Card Rankings

Who are the Best Basketball Rookie Cards From Each NBA Season?

best nba rookie cards

Knowing the best basketball rookie cards to get from each NBA season gives you a leg up on having an awesome collection of basketball cards! Something we like to do here is go through sports history to find out who is most collectable in each sport.

We already went through all 70-plus years of Topps baseball cards to track down the best rookie cards from each Topps baseball set in every year dating back to 1952. That has proven to be a pretty awesome card collecting tool for our fellow baseball card collectors, so we’re doing the same for basketball collectors.

(Don’t worry football card collectors, we’ll be doing the same exercise for you, too — finding the best football rookie cards to collect over the past 70 years or so.)

Why am I doing this? Well, many basketball card collectors have only come into the hobby in the past decade, or even in the past few years. Sure, they know who to collect in recent seasons because those players are still dominating on the hardwood. But these collectors also have interest in going back and picking up older cards. Unfortunately, they don’t always know who to pick up. That’s where this article comes in!

I’ve gone through the vintage sets, dating back to the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. (There are surprisingly very few basketball card sets from those decades!) I tracked all the Fleer sets, including the landmark 1986 Fleer basketball set. I’ve searched through all the Topps years, starting in 1969 and ending in the 2009-2010 NBA season. I did the same for Upper Deck basketball cards, which ran from 1991 to 2009 also, which is when Panini got an exclusive license to produce NBA cards. I’ve examined each year to find the best basketball rookie cards to get from each NBA season going forward.

I used PSA’s card values, along with the listings on both and to find the best rookie basketball cards worth owning.

Obviously, you might have a favorite NBA team whose players might hold a special place in your heart, so you’ll want to track down the rookie cards for those guys on your own. For instance, I’m a big Orlando Magic fan, so Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott are a couple of my all-time favorite players, whose rookie cards I love! But you could probably care less about 3D, even though he’s still awesome on NBA TV!

Another reason I write these articles and do videos based around finding all the best rookie cards is because I like to buy older packs and older blasters (check out Dave & Adam’s Card World for some older product!), but I’m not always sure which rookies I should be hunting from which sets! Backfilling your collection is a common thing these days as so many people have returned to collecting after 20 or so years off. Buying singles is fun, but ripping older wax is ever more fun!

Best Basketball Rookie Cards — Starting Back In 1948!

I will update this article frequently, as some player’s ascend in value and some decline. The most recent seasons will have a higher number of rookies to collect because we’re still waiting to see if they will fulfill their promise. As the seasons wear on, I’ll remove the rookies that have fallen by the wayside.

This only includes flagship sets, like Topps, Fleer, Prizm and Upper Deck. However, there are some sets not among that trio that hold specific rookie cards the others don’t have, and they deserve mentioning. For instance, David Robinson’s rookie card from the 1989 NBA Hoops set is certainly one worth collecting. But I won’t be referring to Topps Chrome, Finest, Fleer Ultra, Mosaic or any series like that. (Prizm became the flagship of Panini in 2012, so there are a few years when they weren’t the top set in basketball, despite Panini owning the record.)

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Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1948 Bowman Basketball

(To be fair, any rookie card – or any card at all – from the 1948 Bowman set is worth owning, but the most notable rookie card to get is George Mikan’s.)

  • George Mikan (HOF) No. 69

There were no notable sports card manufacturers making basketball cards between 1948 and 1957. Some smaller companies made some, which are certainly valuable, but not as ubiquitous as the cards from Topps, Fleer and other card companies.

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1957 Topps Basketball

  • George Yardley No. 2
  • Neil Johnson No. 3
  • Bill Sharman No. 5
  • Paul Arizin No. 10
  • Slater Martin No. 12
  • Dolph Schayes No. 13
  • Frank Ramsey No. 15
  • Dick McGuire No. 16
  • Bob Cousy No. 17
  • Tom Heinsohn No. 19
  • Bob Pettit No. 24
  • Ed Macauley No. 27
  • Vern Mikkelsen No. 28
  • Cliff Hagan No. 37
  • Tom Gola No. 44
  • Harry Gallatin No. 62
  • Jack Twyman No. 71
  • Bill Russell No. 77
  • Clyde Lovellette No. 78

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1961 Fleer Basketball

  • Al Attles No. 1
  • Elgin Baylor No. 3
  • Walt Bellamy No. 4
  • Wilt Chamberlain No. 8
  • Hal Greer No. 16
  • Richie Guerin No. 17
  • Bailey Howell No. 20
  • K.C. Jones No. 22
  • Sam Jones No. 23
  • Oscar Robertson No. 36
  • Guy Rodgers No. 37
  • Jerry West No. 43
  • Len Wilkens No. 44

