Searching for Value in Sports Cards: Five Undervalued Superstars
Updated: Nov 7, 2021
While a lot of investors are pouring their money into young players such as Luka Doncic, LaMelo Ball, Zion Williamson, Jayson Tatum, and Trae Young, a lot of proven stars continue to fly under-the-radar. Already at five-figure prices, investing in young players becomes a massive gamble because they need to become MVP-caliber players in order to justify their prices. A lot of proven stars and former-MVPs are being forgotten in favor of the "new toys" in the card market. If I had to choose any five cards to hold for the next 5-10 years, here are five players/cards I would be confident with.
1. James Harden National Treasures Rookie Patch Auto ($58,800 BGS 10)
Comparison: Luka Doncic NT RPA ($242,000 BGS 9.5)
James Harden, the 2018 NBA MVP, has nine all-star and seven All-NBA selections along with three scoring-titles to his name. Harden averaged a whopping 36.1 points per game in his MVP season to go along with 6.6 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game. Only Michael Jordan averaged more points per game in a season (37.1) since the three-point line was invented in 1979. At 32-years-old, Harden is still one of the most skilled players in the NBA and he has plenty of good years left. In Brooklyn, Harden should be in a prime position to compete for multiple championships alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
In comparison, Luka Doncic is a two-time all star with two-time All-NBA selections so far in his young career. Doncic is just 22-years-old and appears to have a bright future ahead, potentially becoming one of the faces of the NBA. However, it is difficult to expect any player to achieve what Harden has achieved so far in his career. As a young player, a lot of ups and downs are to be expected from Doncic. Since the NBA eliminated soft foul calls entering this season, the league has been noticeably more physical. Doncic has struggled to adapt to the rule changes so far, and he looks a step slow compared to how he played in last year's playoffs. No matter how accomplished Luka Doncic becomes, I find it nearly impossible to justify any player's card value being over five times higher than James Harden.
2. Paul George National Treasures Rookie Patch Auto ($1,600)
Comparison: Jayson Tatum NT RPA ($18,000)
Paul George is a seven-time all-star with six All-NBA and four All-Defensive Team selections. George was third in NBA MVP voting in 2019, trailing Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden. In that season, George averaged 28.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.2 steals per game. At 31-years-old, George is still in his prime and he has been phenomenal so far this season. Without Kawhi Leonard, George has carried the load for the Clippers and he is second in the league in both scoring (27.9 points per game) and steals (3.0 steals per game).
On the other hand, Jayson Tatum is a two-time all-star and has been selected to one All-NBA team so far in his young career. At 23-years-old, Tatum has already established himself as one of the top scorers in the NBA. However, he will need a lot to go right in order for him to surpass Paul George's career. What level does Tatum need to reach in order for his cards to justify a price tag more than ten times that of Paul George's cards? Like the Harden and Doncic comparison, I'm not sure any player's card value should be worth ten times more than Paul George's cards.
3. Russell Westbrook Exquisite Rookie Patch Auto (~$5,000)
Comparison: Ja Morant NT RPA ($17,000)
Russell Westbrook, the 2017 NBA MVP, is a nine time all-star with nine All-NBA selections and two scoring titles to his name. I find it ridiculous how low Westbrook's Exquisite RPA is, one of his premier cards. Westbrook is one of the NBA's most revolutionary players. In his MVP season, Westbrook had one of the greatest regular seasons of all time, averaging 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists per game. Previously, only Oscar Robertson had ever averaged a triple-double over a full season, doing so once in 1961/62. Westbrook has averaged a triple double over four of his last five seasons and has shattered triple-double records. Ever since Westbrook's emergence, triple-doubles have become more of a common feat. In the 2020/21 season, the rate of triple-doubles increased nearly 700% compared to 2011, where there were only 18 across the entire season.
Westbrook is one of the most influential players in the game, changing the game and how people view the triple-double. When Westbrook retires and people look back on the NBA in 10, 20, even 50 years, he will be remembered as a pioneer of the game.
In comparison, Ja Morant, the 2020 Rookie of the Year, is an electrifying young point guard who is only 21-years-old. However, with no all-star appearances to his name, does his potential justify his current $17,000 price tag? While Morant is certainly fun to watch, his game still has a lot of holes. Most noticeably, he is a below average three-point shooter in an increasingly three-point reliant league, shooting just 32% from beyond the arc over his career. Even if Morant manages to become one of the league's top point guards, it is highly unlikely that he will match Westbrook's accolades and impact on the game. I see no reason for Morant's card prices to be over three times higher than Westbrook's prices.
