Wow, it has been around 10 months since I last posted on this website. Just for some perspective, since my last post some 22 million babies in the world went from not having been conceived to keeping their delirious parents up all night. That’s some prolific planet populating. Each human baby is comprised of about 26 billion cells, all of which have figured out if they are a liver cell, a retina cell, or even a skin cell. All told that’s 572 quadrillion cells that got their act together. Meanwhile, my 37.2 trillion cells couldn’t even publish a single post.
The 26 billion cells that make up a newborn baby were just 64 cells, called a blastocyst, about 275 days ago. What’s amazing about those 64 cells is that not much of anything about them had been determined yet. They were pretty much indistinguishable from one another. But, those cells have a couple of things that clue them in on what to become. There are intrinsic cues, which fundamentally are genetics telling the cells they should be either this or that. It’s kind of like genetics have pre-programmed the cells. Then there are extrinsic or environmental cues that can change the destiny of a cell so that it becomes something else. These extrinsic factors could simply be based upon the position of the cell relative to other cells or signals from other cells that convince it to become something different. From a cellular level, it would be extremely hard to predict exactly what each cell will become. But, at a macroscopic level we have quite a bit of confidence that the group of cells will eventually form something that could anatomically be called a tiny human.
Why so much talking about cells and babies? Well, a new NBA season has been born. I think of it much the same way as all these cells becoming different parts of a mini-human. The components, or cells of the NBA season, have some genetic factors that will influence what happens. There are also extrinsic factors that will alter paths. Players and teams may have some NBA genetic code, but there is always opportunity for extrinsic factors that encourage them to become something completely different. This season is a perfect example. There will always be surprise teams, disappointing debuts, and rising stars. That is the macroscopic level of the NBA. But, at a cellular level of the NBA things are hard to predict.
If I had written a post back in March 2019 that predicted one of the following realities, which would you think to be the most ridiculous prediction?
1) The NBA.com rookie ladder on November 21, 2019 is as follows:
#1 Ja Morant
#2 Kendrick Nunn
#3 Eric Paschall
2) As of November 23, 2019 the Golden State Warriors have the worst record in the league.
3) Copies of 2018-19 Optic Luka Doncic Holo rookie cards, graded PSA 10, are selling for $2000.
I’m guessing most readers didn’t know Kendrick Nunn or Eric Paschall in March. Heck, many may not be aware of them still. The Warriors were just warming up for their run to the NBA Finals in March of this year. They still had Durant, Curry, Klay, and Draymond healthy and running at full speed. Finally, Doncic was putting up nice counting stats, but in March last season his field goal percentage was 39%, his 3 point percentage was 22%, and his free throw percentage was 65%. Not exactly setting the league on fire, but still getting impressive usage for a rookie.
So, how much of all the 3 realities described above are purely a function of NBA ‘genetics’ and how much is attributable to extrinsic factors? Doncic may feel like he was pre-destined to be great? Maybe he is. But I’m guessing there are many that felt the Warriors dynasty was destined to continue at a high level at least through this season. Others still probably felt that Zion Williamson was ready to become the next LeBron. Even the most ‘destined’ of players or teams can succumb to external factors. The scary thing is that it can happen at any time. It can also reverse course. Zion’s career isn’t over just because he’s missing some time in his rookie year. He could be sensational when he returns. He could also pack on 60 pounds and never be more than a role player. The Warriors could become the favorites again next year with a healthy Curry, Klay, Draymond, a top draft pick, and a top tier free agent signing. Finally, let’s hope not, but Doncic could suffer a terrible injury and become the Grant Hill of our generation. He could also lead the Mavs to the NBA title soon.
If you feel like you just knew that the Luka Doncic Optic cards would go for over 2 grand just a few weeks into his second season, did you also know the fate of the Warriors and that Nunn and Paschall would be two of the top 3 rookies at this point? I’m guessing not. Congrats if you are on the payout side of the Doncic lottery. But, as I’ve said before, there is far more randomness that plays into the appreciation of sports card than we like to think. Please keep that in mind when paying big bucks for cards. My number one piece of advice is to spend only as much as you can afford and collect the things and/or players you like the most.
