Sports cards and the emergence of sports NFTs represent opportunities to bet on athletes and their situations in creative ways. I have been using sports cards for that exact purpose for roughly 15 years. One general situation that I have had success with is buying low on young, highly regarded athletes with at least one elite trait that either gets injured or otherwise disappoints early in their careers. James Wiseman checks all of those boxes, which makes speculating on him through sports collectibles purchases something NBA bettors should at least explore.
Now, the foundation for building any kind of successful betting process begins with recognizing what you do well and what you should be seeking out to make better decisions. I have made money on baseball players and I have been early on future NBA stars such as Steph Curry and James Harden in the past, but I’m very aware that I’m better at analyzing football players than basketball players. That’s why I reached out to our NBA guru Mike Gallagher for his assessment on Wiseman’s first year and future outlook in the NBA.
Mike Gallagher on James Wiseman
After two monster games to start his NBA career, things went bad for James Wiseman in a hurry. Zooming out, there aren’t many top prospects who were in as bad of a spot as Wiseman. He barely played in college, he was put into a complex system with his main competition for minutes being a coach’s favorite in Kevon Looney, he sprained his wrist in February, he broke protocols to miss time, and of course his meniscus tear ended his season. Wiseman is expected to have a 4-6 month recovery for his rehab, which could keep him out of camp in a few months.
When he was active, Wiseman was one of the biggest roller coasters in the NBA, but let’s hit the positives first. Wiseman’s offensive game is very unique with some shooting to go with his size, ranking fifth in pull-up attempts among 7-footers last year (Embiid, Poku, KP, Brook Lopez) and top 10 in catch-and-shoot attempts per game. He was fairly awful on those shots overall, but it’s unusual for guys his size to even have those opportunities. Around the basket, Wiseman was very good with a 75.4 FG% at the rim, ranking 10th among the 127 players with his volume and ahead of guys like Bam Adebayo, Rudy Gobert, and Deandre Ayton. His screen-setting game leaves a lot to be desired as just a 49.2 percentile scorer as a roll man, but it’s not like he was in a great system with the Steph-Dray action, and most bigs are generally pretty bad at screen setting coming into the league. His offensive game should improve in a big way as he develops.
Defensively, there are some major early concerns as the Warriors were routinely getting destroyed around the basket because of Wiseman’s horrendous defense. Wiseman would routinely be a step slow on rotations and would constantly fall for the bait on shot fakes or actions. Steve Kerr was getting frustrated by all the Wiseman questions because of the poor defense, but he likely would’ve still trotted him out there despite the poor play. He has the talent to impact the game on that end with his shot-blocking skill and talent, but it’s likely a work in progress for at least another year.
His outlook going forward still has to be very encouraging. It’s possible the Warriors do trade him to put him in a better spot (early reports are this is unlikely), but it’s always important to remember that sometimes rookies just don’t have it right away — see: Ayton, Deandre. Unless his string of bad luck continues, it’s hard to imagine a talented player his size can’t get his career off the ground in a big way in 2021-22.
The Upside Collectibles Case for James Wiseman
Draft Slot: We don’t have to make this unnecessarily complicated; Wiseman was the second overall pick in the 2020 draft and is therefore a high-end talent with considerable potential. Icons ranging from Kevin Durant all the way back to Bill Russell were also second overall picks in the NBA Draft.
Skill Set: My immediate takeaway when watching Wiseman was that he’s an explosive, fluid athlete for his position. I was also quickly intrigued by Wiseman’s ball-handling abilities and his ability to catch and shoot from beyond the arc. Collectively, Wiseman is a 7-footer that was highly effective at the rim as a rookie with rare athleticism, ball-handling, and shooting ability for a player his size.
Landing Spot: From a collectibles standpoint, as long as Steph Curry is still himself the Warriors are among the most popular and dangerous teams in the NBA. The current domestic and international interest in the Warriors (Golden State and the Lakers are the two most popular teams in China) paired with their potential to be a factor in the postseason means that Wiseman is in a position where he could be playing meaningful, high-interest games as early as next year. The Warriors’ draft assets (7th and 14th picks), the likely return of Klay Thompson, and the possibility that Wiseman could take a step forward in his second year make the Warriors a very intriguing team entering next season. Those aren’t common conditions for a second overall pick entering his second NBA season.
Wiseman Speaks Mandarin: Wiseman learned Mandarin while he was in high school due to the NBA’s popularity in China, which is something that I absolutely love because that means Wiseman was either smart enough to make this decision entirely on his own or he was smart enough to listen to someone else’s sharp future-building advice. On top of that, he was intelligent and dedicated enough to become fluent in Mandarin before he turned 20 years old.
Training with Kevin Garnett: In some ways this is similar to Wiseman’s decision to learn Mandarin for me, as a desire to work out with Garnett shows that Wiseman had a sharp plan to improve one of his problem areas this offseason. While Wiseman may not be able to partake in any training with Garnett this summer after his knee injury, it still shows that Wiseman is dedicated to his craft and that I’d be betting on an intelligent player.