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1969 Topps Basketball

  • Gail Goodrich (HOF) No. 2
  • Nate Thurmond (HOF) No. 10
  • Connie Hawkins (HOF) No. 15
  • John Havlicek (HOF) No. 20
  • Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabar) (HOF) No. 25
  • Billy Cunningham (HOF) No. 40
  • Bill Bradley (HOF) No. 43
  • Jerry Lucas (HOF) No. 45
  • Dave Bing (HOF) No. 55
  • Wes Unseld (HOF) No. 56
  • Willis Reed (HOF) No. 60
  • Lou Hudson (HOF) No. 65
  • Tom Sanders (HOF) No. 72
  • Elvin Hayes (HOF) No. 75
  • Earl Monroe (HOF) No. 80
  • Don Nelson (HOF) No. 82
  • Hal Greer (HOF) No. 84
  • Dave DeBusschere (HOF) No. 85
  • Walt Frazier (HOF) No. 98

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1970 Topps Basketball

  • Pat Riley (HOF) No. 13
  • Don Chaney (HOF) No. 47
  • Pete Maravich (HOF) No. 123
  • Calvin Murphy (HOF) No. 137
  • Jo Jo White (HOF) No. 143
  • Jerry Sloan (HOF) No. 148

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1971 Topps Basketball

  • Spencer Haywood (HOF) No. 20
  • Nate Archibald (HOF) No. 29
  • Dave Cowens (HOF) No. 47
  • Bob Lanier (HOF) No. 63
  • Rudy Tomjanovich (HOF) No. 91
  • Larry Brown No. 152
  • Rick Barry (HOF) No. 170
  • Charlie Scott (HOF) No. 190
  • Mel Daniels (HOF) No. 195
  • Dan Issel (HOF) No. 200
  • Louie Dampier (HOF) No. 224
  • Roger Brown (HOF) No. 225

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1972 Topps Basketball

This set is one of my all-time favorite sports card sets ever. From the beautiful and colorful design to the deep, deep checklist of Hall-of-Fame rookie cards, this set has something for everyone. I wrote up a more detailed review on the great 1972 Topps Basketball Card set here, if you’re interested in the rookie cards and the non-rookie cards that make this set stellar.

  • Phil Jackson (HOF) No. 32
  • Artis Gilmore (HOF) No. 180
  • George McGinnis (HOF) No. 183
  • Julius Erving (HOF) No. 195
  • Julius Erving All-Stars (HOF) No. 255

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1973 Topps Basketball

  • Paul Westphal (HOF) No. 126
  • Bob McAdoo (HOF) No. 135

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1974 Topps Basketball

  • Bill Walton (HOF) No. 39
  • Doug Collins No. 129
  • George Gervin (HOF) No. 196
  • Spurs Team Leaders (Gervin) No. 227
  • George Karl (HOF) No. 257

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1975 Topps Basketball

  • Keith/Jamal Wilkes (HOF) No. 50
  • Moses Malone (HOF) No. 254
  • Bobby Jones (HOF) No. 298

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1976 Topps Basketball

  • David Thompson (HOF) No. 110

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1977 Topps Basketball

  • Adrian Dantley (HOF) No. 56
  • Robert Parish (HOF) No. 111
  • Daryl Dawkins No. 132

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1978 Topps Basketball

  • Bernard King (HOF) No. 75
  • Dennis Johnson (HOF) No. 78
  • Jack Sikma (HOF) No. 117

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1979 Topps Basketball

  • Alex English (HOF) No. 31

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1980 Topps Basketball

This set was unique in that it had three mini-cards on one regular-sized card. So three panels of three players make up just one card, which is cool and frustrating all at once. Much like PSA, I just list the best rookie cards from 1980 Topps by the player and not the card number (since each single card has three different card numbers on it.)

  • Larry Bird (HOF) / Cartwright / Drew
  • Larry Bird (HOF) / Julius Erving / Magic Johnson (HOF)
  • Bridgeman / Larry Bird (HOF) / Brewer
  • Brown / Larry Bird (HOF) / Brewer
  • Maurice Cheeks (HOF) / Magic Johnson (HOF) / Boone
  • Maurice Cheeks (HOF) / Gervin AS / Chones
  • Johnson / Bird (HOF) Leader / Sikma
  • Long / Magic Johnson (HOF) Leader / Boone
  • May / Bird (HOF) Leader / Sikma
  • Sidney Moncrief (HOF) / Abdul-Jabbar / Gale
  • Van Breda Kolff / Erving / Magic Johnson (HOF)

The important takeaway here is that the players with rookie cards you want to target in this set are Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Maurice Cheeks and Sidney Moncrief.

