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Fantasy Basketball: Are these hot starts sustainable?

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By Mike Barner, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

There have been plenty of surprisingly hot starts for teams at the beginning of the season. The new-look Bulls are 6-1, which included a furious comeback win over the Celtics on Monday. The Wizards have started off the post-Russell Westbrook era with a 5-2 mark. The Warriors have also been impressive with an early 5-1 record.

As far as individual players go, there are a few hot starts worth mentioning across the fantasy basketball landscape. The key to winning a title if you have any of these players on your squad might be identifying if that player is more likely to come back down to earth or if their production is truly sustainable over the long haul.

Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

Morant was a big name who carried plenty of hype for fantasy into last season. He wasn’t a complete flop, but he didn’t exactly excel, either. The good were his averages of 19.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 7.4 assists and 1.2 three-pointers per game. The bad were his low three-point volume and general lack of defensive stats to go along with him shooting just 44.9 percent from the field and 72.8 percent from the charity stripe.

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Could this be the season that Morant puts forth a dominant fantasy campaign? He’s come out of the gate firing on all cylinders, averaging 28.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 2.1 three-pointers. He’s even averaged 1.7 steals while shooting 52.4 percent from the field and 82.5 percent from the free-throw line. While he probably won’t be able to maintain that type of efficiency from the field throughout the entire season, he’s not a player I would be trying to sell high on after two weeks.

Miles Bridges, Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets were busy this offseason, adding Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mason Plumlee in their attempt to make a run at a playoff spot. The added depth could have posed an issue for Bridges, who averaged 12.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.8 three-pointers across 29 minutes per game last season. However, injuries have helped him average 36 minutes per game this season. He’s used his newfound playing time to post stellar averages of 23.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.8 steals and 2.6 three-pointers.

Charlotte Hornets forward Miles Bridges (0)
Miles Bridges is making the most of his increased opportunity. (AP Photo/Matt Kelley)

Not only is Bridges playing more, but his usage rate has jumped to 25.2 percent, which is nearly eight percentage points higher than last season. Part of that can be attributed to Terry Rozier having missed five of eight games because of an injury. As he and P.J. Washington, who also missed a couple of games, start to round into form, Bridges could see a decline in both minutes and shot attempts. Bridges’ grasp on the starting job over Washington — who started most of last season — looks to be firm, but the Hornets suddenly have a lot of mouths to feed, so it might be worth at least exploring some sell-high deals involving Bridges.

Al Horford, Boston Celtics

After appearing in just 28 games for the rebuilding Thunder last season, Horford was brought back by the Celtics during the offseason. He appeared in at least 68 games in each of his three seasons with Boston, averaging at least 12.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.1 three-pointers in each campaign.

He’s been busy through his first five games this season, averaging 14.4 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.2 three-pointers and a whopping 3.2 blocks. Horford should remain in a prominent role this season, but it’s going to be difficult for him to continue to rack up rebounds like this given that he hasn’t even averaged more than eight rebounds per game since the 2013-14 season.

He’s also never averaged more than 1.5 blocks per contest, so some serious regression will be on the horizon in that department. If you can find a fantasy manager who will give you a premium package in a trade, the time could be right to move Horford.

Spencer Dinwiddie, Washington Wizards

After missing all but three games with the Nets last season because of a knee injury, Dinwiddie was brought in to help replace Westbrook for the Wizards. He’s shown that he can take on a leading role in the past, including in the 2019-20 season when he averaged 20.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.9 three-pointers per game.

Dinwiddie hasn’t shown many signs of rust with his averages of 18.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 2.0 three-pointers in 32 minutes per game. However, he hasn’t played in both games of a back-to-back set yet and might not for much of the season. Still, with his 25.9 percent usage rate and ability to rack up assists playing alongside Bradley Beal, he could fairly easily maintain this level of success throughout the season.

Montrezl Harrell, Washington Wizards

After functioning as an extremely productive member of the Clippers’ bench, Harrell’s move to the Lakers last season put a damper on his production. He was still efficient, shooting 62.2 percent from the field, but he saw his minutes drop to 23 per game, leaving him to average only 13.5 points and 6.2 rebounds.

Harrell’s start to his tenure with the Wizards has provided a breath of fresh air for his fantasy value. He’s averaging 32 minutes per game, which has helped him generate averages of 18.4 points and 9.9 rebounds.

With that being said, there is a lot to unpack here.

He started two games with Daniel Gafford injured which certainly aided his playing time. Also, Thomas Bryant (knee) and Rui Hachimura (not injury-related) have yet to play in a game. Once everyone is healthy, Harrell’s playing time could take a significant hit. Now might be the perfect time to start floating out offers to trade him.

Tyler Herro, Miami Heat

Coming off of an excellent showing in the Orlando bubble, Herro had somewhat of a letdown sophomore season. His counting stats were good-not-great, but his 43.9 percent shooting from the field — coupled with minimal contributions on the defensive end — limited his appeal in roto formats.

Through his first seven games, Herro has once again provided next to nothing defensively (one steal, zero blocks in 221 minutes). However, he’s averaged 22.4 points and 2.9 three-pointers thanks to a 29.3 percent usage rate — higher than Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, LaMelo Ball and James Harden, and a significant jump from last season’s figure (23.5% USG).

The 21-year-old has also chipped in 6.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists while taking on a large role within a Heat bench that isn’t as deep as it was a year ago. As the season wears on, the usage rate could gradually regress, but the rest of Herro’s stat profile looks like it could be here to stay.