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USATSI

The New Year can often represent a turning point for players and teams – hopefully for the better. While January was a tough month for some usually-great teams – Milwaukee went 7-8 and Utah went 4-12 – it also saw some struggling teams find their stride, with Boston going 10-6 and the Mavericks going 12-4.

For fantasy, we will focus on just the good from January. Below is a list of the 10 best fantasy players from last month on a per-game basis in eight-category leagues (minimum of 10 games played). Can they keep it up in February?

Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

Jokic put up historic numbers last month, and his fantasy dominance during the period rivals that of James Harden's dominance from the 2018-19 season – one of the best fantasy seasons ever. In January, the reigning MVP recorded (in just 33.7 minutes per game) 26.6 points on 60.1 FG% and 88.0 FT%, 13.2 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 1.8 threes and 1.4 steals. Eventually, Jamal Murray will return, probably cutting into Jokic's usage, but the big man still projects to be the No. 1 fantasy asset going forward.

Joel Embiid, 76ers

Jokic and Embiid are likely the frontrunners for MVP. While Embiid didn't reach too close to Jokic last month, he was still the second-best fantasy player and provided more points and blocks than Jokic. In 32.1 minutes, Embiid averaged 32.1 points on 54.2 FG% and 80.9 FT%, 10.8 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.0 threes. If the 76ers manage to trade Ben Simmons before the deadline, a new face could cut into Embiid's usage, but the center still projects to be the No. 1 option in that situation.

Trae Young, Hawks

Young started playing better in mid-November and has carried that momentum through January. His scoring ability from everywhere on the court, combined with his excellent passing and high usage rate, makes him one of the best point guards to roster in fantasy, and that isn't expected to change at any point this year or in the years to come. In January, Young averaged 28.2 points on 45.1 FG%, 89.4 FT%, 9.1 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 3.5 threes and 1.2 steals. His poor defensive numbers leave something to be desired, but that's about the only hole in his game at this point.

James Harden, Nets

It turns out that even this "struggling" version of Harden can still put up Top 5 fantasy production with ease. He's seeing more usage than usual due to the absence of Kevin Durant (knee), and with Durant out through the All-Star break, that usage rate will stay elevated. Last month, Harden averaged 24.2 points on 42.7 FG% and 87.2 FT%, 10.8 assists, 7.8 rebounds, 2.1 threes and 1.0 steals. 

LeBron James, Lakers

James barely makes the cut for this list since he played only 11 games in January. He missed the final three games of the month with a knee injury that seems like it could cost him a chunk of time moving forward. Still, he had an excellent January covering up for the absence of Anthony Davis and the struggles of Russell Westbrook. James averaged 30.3 points on 51.6 FG% and 73.3 FT%, 8.1 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.1 blocks. His improved free-throw percentage and defensive numbers have caused a significant spike in fantasy value compared to last season.

Fred VanVleet, Raptors

Coach Nick Nurse isn't shy about giving his starters plenty of run and using a shallow bench, and that's exceptionally evident with VanVleet, who saw 40.0 minutes per game last month. That helped him rack up enough counting stats to offset his abysmal 38.8 FG%, though his 87.0 FT% was nice. He averaged 23.8 points, 7.7 assists, 5.0 threes (!), 4.0 rebounds and 1.8 steals. The absurd volume of threes will undoubtedly hurt his field-goal percentage, but he still needs to get that above 40%.

Dejounte Murray, Spurs

One of the most under-covered storylines in the NBA is Murray having a breakout season. While the Spurs are struggling, Murray is keeping them afloat. Though he's hardly a three-point shooter (1.3 makes), he's still racking up 22.9 points through efficient shooting from the field (46.9%) and from the charity stripe (80.0). Murray's passing has been excellent, as he averaged 9.9 dimes in January with just 2.8 turnovers. Plus, his defense is great, as he posted 2.1 steals, not to mention 8.6 boards. He should continue thriving going forward.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

Milwaukee can't seem to find its groove this season, but it's not through any fault of Antetokounmpo. Notably, his free-throw percentage (77.5%) rose in January, helping fuel an increase in points and overall fantasy value. In 33.1 minutes, he averaged 31.5 points on 53.0 FG%, 10.8 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.0 blocks. At this point, we know exactly what to expect from the Greek Freak.

Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves

Towns and the Wolves continue to impress, as they've climbed up to seventh in the Western Conference at 26-25. Towns and Anthony Edwards are the primary offensive engines, and that shows in Towns' well-rounded numbers. Last month, he averaged 24.2 points on 52.8 FG% and 77.0 FT%, 10.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.8 threes, 1.3 blocks and 1.2 steals in 34.5 minutes. Towns headlines a Tier 2 of fantasy centers behind the elite Tier 1 of Jokic and Embiid.

Khris Middleton, Bucks

Another Buck thriving while the team struggles is Middleton, who looks as good as ever now following a slow start to the campaign. In January, he saw 33.3 minutes per game and averaged 22.1 points on 48.2 FG% and 89.9 FT%, 6.4 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.6 threes and 1.4 steals. His production will presumably normalize, but he still has upside to finish as a Top-40 player on the campaign.