heat up the GOAT conversation with Giannis. We’re obviously a long way from that, but the list of players with two MVPs and two Finals MVPs is slim. Only seven players have done it: LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Tim Duncan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. That’s seven of the 10 best players in league history.
However, Giannis is already well established as an all-time great. He doesn’t need another Finals MVP to justify his spot in history, but it would likely help his card value. His price has stayed pretty stagnant over the past three months, and it’s way down after peaking around $3k last year:
4. Chris Paul
Paul is an interesting option in the card market at the moment. His team is reeling without Devin Booker, and there are legit questions about whether or not they’ll get out of the first round. Paul picked up an injury of his own in Game 4, so the Suns are seriously banged up at the moment.
However, one thing that Paul has over his contemporaries in the card market is its rarity. There just simply aren’t as many CP3 rookies as there are of guys like Giannis and Tatum. The 2005-06 Topps Chrome is generally considered his flagship rookie card, and there are only 302 PSA 10s in existence:
Rarity is always good, especially with an all-time great like Paul.
Make no mistake about it: Paul is one of the best point guards in league history. He hasn’t won the Finals – or even made it there – but he consistently makes his team better. Out of the 30 NBA teams, four have posted a franchise-best record with CP3 on the roster. That’s very impressive.
Paul would arguably benefit more than anyone else on this list with a title this season. Giannis and Curry already have rings, while Tatum is still a baby. Paul is running out of chances to secure a ring, and it would be massive for his legacy. Fair or not, there will always be people who consider CP3 a choke-artist or a loser if he never wins a title.
If the Suns can escape the first round and get Booker back in the near future, they are still very live to win the Finals this season. That makes him a player to monitor in the card market.
5. Brandon Ingram
Ingram has gone absolutely off for the Pelicans during the postseason. He’s scored at least 30 points in each of the past three games, which is a big reason why the Pelicans have been so competitive in this series, down 3-2 after a Game 5 loss on Tuesday.
That’s caused his price to skyrocket. You could get a PSA 10 of his base rookie Prizm for approximately $60 at the end of March, but that card is up to $89 now:
Ingram still has some appeal at that price tag. If the Pelicans can get past the Suns, it will give him another opportunity to showcase his talent in the following round.
Even if he can’t, Ingram has laid the foundation for 2022-23. Remember, the Pelicans have not gotten a single game from Zion Williamson this season. There’s no guarantee that he’s with the Pels to start next year, but if he is, they have a very promising foundation. Williamson, Ingram and C.J. McCollum would be an excellent trio, and they have some appealing role players as well.
Overall, I’m bullish on Ingram at this price tag.