LeBron James and James Harden rookie cards flanking the NBA MVP trophy
TRADING CARDS & COLLECTIBLES

Using NBA MVP Odds to Rank Rookie Card Opportunities

Trading card investors can get ahead of the game by drawing the right conclusions from the state of the 2021 MVP race.

With the NBA regular season nearing its final chapter, it’s time to take a deep dive into the MVP race. With due respect to the ongoing reign of Giannis Antetokounmpo, the field has narrowed, leaving four especially compelling contenders for the NBA’s most prestigious individual award: Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, James Harden, and LeBron James.

This had us wondering if the 2021 NBA MVP betting odds for this elite group might offer insight into investment opportunities in their respective rookie card markets. With that in mind, let’s look at what collectors can learn from how four of the league’s most dominant players stack up in the race, with odds as of March 31 via DraftKings.

LeBron James

LeBron James 2003 Topps Base rookie card in PSA 10 gem mint condition
LeBron James’ 2003 Topps Base rookie card

MVP Odds: +750 (risk $100 to win $750)

Topps Base Price: $7,600

As amazing as it is to witness a player sitting near the top of the MVP race in his 18th season, no accomplishment should be considered overly surprising when it comes to the legend that is LeBron James.

Having started the season at around a +750 dog at most sportsbooks to win his fifth league MVP award, James had been steam-rolling his competition en route to taking the Lakers the NBA’s second-best record through the winter. However, James’ high ankle sprain — paired with the Achilles tendinosis issue teammate Anthony Davis continues to deal with — caused his odds to slide back towards their initial standing.

When discussing this season exclusively, the $7,600 price point, ankle problems, fatigue risk associated with a shortened offseason, and the Lake Show’s ongoing stretch of games ahead all make both an MVP bet and short-term rookie card prospects a higher risk than I look for in my investments.

Regardless of the Lakers’ performance this season, however, LeBron James rookie cards are clearly the best long-term investments of all the current MVP candidates. And no one else is close.

Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid 2014 Panini Base Prizm rookie card in GMA 10 gem mint condition
Joel Embiid’s 2014 Panini Base Prizm rookie card

MVP Odds: +650

Panini Base Prizm Price: $820

Arguably the best play on this list from a value perspective just a few weeks ago, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid has seen his MVP campaign potentially derailed by a knee injury earlier this month. Unlike players like LeBron and James Harden, however, Embiid’s Panini Base Prizm rookie card is more widely available, with a population of 1,016 PSA 10s.

Putting that aside, at “only” $820 per card, it’s reasonable to expect that the Prizm will see some sustained growth if Embiid can return in time to keep the Sixers atop the Eastern Conference — they’re tied with the Nets at No. 1 as of this writing – and return to the form that had him deeply entrenched in the MVP conversation.

James Harden

James Harden 2009 Topps Base rookie card in PSA 10 gem mint condition
James Harden’s 2009 Topps Base rookie card

MVP Odds: +500

Topps Base Price: $7,500

The newest component piece of Brooklyn’s three-headed monster, James Harden has been every ounce of his dominant self since joining forces with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. In fact, with Durant currently sidelined with a hamstring strain and Irving just returning this week from a personal absence, Harden has caught fire. Here and now, he’s the man most responsible for carrying the Nets to the top of the East.

In response, Harden’s card market has exploded, with his PSA 10 Topps rookie card gaining more than 300% since his trade from the Rockets. It topped out at $9,100 earlier in March after sitting at just $2,000 fewer than two months ago.

However, having dipped back down to $7,500 in the past week, the question remains whether Harden’s Topps rookie is experiencing a reaccumulation phase ahead of the playoff push or whether “smart money” types are using the increased attention to book profits now. We’ve seen the latter strategy play out in a number of markets, including Michael Jordan’s iconic 1986 Fleer and LeBron James’ 2003 Topps Chrome.

Regardless, with a minuscule population of just 176 cards, it seems likely that a second MVP award for one of the greatest scorers the league has ever seen will, on a long enough timeline, only increase the value of this rare gem.

Nikola Jokic

Nikola Jokic’s 2015 Panini Base Prizm rookie card

MVP Odds: -113

Panini Base Prizm Price: $1,450

Initially a surprise contender in the MVP conversation but less and less so by the day, Nikola Jokic has dominated his competition all season long and now stands as the legit favorite to win the 2021 edition of the award.

While this is good news to those who got on the Joker train early — the Nuggets star’s preseason odds stood at a whopping +3000 — the impact of his dominant season on the rookie card market is less certain.

Despite being the odds-on favorite at this time, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Jokic’s Panini Base Prizm rookie card prices stall if the Nuggets are unable to close the season in the top four in the West. Plus, Jokic’s PSA 10 prices already climbed nearly 300% over the past 6 months.

Not to mention that the rookie card market is notoriously tough on big men. But don’t tell that to his coach, Michael Malone.

So, while Jokic has definitely earned the inside track to his first MVP award, the race will likely come down to King James and Embiid’s injuries, as well as who can best propel their teams toward the playoffs over the most grueling stretch of the regular season. For what it’s worth, the Nuggets sit fifth in the Western Conference as of this writing.

Additionally, it would be foolish to rule out the trailing Giannis Antetokounmpo (+800), Damian Lillard (+1200), and even Luka Doncic (+1400) from working their way back into the conversation should they erupt and start playing their very best ball of the year.

The window is closing quickly on the latter two, but the Joker can’t pretend he has this thing in the bag quite yet. Trading card investors ought to prepare accordingly.