Top 10 Most Valuable Cards: 2021 Contenders Basketball

Contenders and Contenders Optic Rookie Ticket Autos have quickly become some of the most recognizable, liquid and desirable cards for basketball collectors over the past few seasons. The rookie ticket autos have short prints, serial numbers and a combination of both, with serial numbered inserts like Playoff /99, Stub /50, Finals /49, Cracked Ice /25, Championship 1/1s and Printing Plate 1/1s.

It’s notable also that the release date of Contenders is typically in May, and the release date of its Optic counterpart is in December (of the previous season).

For example, 2021-22 Panini Contenders released during May of the rookie season of 2021-22 rookies like Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green and Scottie Barnes. The Optic version was released in December 2022, at the beginning of those players’ second season in the league. 

In both cases, the timing of these releases allow sports card investors to have a huge sample size of evaluation time on the players they want to target from an investment perspective.

In this piece, we’re going to provide data on the Top 10 sales from Contenders 2021-22, which will include some unique SSPs in addition to the popular aforementioned Rookie Ticket Autos.

One thing to keep in mind as you read, is that typically prices of new releases start super high, then decrease over the subsequent year, creating a better potential “buy-low window” about a year after the cards come out.

Note: Sales data is based on the last 365 days.

1. Scottie Barnes 2021 Contenders #104 Rookie Ticket Auto – Raw – Sold for $703 on 4/23/2022

Last year’s Rookie of the Year is proving to be a future superstar in the NBA, playing multiple key positions in the Raptors starting line-up and is a threat for a triple-double every time he takes the court. What’s interesting about his 2021 Contenders #104 Rookie Ticket Auto is that it sold for $703 upon release, 37 times since, but most recently for only $134. This is likely due to the initial release hype, and is a perfect example of how sports card investors need to properly time their singles purchases in order to set themselves up for future profits. Grabbing this card now could pay dividends in the future while we’re still at the beginning of the 21-year-old Barnes’ career.

2. Alperen Sengun 2021 Contenders #116 Rookie Ticket Auto – Raw – Sold for $473 on 4/17/2022

Al-P, as he’s referred to by the Rockets’ broadcasters, was the 16th overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, and has quickly drawn comparisons to Nikola Jokic and Domantas Sabonis, but with some serious swag to his game. While big men don’t typically dominate the hobby, Sengun isn’t afraid to try to drive and dunk on anyone. His hustle, toughness and ability to score from anywhere on the floor makes the young Turkish star a fan favorite. His 2021 Contenders Rookie Ticket Auto has sold 55 times Raw over the last 365 days for an average of $78 per sale.

3. Cade Cunningham 2021 Contenders #101 Rookie Ticket Auto – Raw – Sold for $750 on 4/26/2022

Cunningham was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, but unfortunately has only played a total of 76 career games in two seasons. In spite of his injury issues, his 2021 Contenders #101 Rookie Ticket Auto has held value over 12 total sales since the release and first major sale of $750 on April 26, 2022. If you can find it for its last sold price of $285 on January 1, it could be a solid long-term investment.

4. Josh Giddey 2021 Contenders #106 Rookie Ticket Auto – Raw – Sold for $605 on 4/16/2022 

The 20-year-old sixth overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft has really started to come into his own as a 6-foot-8 point guard in his second season with the Thunder. He’s a triple-double threat every night and if he stays healthy, should see a large spike in card value as OKC becomes more competitive every year. Of the top 10 cards on this list, this is the one that has sold the most – a total of 81 times in the last 365 days.

5. Cade Cunningham 2021 Contenders #1 Permit to Dominate / (SSP) Sold Raw for $621 on 4/21/2022 and Sold for $634 in PSA 10 on 8/14/2022

The Permit to Dominate SSP is the second most popular type of card out of Contenders, but what’s interesting about the data surrounding Cade Cunningham’s #1 Permit to Dominate is that the Raw version sold for about the same price as the PSA 10 did four months later. It could be that August is a bad time to sell basketball cards, or it could be that grading these inserts introduces an unnecessary risk versus simply selling Raw.

6. Jalen Green 2021 Contenders #102 Rookie Ticket Auto – Raw – Sold for $596 on 4/28/2022

Like Cunningham’s RTA above, Green, the second overall pick, has held his value as well, selling raw for $596 on April 28, 2023, but having a latest sale of $460 on November 8, 2022 and a minimum sale of $360 across seven sales.

Most are holding Green to sell later, as he clearly projects to be one of the league’s top scorers over the next 5 to 10 years, and one of the most electrifying players on a solid young Rockets team with plenty of promise.

7. Jonathan Kuminga 2021 Contenders #107 Rookie Ticket Auto – Raw – Sold for $500 on 5/5/2022

Like Giddey, Kuminga is only 20 years old, and was taken one slot behind Giddey in the 2021 NBA Draft. He’s 6-foot-7, and on a Warriors team that should continue to compete for the Western Conference championship for years to come. As he starts to heat up and earn more playing time, look for his card value to increase and bounce back close to the $500 raw sale on May 5, 2022.

8. Franz Wagner 2021 Contenders #108 Rookie Ticket Auto – PSA 10 – Sold for $456 on 1/15/2023

The weird thing about the sports card market is that Wagner may end up being the best player on this list, but has trouble selling in the hobby. Why? Mainly because he’s stuck on a pretty dismal Orlando Magic team with a ton of other – more marketable stars – like Paolo Banchero and even Jalen Suggs, who was drafted a few picks ahead of Wagner but hasn’t earned the playing time Wagner has. Case in point, the 6-foot-9 versatile wing needs a Gem Mint grade to make the list, while others don’t.

9. Evan Mobley 2021 Contenders #3 Permit to Dominate / (SSP) – PSA 10 – Sold for $450 on 8/22/2022 

The third overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Mobley looks like he could be the next Kevin Garnett – from a skill set standpoint, anyway. And, he’s on a Cleveland team primed to compete in the Eastern Conference. His Permit to Dominate SSP sold three times in the last year and has dipped in value a bit. His RTA sells for a tick less and may be the better purchase.

10. Tre Mann 2021 Contenders #118 Rookie Ticket Auto – Raw – $444 on 4/16/2022

We’re really not sure what happened here, but my guess is that a Thunder super fan went nuts on a bid after the release of Contenders last year and overpaid for this RTA of the 18th overall pick. Since the initial sale, Mann’s RTA has sold 62 times for an average of only $42.

With the Sports Card Investor app, you can profit from the hobby you love by keeping up with trending cards, tracking real-time prices with Market Movers and buying items on eBay. Download the industry-leading app here for Apple or Android

Note to readers: If you purchase something through one of our affiliates, we may earn a commission.

Paul Hickey is a regular contributor to Sports Card Investor, the creator of the Sports Card Investment Report at, and the host of the Sports Card Strategy Show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and YouTube. He can be found on Instagram at @sportscardstrategy and on Twitter @nooffseasoncard

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