Mychal Thompson’s Comments: Klay Thompson’s father and Lakers announcer Mychal Thompson first referred to Wiseman as a young David Robinson back in February and more recently framed the Warriors center as being the key to Golden State’s title hopes next season. I find this to be uniquely interesting as a former player and current NBA broadcaster that has seen an absolute ton of basketball compared Wiseman to a Hall of Famer despite his rookie-year struggles.
The Downside Collectibles Case for James Wiseman
Inconsistent Play: As Mike discussed, Wiseman was efficient at the rim while he struggled at range, left a lot to be desired in his screen-setting game, and was a liability on defense. From a collectibles standpoint, offense is much more important than defense, but unreliable defensive play can potentially reduce one’s playing time.
Lack of Experience: As Mike noted, Wiseman barely played in college and he then sprained his wrist before his season-ending meniscus tear this year. Since it often takes longer for big men to develop, the lack of playing time over the past two years could further delay Wiseman’s potential progress.
Injury Aftermath: While professional athletes have consistently bounced back from knee injuries in recent years, there are never any guarantees that someone will return to the field or court the same after a debilitating injury. So, it has to be acknowledged that Wiseman is a 7-foot-1 center coming off a lower extremity injury and there is no guarantee he’ll return as the same player or that he’ll be ready for the start of next season.
Trade Potential: Mike mentioned that despite some rumors, a trade is unlikely at this current juncture, but a potential trade to a less-relevant market or a less-competitive team could be a negative for Wiseman’s future card prices.
Landing Spot: In addition to what Mike mentioned about Wiseman entering a difficult situation in Golden State, another negative from a collectibles standpoint is that Curry will have to decline in order for Wiseman to have any shot at being the best player on the Warriors. If Curry declines, which he certainly didn’t show signs of last year, the Warriors would then become a weaker, potentially less-relevant team. While there is some chance that Wiseman plays at an All-Star caliber level while Curry is still a high-level player, the window for that duality won’t likely last for more than a few seasons.
Card Market Assessment
Our Cody Main (@cmain7) and Gary Hartman (@ghartman314) routinely discuss the general state of the collectibles market on their weekly Establish the Collection podcast (@CollectionETR). They also discuss the various products one can buy in the collectibles market. They are a great resource for those interested in buying sports collectibles.
Since my sports collectibles investing is almost entirely built on buying and then reselling specific players, market stability is more important for me than how high or low the overall market is. While historic sales numbers that have significantly increased interest in the collectibles market are all positives that create new opportunities, the market is more volatile right now than it was three years ago when it was less popular; at least when it comes to the more speculative items that I buy. That’s important because market volatility is another factor we need to contend with, as you can conceivably buy the right player at the wrong time in those types of environments. That’s among the reasons I check in with Gary and Cody before I start buying anything specific in any meaningful way.
How I Have Handled James Wiseman
I have handled Wiseman very similar to how I bought low on Joel Embiid during his early career injury issues. While their games and their backgrounds are not exact parallels, they were both inexperienced big men with versatile skill sets that were taken at the top of the draft whose early careers were derailed by injuries. Below is a listing of what I’ve bought of Wiseman so far, nothing super high-end and definitely not a capitalization type of bet from a bankroll standpoint.
James Wiseman Moments I’ve Bought
Series 2 Rare Double Badge Metallic Gold /499 x1
Series 2 Common Triple Badge Debut Moment /4,000 x3
Series 2 Common Double Badge /40,000 x 12
James Wiseman Cards I’ve Bought
Panini Prizm Base RC x 9
Panini Prizm Silver x 1
Panini Prizm Hyper x 1
I’m still on the lookout for another Metallic Gold Moment, another two Triple Badge Debut Moments, as well as something more significant in the traditional cards space. However, I’m only going to buy more if I can get an advantageous price, as this is more of a speculative play where I see the potential upside in Wiseman while also being very aware that there is a realistic path to his NBA career falling way below expectations.
Similar to Embiid, I’m not looking to try and sell at the absolute (potential) peak on Wiseman. So, the short-term events I have my eyes on where I’ll have to decide what I do with my Wiseman position are:
If he’s traded: I don’t want him to be traded, where that actually wouldn’t be the case in a lot of scenarios for basketball or baseball players, but for argument’s sake if Wiseman was part of a package sent to Portland for Damian Lillard, I would consider selling most of my position in that event as the next positive decision point for Wiseman in that scenario would be him becoming an All-Star caliber center. In general, I want more outs than that when I invest in athletes.
Start of the next season: While Wiseman’s injury status will play a major role in this, if he’s set to be ready for opening day there is usually a bit of a bump for relevant young players entering a new year.
The Warriors contend: If this were to happen next season and Wiseman was a legitimate factor in that endeavor (sometimes it just takes one game for a notable price bump), I’d have to evaluate how much Wiseman has improved and if the Warriors are likely to get to the Finals. If they did get to the Finals and Wiseman played well, I’d be more likely to sell in that scenario.
Wiseman elevates his game: Whether it be at an All-Star type level or getting close to that, when young players start to get into those conversations, their collectibles value tends to rise. My bets on Wiseman are essentially bets that he either gets to this level within the next few years or the Warriors have a good to great playoff run in that timespan, and that those outcomes are more likely than the downside scenarios.