Some basketball card collectors avoided last season’s crop of first year players because they were already knew a bigger, better draft class was coming. With the season just days away and the first in-season products either already on the market or coming soon, it’s a good time to take a look at the players to watch on 2014-15 NBA rookie cards.
The strange draft saga of Andrew Wiggins almost jump started his cardboard potential before he’d donned a ceremonial draft jersey back in June. He was, temporarily, on the same team as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Massive television exposure, lots of wins, a deep playoff run, highlight plays… it would have been very big but the Cavs traded him away for superstar power forward Kevin Love. That means Wiggins is pushed out of the LeBron media circus, although it does give the first overall pick the chance to be the big star in Minnesota with more minutes and shots.
The Timberwolves may not be one of the most popular NBA teams but Kevin Garnett has shown that collectors will buy the rookie cards of a young superstar who plays there. Wiggins is already ahead of Garnett. When K.G. entered the NBA he was a skinny and unproven player just out of high school while Wiggins is already someone with a year of college basketball under his belt. Wiggins can elevate and basketball card collectors certainly pay for those types of highlight reel regulars. A pass-first point guard also has to be good for Wiggins and a lot of his dunks will come from Ricky Rubio assists. The auction prices for Wiggins cards on eBay indicate he will be very popular with collectors, as those who used to collect exciting, high-flying scorers like McGrady, Jordan and Carter are thinking they may have found their new favorite player.
If Wiggins is supposed to be the player from 2014 who is like LeBron from the 2003 draft, that makes Jabari Parker the player who could have card prices, statistics and a game like that of Carmelo Anthony. Parker will get to have a huge role just like Anthony did when he joined a Nuggets team that needed help everywhere. Parker is going to score, even as a power forward. Carmelo averaged 21 points as a rookie and Parker could exceed that if Coach Kidd gets the Bucks playing a fast game.
Basketball card speculators were very excited about tall and athletic Giannis Antetokounmpo and drove up his card prices last year. If Antetokounmpo brought the Bucks to the attention of some collectors then Parker will have many more watching Milwaukee games. Parker is on the cover of the box and each pack of 2014-15 NBA Hoops and at least one poll taken of NBA general managers indicates they believe he’ll be the Rookie of the Year which could mean Jabari Parker rookie cards are what collectors are chasing as the year goes on. In fact, most GMs believe he’ll have the bigger impact over the first five years.
One way for card collectors to decide if Parker or Wiggins is the player they want is to look at their preseason games, including when they play against each other. When Milwaukee went to Minnesota, Wiggins scored 10 points in 27 minutes as the T-Wolves rested Rubio while Parker played big minutes and brought in 21 points, 11 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks in a win. Overall this pre-season, Parker seems to be ahead, averaging 16.2 points and 6.6 rebounds through five games. Wiggins has been averaging 12 points a game, but a back injury has limited him in recent days.
How about the rest of the class? Collectors tend to like high flyers and two players who can jump out of a building are Aaron Gordon, selected at pick 4 by Orlando, and Zach Levine, the other rookie in Minnesota. Shawn Kemp and Blake Griffin are players Gordon has been compared to, and their monster dunks pushed their card prices up. Gordon will need minutes to show fans everything he can do, which includes great defense but the signing of Channing Frye by the Magic may keep Gordon’s minutes down at times. LaVine could be a very exciting player but unless Minnesota has injuries to, or trades away, Kevin Martin or Ricky Rubio, he may a few years away from large minutes. Some say LaVine could eventually play like Russell Westbrook, which would certainly move LaVine’s card prices upward.
Damian Lillard is one of the most popular young point guards for card collectors and the 2014 NBA Draft added many new point guards to the league. Playing time is something the Portland Trail Blazer had in his rookie season and maybe this season Elfrid Payton or Shabazz Napier will be in a similar situation which will make their cards must-have items. Payton finds himself in a very good spot, joining a team that is building with youth and could start him next to exciting Victor Oladipo in the Magic backcourt. “Payton will definitely turn some heads with his explosiveness, craftiness and tenacity,” wrote Josh Cohen of NBA.com this week, ranking Payton among his top ten.
The other Florida team acquired Napier, and if the Heat prefer his game at point guard instead of Chalmers or Cole it could mean a lot of minutes for the small guard who knows how to win. A player like Tyler Ennis, the point guard from Syracuse who hit some big shots in college, would have been a chance to be a favorite player of collectors but at the Suns he is now behind three other point guards and unlikely to get minutes.
Where the rookies play can be as important for their card prices as how they play, or how many minutes they play, and a major media market or a famous team can mean more fans for the new players. Julius Randle was a high pick by the Lakers, which is often enough to make a player have one of the more valuable rookie cards, and he looked likely to get plenty of playing time before they added Carlos Boozer. Randle, who was a high first round pick, should be a good investment for collectors over the long term as he can certainly put the ball in the basket.