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1981 Topps Basketball

  • Larry Bird (HOF) No. 4 – First Solo Card
  • Magic Johnson (HOF) No. 21 – First Solo Card
  • Bill Laimbeer No. 74
  • Kevin McHale (HOF) No. 75

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1986 Fleer Basketball

Once again, we come to a landmark basketball card set that has a great design and an abundance of great rookie cards. I did a more detailed review on this 1986 Fleer Basketball card set here, and this set is considered the first real set of basketball cards produced by a major manufacturer in five years. (Star Cards did create some sets in between, but I chose not to include them for this exercise because they weren’t in regular packs — they came in team packs.) That means there are five years of NBA rookies who get their first card in this set – including, of course, Michael Jordan.

Considering six members of the 1992 NBA Dream Team, the greatest team ever assembled, have their rookie cards in this set, then you get a better understanding of its importance in the hobby.

  • Danny Ainge No. 4
  • Charles Barkley (HOF) No. 7 – DREAM TEAM
  • Manute Bol No. 12
  • Clyde Drexler (HOF) No. 26 – DREAM TEAM
  • Joe Dumars (HOF) No. 27
  • Patrick Ewing (HOF) No. 32 – DREAM TEAM
  • Michael Jordan (HOF) No. 57 – DREAM TEAM
  • Karl Malone (HOF) No. 68 – DREAM TEAM
  • Chris Mullin (HOF) No. 77 – DREAM TEAM
  • Akeem Olajuwon (HOF) No. 82 – (Hakeem spelled his name this way back then, apparently.)
  • Kurt Rambis No. 89
  • Ralph Sampson (HOF) No. 97
  • Byron Scott No. 99
  • Isiah Thomas (HOF) No. 109
  • Spud Webb No. 120
  • Dominique Wilkins (HOF) No. 121
  • Kevin Willis No. 126
  • James Worthy (HOF) No. 131

Many card collectors attempt to collect this entire 1986 Fleer Basketball set, so if that’s something you are considering, join the 1986 Fleer Basketball Facebook Group – it’s pretty awesome.

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1987 Fleer Basketball

  • Detlef Schrempf No. 97

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1988 Fleer Basketball

  • Tyrone (Muggsy) Bogues No. 13
  • Dell Curry No. 14
  • Horace Grant No. 16
  • Scottie Pippen (HOF) No. 20 – DREAM TEAM
  • Mark Price No. 25
  • Dennis Rodman (HOF) No. 43
  • John Salley No. 44
  • Reggie Miller (HOF) No. 57
  • Dwayne Washington No. 71
  • Mark Jackson No. 82
  • Kenny Smith No. 100
  • John Stockton (HOF) No. 115 – DREAM TEAM
  • John Stockton All-Star (HOF) No. 127

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1989 NBA Hoops Basketball

I switched to NBA Hoops for this season because the major rookie of note is David Robinson, and this is where his rookie card resides.

  • David Robinson (HOF) No. 138
  • Steve Kerr No. 351

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1990 Fleer Basketball

  • Tim Hardaway (HOF) No. 63
  • Shawn Kemp No. 178

1990 Fleer Update:

  • Derrick Coleman No. U-60
  • Dennis Scott No. U-68
  • Drazen Petrovic No. U-81
  • Gary Payton (HOF) No. U-92

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1991 Upper Deck Basketball

I switched to Upper Deck for this season because the 1991 Fleer Basketball design is one of the worst ever. Also of note, you can buy the Michael Jordan rookie baseball SP1 card from the 1991 Upper Deck baseball product.

  • Larry Johnson No. 2
  • Dikembe Mutombo No. 3

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1992 Topps Basketball

This is the first basketball card set from Topps since 1981, which is why we were mostly listing Fleer before this. Also, Topps came out with Topps Gold in 1992, which were unnumbered parallel cards back then.