Over the past several months I’ve had a few requests for data on products. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything new to report on the latest hobby darling, 2018-19 Optic. I shared data on the hobby release of the product in a prior post, but I don’t have any data on the retail side of things. Maybe I’ll find some time to pull more information together, but retail is typically the most challenging to figure out. I also have heard request for 2018-19 Optic Contenders. Frankly, I haven’t even watched a break for that product. I’m sure it’s nice, but I had too much going on in my life at that time to spend hours watching breaks. Finally, I have had several requests for data on 2018-19 Select. If you were in the Select group, you’re in luck! I do have data I have analyzed but haven’t posted here.
2018-19 Select was a hobby only release for Panini. Given the ubiquity of the internet these days, I would think that a hobby only product would be accessible to most everyone in the collecting community. But, it appears that love for Select, at least for NBA card collectors, has been limited by not being available at retail. It feels counter-intuitive to me. A hobby only product is often vastly more limited than one offered at hobby and retail. Seems like in time that it would become more desirable. National Treasures is hobby only. It doesn’t stop it from being adored by collectors. Maybe the set format, three 100 card ‘subsets’ that make up the full 300 card set, is just a little too weird for most collectors? But, 1996-97 Topps Finest didn’t seem to suffer much from the tiered format where players had multiple cards featuring multiple scarcity levels.
The rookie cards in Select feature game action shots, something Prizm and Optic don’t offer. I very much appreciate that about this set. Also, if you’re looking for value, by having only 100 subjects per tier the density of superstars and rookies in the set is high. Not every player is just duplicated in every tier, however. For example, Andrew Wiggins only shows up in the Premier level. Do you think his inclusion in the set is why he thought he was top 100 in the league?
Select does have it’s shortcomings however. First, there are the die cut Premier level parallel cards. Part of me thinks they’re cool looking. But, they’re a nightmare to store and keep in tip top shape. It takes an amazing design for collectors to really embrace them. I think Panini came up short when it comes to these die cuts. Next, there are the serial numbered Courtside parallels. Panini decided to take the most limited tier and make the serial numbered parallels have a checkerboard pattern. Topps Xfractors should have been the cautionary tale for Panini. People still collect the checkerboard pattern, but they typically have resulted in less desirability than plain refractor / prizm technology. Finally, there are Zebra print cards. Maybe they’re cool? I’m not totally sure. In my opinion the pattern is distracting and takes away from the card.
I collected data on 2018-19 Select from about 10 cases of the product. If you’re curious you can see the raw data in this spreadsheet. Based upon the quantity of serial numbered cards, I estimate 3600 total 12 box cases of Select were produced. Again, considering that there was no retail version of this product, that seems like a relatively small print run. Below is an estimate of the print run for all the base set un-numbered cards (base and parallels).
Have a look at the numbers on those silver prizms. The Concourse level seems downright limited compared to 2018-19 Prizm. Also, what’s that? The Courtside silver prizms are pretty stinking rare. Is this the most limited print run ever for a silver prizm? I don’t have data on previous Select releases, so I can’t say for sure, but it pales in comparison to any of the silver prizm print runs I’ve tracked in the past. So, if you’re into silver, Select has you covered and offers them in more limited quantities than found in other sets.
As a side note, the print run on the Zebras is tricky. It appears that the print run is similar for each tier, based upon the quantity available on eBay for each tier. If one tier were substantially more or less available, I would expect it to show up in the number of listed items. Regardless, the cards are pretty limited. Is the print run actually 14, 18, or 10? I can’t say with certainty. The print run of 14 is the estimate based upon the data I have, so I’m going with that.
If you happen to be into Luka Doncic rookie silver prizms, it is possible there is some value to be had with Select. Let’s compare some sale prices from within the last week of Doncic silver prizms graded PSA 10.
The Select cards are selling at a lower price than their Optic and Prizm counterparts, despite the lower print run and lower population report numbers. The same could be said of other sets when compared to Optic and Prizm, so this is not necessarily a unique situation. Make of it what you will.
Till next time – Jeff