With Steve Nash’s season (and possibly his career) over already, that could mean Jeremy Lin plays a lot and his backup could be rookie Jordan Clarkson. If that happens, Clarkson’s cards could suddenly become popular, especially if he is passing a lot to Kobe. On the other coast, Cleanthony Early wasn’t taken until the second round but due to being a New York Knick he will have plenty of fans. Playing time there may not be easy to come by, although Carmelo could play more power forward and that might see Early play more early in the season.
Many card collectors started as Chicago Bulls fans, and more were added when Derrick Rose arrived, so a lot of collectors will already be looking at starting a Doug McDermott collection. The best shooter in the draft, McDermott could see starting minutes if the Bulls have injuries or just because his shooting is too good to not use to spread the floor for Rose to attack the rim and for Pau Gasol to work in the paint. Dougie McBuckets flashed some of that ability when he hit 3 three-pointers in a preseason against Denver.
Celtics fans have two new players to consider, both picked in the first round. Guard Marcus Smart and swingman James Young will be counted on to bring the Celts back to glory. Rajon Rondo’s injury could mean extra minutes for Smart at the start of the season, and a bump to his card values if he can hit his shots. Young may be a star in the future, but as one of the youngest players taken in the draft he won’t have a quick start to his career.
A lot of teams pick for the future, but card collectors sometimes don’t like to wait as they need to decide right now if they want a player’s rookie cards. Last year collectors priced Nerlens Noel cards on his potential. This year, the Philadelphia 76ers have acquired another athletic player who may become a superstar center in the future but is injured at the moment in Joel Embiid. Noel is also a Rookie of the Year candidate after missing last season. That could push his card prices up and result in a good return on the investment collectors made in his rookie cards last season. In the future, Embiid and Noel could form one of the best tandems in the paint in the NBA, and block shots like Duncan and Robinson did for the Spurs and Olajuwon and Sampson did for the Rockets. But even if Embiid is a huge star, his card prices may not rival those of the smaller and more exciting players in the league.
Dante Exum didn’t play a lot of basketball in the year before he was drafted, by the Jazz with pick 5, and it looks like Utah won’t rush him as they have Burke and Burks to use ahead of him. Exum is a 6-6 Aussie who comes with the international chops that could translate into quick success and someone card collectors will be interested in.
Of course there are many other players in the draft who could have valuable rookie cards in the future. Nik Stauskas is in a bad situation for his card values right now, not only is he with the small-market Sacramento Kings but he is a shooting guard on a team that picked a shooting guard with their previous first rounder, Ben McLemore. Noah Vonleh of the Hornets is in a similar spot, while he was also a top 10 pick he is also in a position battle.
K.J. McDaniels was a second round pick of the 76ers but could see a lot of playing time. He is averaging over a block and a steal per preseason game and could become a defender like Shawn Marion. Rodney Hood of the Jazz, Adreian Payne of the Hawks and T. J. Warren of the Suns might find themselves playing strong minutes early. James Ennis of the Heat could be a surprising rookie, a second round pick a year ago, he could play a lot if Luol Deng misses games. During the preseason, Ennis scored 14 points against the Magic and 17 against the Cavaliers.
Early card prices can be influenced by a game shown on national television or one with huge statistics. When Michael Carter-Williams had a triple-double early in the 2013-14 season it pushed him into the spotlight for card collectors. Wiggins and the Minnesota Timberwolves will be shown on ESPN in early November, and a big game there in front of a large TV audience could boost his prices. The Milwaukee Bucks miss out on national exposure but in December the Bucks go to Cleveland twice and if Parker can play well against Love and LeBron it will certainly get him noticed. McDermott and Randle will appear on national TV early in the season, and they along with Spur Kyle Anderson will make many appearances during the season although their minutes actually on the court may be inconsistent.
Hoops was the first product to hit the market with players in their NBA uniforms. Hot Signatures and the parallel to that called Red Hot Signatures are leading the early sales. Kobe’s All-Rookie Team and Rise ‘N Shine cards also have a following, with Wiggins Rise ‘N Shine memorabilia cards selling for around $25 and a Prime, numbered to 25, example, going for $100. Hoops does include 1 of 1 cards of the rookies.
If there is one easy prediction to make for card prices it is that Jusuf Nurkic of the Denver Nuggets will not ignite any bidding wars, although his preseason numbers have been very good. A gigantic, slow center who is a backup to Mozgov and McGee isn’t going to capture the imagination of many card collectors even if he did go at pick 16 in a draft full of talented players. Predicting which rookies will be money for card collectors is not easy, but by looking at who was popular in the past with collectors it can produce an educated guess, and for this season it looks like Wiggins and Parker may be the players who live up to their draft position, although Parker might have the biggest numbers in year one.
Below is a live list of the most watched 2014-15 NBA rookie cards on eBay.