  • Shaquille O’Neal (HOF) No. 362
  • Alonzo Mourning No. 393

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1993 Topps Basketball

  • Chris Webber No. 224
  • Anfernee Hardaway No. 334
  • Tony Kukoc No. 316

An interesting set Topps came out with to go with this standard set was 1993 Topps Archives “The Rookies” 1981-1991. This was a set of cards that had would-be rookie cards from major NBA players from the years Topps didn’t produce basketball cards, in the design of the baseball cards from that year. So the would-be rookie card of Michael Jordan is done in the 1984 Topps Baseball design – and it’s pretty awesome. (You can buy a wax box of 1993 Topps Archives “The Rookies” on eBay for under $150.)

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1994 Topps Basketball

  • Jason Kidd No. 37
  • Grant Hill No. 211
  • Jalen Rose No. 378

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1995 Topps Basketball

  • Kevin Garnett No. 237
  • Arvydas Sabonis (drafted in 1986) – not available in Topps, but his 1995 Upper Deck RC is Card No. 267

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1996 Topps Basketball

  • Kobe Bryant No. 138
  • Steve Nash No. 182
  • Allen Iverson No. 171
  • Ray Allen No. 217

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1997 Topps Basketball

  • Tim Duncan No. 115
  • Tracy McGrady No. 125

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1998 Topps Basketball

  • Paul Pierce No. 135
  • Dirk Nowitzki No. 154
  • Vince Carter No. 199

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 1999 Topps Basketball

  • Ron Artest No. 113
  • Elton Brand No. 115

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 2000 Topps Basketball

  • Kenyon Martin No. 125
  • Mike Miller No. 129
  • Jamal Crawford No. 132

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 2001 Topps Basketball

  • Pau Gasol No. 223
  • Shane Battier No. 226
  • Richard Jefferson No. 233
  • Zach Randolph No. 239
  • Tony Parker No. 247
  • Gilbert Arenas No. 249

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 2002 Topps Basketball

  • Yao Ming No. 185
  • Jay Williams No. 186
  • Amare Stoudemire No. 193
  • Caron Butler No. 194
  • Carlos Boozer No. 217
  • Manu Ginobili – Topps Chrome No. 124

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 2003 Topps Basketball

  • LeBron James No. 221
  • Carmelo Anthony No. 223
  • Chris Bosh No. 224
  • Dwyane Wade No. 225
  • Kendrick Perkins No. 247

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 2004 Topps Basketball

  • Dwight Howard No. 221
  • Andre Iguodala No. 229

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 2005 Topps Basketball

  • Chris Paul No. 224

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 2006 Topps Basketball

  • Kyle Lowry No. 226
  • J.J. Redick No. 240
  • LaMarcus Aldridge No. 241
  • Rajon Rondo No. 251

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 2007 Topps Basketball

  • Kevin Durant No. 112

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 2008 Topps Basketball

  • Derrick Rose
  • Russell Westbrook

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 2009 Topps Basketball

  • Blake Griffin No. 316
  • James Harden No. 319
  • DeMar DeRozan No. 320
  • Stephen Curry No. 321

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 2010 Panini Donruss Basketball

Topps lost their license to produce NBA cards after the 2009-10 NBA season, so we’ll refer to Panini products for the next decade or so.

  • John Wall No. 228
  • DeMarcus Cousins No. 232
  • Gordon Hayward No. 236
  • Paul George No. 237

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 2011 Upper Deck SP Basketball

As a result of the lockout during the 2011-12 season, Klay Thompson’s official rookie cards were not released until 2012-13 products. The same goes for Kawhi Leonard and Nikola Vucevic. So, we’re listing the top rookie cards from the 2011 Upper Deck SP Basketball set, but understand that these cards have the players in their college jerseys.

  • Kawhi Leonard No. 27
  • Klay Thompson No. 23
  • Nikola Vucevic No. 24

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 2012 Panini Prizm Basketball

Panini Prizm began in 2012, and it’s now considered the flagship product of Panini’s suite of sets. Since this was the first Panini Prizm set, many players’ rookie cards are in this set, in spite of being drafted in previous years.