4. DeMar DeRozan National Treasures Gold Rookie Patch Auto ($1,500 BGS 9)
Comparison: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander NT Gold RPA ($28,250 BGS 9.5)
DeMar DeRozan is undoubtedly one of the most underrated and undervalued players in the NBA. Over nine years in Toronto, DeRozan emerged as one of the best players in Raptors history, with his best year coming in 2016 when he averaged 27.3 points per game. His lethal mid-range game makes him an elite and efficient scorer, but with the emergence of the three-point shot, people are forgetting about how great DeRozan is. When DeRozan was traded to the Spurs in a deal for Kawhi Leonard, he seemingly fell off the map, even though he still averaged 21.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 6.2 assists on 50.1% shooting over three years in San Antonio.
As a four-time all star with two all-NBA selections, DeRozan's prices are criminally low and are due for a bump. So far this year, DeRozan has been thriving in Chicago. He is finally in a situation where he doesn't have to do too much, and this change of scenery has rejuvenated his career. DeRozan is averaging 27.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game on 50.6% shooting so far this year, leading the Bulls to a 6-2 start. With the NBA becoming more physical and the re-emergence of the mid-range shot, DeRozan has re-established himself as one of the league's most dominant players.
Looking at Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, he appears to be more of a point guard, but a lot of his game reminds me of DeRozan. Gilgeous-Alexander always plays under control at his own pace, and he excels in the half-court offense. He is always looking to drive the ball and thrives inside the three-point arc, similar to DeRozan. While SGA certainly has a lot of upside, he still has no all-star or all-NBA appearances to his name. With his gold NT selling for over $28,000, he would need to far surpass DeRozan and develop into one of the league's top guards to justify his current price tag. However, he is stuck on a rebuilding Thunder team for the foreseeable future, and in a loaded Western Conference, it seems difficult for him to establish his name as a star like DeRozan has. Nonetheless, investors continue to pour money into SGA. I was shocked when I saw the Gilgeous-Alexander's NT Gold RPA sell for over 18-times more than a similar card of DeRozan.
5. Kyrie Irving National Treasures Rookie Patch Auto ($2,200 BGS 9)
Comparison: Trae Young NT RPA ($50,655 BGS 9.5)
Kyrie Irving, a seven-time all star with three All-NBA selections, is widely regarded as one of the most skilled point guards to ever play the game. Irving may go down as the ball-handler of all time, with millions of young players across the world trying to replicate his moves. The 2016 NBA Champ and 2012 Rookie of the Year is still just 29-years-old, and he has plenty of all-star seasons left in him. Despite Irving's ongoing controversy regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, I find it hard to believe that he continues to sit out beyond Christmas amidst his prime years. As he continues to sit, people are forgetting how dominant a player he is when he plays. Like Curry and Westbrook, Kyrie Irving has had a profound impact on the game of basketball and will remembered far past his retirement, especially because of his immensely-popular shoe brand.
While Trae Young had a phenomenal first three years of his career, including a brilliant playoff run in 2021, he still has a long way to go to reach the level of Kyrie Irving. Still just a one-time all star, Young is capable of putting up huge numbers, but he is often inefficient and turnover-prone. For his career, Young shoots just 43% from the field and 34% from three, averaging 4.2 turnovers per game. I would be much more confident holding an already proven superstar in Kyrie Irving than the exciting but unpredictable Trae Young, especially considering that an Irving NT RPA is just 4% of the price of a Young NT RPA.
With the NBA becoming more physical again, a lot of proven veterans like Paul George and DeMar DeRozan are thriving while most young players are struggling to adapt. Many investors are constantly looking for the "next big thing", leaving the door wide open to invest in undervalued superstars. Premier cards of proven-stars are reaching shockingly low prices compared to their unproven counterparts. In the long run, new toys eventually become old toys, so it's extremely difficult to justify paying absurd five and six figure price tags for the currently hyped-up batch players. Instead, I would recommend looking for value in already proven stars at fractions of the price, who are much safer options still with plenty of upside.