  • Kyrie Irving No. 201
  • Klay Thompson No. 203 – First in pro jersey
  • Jimmy Butler No. 205
  • Kawhi Leonard No. 209 – First in pro jersey
  • Kemba Walker No. 225
  • Anthony Davis No. 236
  • Bradley Beal No. 238
  • Damian Lillard No. 245
  • Nikola Vucevic No. 267 – First in pro jersey
  • Draymond Green No. 282
Best Basketball Rookie Cards

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 2013 Panini Prizm Basketball

  • Rudy Gobert No. 41
  • C.J. McCollum No. 293
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo No. 290

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 2014 Panini Prizm Basketball

  • Andrew Wiggins No. 251
  • Joel Embiid No. 253
  • Aaron Gordon No. 254
  • Marcus Smart No. 256
  • Julius Randle No. 257
  • Zach Lavine No. 262

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 2015 Panini Prizm Basketball

  • Devin Booker No. 308
  • D’Angelo Russell No. 322
  • Karl-Anthony Towns No. 328
  • Nikola Jokic No. 335
  • Myles Turner No. 340
  • Kristaps Porzingis No. 348

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 2016 Panini Prizm Basketball

  • Ben Simmons No. 1
  • Jaylen Brown No. 44
  • Brandon Ingram No. 131
  • Jamal Murray No. 175
  • Pascal Siakam No. 220
  • Dejounte Murray No. 236
  • Damontis Sabonis No. 255

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 2017 Panini Prizm Basketball

  • Markelle Fultz No. 1
  • Jayson Tatum No. 16
  • De’Aaron Fox No. 24
  • Bam Adebayo No. 51
  • John Collins No. 109
  • Donovan Mitchell No. 117
  • Lauri Markkanen No. 247
  • Kyle Kuzma No. 283
  • Lonzo Ball No. 289
Best Basketball Rookie Cards

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 2018 Panini Prizm Basketball

  • Michael Porter Jr. No. 32
  • Anfernee Simons No. 61
  • Jaren Jackson Jr. No. 66
  • Trae Young No. 78
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander No. 184
  • DeAndre Ayton No. 279
  • Luka Doncic No. 280
Best Basketball Rookie Cards

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 2019 Panini Prizm Basketball

  • Zion Williamson No. 248
  • Ja Morant No. 249
  • R.J. Barrett No. 250
  • Tyler Herro No. 259
  • Brandon Clarke No. 266
  • Jordan Poole No. 272
  • Keldon Johnson No. 273
  • Darius Garland No. 288
  • Nick Claxton No. 292

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 2020 Panini Prizm Basketball

  • Devin Vassell No. 252
  • Tyrese Maxey No. 256
  • Anthony Edwards No. 258
  • Tyrese Haliburton No. 262
  • James Wiseman No. 268
  • Caleb Martin No. 276
  • LaMelo Ball No. 278
  • Obi Toppin No. 280
  • Saddiq Bey No. 284
  • Patrick Williams No. 288
  • Cole Anthony No. 292
  • Immanuel Quickley No. 296
  • Desmond Bane No. 297

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 2021 Panini Prizm Basketball

  • Austin Reaves No. 165
  • Cade Cunningham No. 282
  • Quentin Grimes No. 285
  • Cam Thomas No. 297
  • Josh Giddey No. 301
  • Jalen Green No. 306
  • Jonathan Kuminga No. 307
  • Franz Wagner No. 310
  • Jalen Suggs No. 314
  • Alperen Sengun No. 318
  • Scottie Barnes No. 320
  • Evan Mobley No. 325
  • Herbert Jones No. 330

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 2022 Panini Prizm Basketball

  • Andrew Nembhard No. 227
  • Jabari Smith No. 228
  • Walker Kessler No. 234
  • Jalen Duren No. 239
  • Keegan Murray No. 245
  • Jalen Williams No.  246
  • Paolo Banchero No. 249
  • Shaedon Sharpe No. 250
  • Benedict Mathurin No. 254
  • Jaden Ivey No. 256
  • Jeremy Sochan No. 263
  • Chet Holmgren No. 266
Best Basketball Rookie Cards Paolo Banchero

Best Basketball Rookie Cards From 2023 Panini Prizm Basketball (COMING SOON)

  • Victor Wembanyama
  • Brandon Miller
  • Scoot Henderson
  • Amen Thompson
  • Ausar Thompson
  • Anthony Black
  • Bilal Coulibaly
  • Jarace Walker
  • Taylor Hendricks
  • Gradey Dick
  • Jaime Jaquez Jr.
  • Cam Whitmore

This is a living document, which means I will be adding and removing rookie cards from this list of the Best Basketball Rookie Cards as the seasons progress. My hope is you readers will also help me fill in holes I might have, like who I am missing, or who you think is worthy of being listed! Email me at and let me know!

Also, if you liked this article about the best basketball rookie cards from each season to collect, don’t forget to check out my article on the Best Rookie Cards From Each Topps Baseball Set dating back to 1952!

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