With three NBA Championships in four seasons, losing to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on only one occasion, the Golden State Warriors are being looked at as one of the greatest teams in NBA history. After achieving the most wins in a season, the Warriors then added Kevin Durant to their all-star cast to forge a seemingly unstoppable force. But, as is the case every season, hope is budding around North America that this might just be the year that a team topples the dynastic Dubs. With European players dotted all over the NBA, there’s a good chance that one will play a major role in any potential usurping of the current league tyrants.
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors
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Weighing in at 7’ and 255 lbs, 26-year-old Jonas Valanciunas has established himself as a useful backup center for the Toronto Raptors. For Lithuania, he’s an indispensable player on the court, and while he doesn’t hold as much of an influence with the Raptors, he plays an important role, contributing 12.8 points per game through 30 games – ten of which were starts.
The Raptors are soaring high above all others in the NBA right now, holding a .767 win percentage through the first 30 games. Toronto will be without their towering Lithuanian for about a month according to Rappler as he’s required hand surgery, but given their play so far, they should be able to maintain their lofty standing by the time that Valanciunas returns. The Raptors are currently the highest-rated team to take on and potentially defeat the Warriors from the Eastern Conference.
Clint Capela, Houston Rockets
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As he is for Switzerland, Clint Capela has become a vital player for the Houston Rockets. After breaking out over the last couple of seasons, Capela is now the Rockets’ second-highest point scorer with an average of 17.4 points having played all of the first 27 games. But, while the Swiss big man is enjoying a strong season, the Houston Rockets have been afflicted by a plague of injuries and are suffering from a notorious Warriors hangover, per The Wall Street Journal.
With a .481 win percentage through 27 games, the Houston Rockets – who took the Dubs to Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals last season – have struggled to regain the prowess that they displayed last season. But, being in a rather favorable conference, it would only take a good-size win-streak to pull them into the playoff places, which is why even though they’re at +1400 to win the NBA Championship with Betway, as of December 14, they’re still the highest-rated Western team not called the Golden State Warriors. There’s a long way to go this season, and when fully fit, Clint Capela and his Rockets pose their conference’s best hope of toppling the Dubs before they make it to a fifth consecutive Finals.
Daniel Theis, Boston Celtics
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Daniel Theis was very much a late bloomer but has proven himself to be a top player for Germany and a serviceable NBA player in recent years. Now 26 years old and in the middle of his second NBA season, the 6’9’’ big man has been providing great strength in depth for the Boston Celtics who, before the season started, were the favorites from the Eastern Conference to win it all.
Not on a scale suffered by the Rockets, but the Celtics have had to deal with a bout of injuries in the early stages of this season too, which has allowed Theis to step up and provide when called upon, as shown by Boston.com. In the two starts of his first 17 games played, Theis had a plus-50 game against the Chicago Bulls and was crucial against the New Orleans Pelicans to seal another win.
Furkan Korkmaz and Giannis Antetokounmpo
Outside of the Rockets, Raptors, and Celtics, the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks are showing themselves to be potential contenders from the Eastern Conference. For the 76ers, Furkan Korkmaz, who has come to Turkey’s rescue in the past, is currently is a bit of a precarious predicament in Philadelphia.
Set to hit the free agency in the summer, the 21-year-old shooting guard has had to showcase himself as best as he possibly can in the fleeting opportunities sent his way. But, right now, he’s playing without fear and a much-improved sense of defense, per Philly, which has impressed coach Brown. He’s a top-class shooter who would help Philadelphia out immensely down the stretch if they choose to keep him.
In the less-stacked Central Division, the Milwaukee Bucks continue to provide food for thought, boasting a .667 win percentage through their first 27 games – good for second in the conference. Led by the almighty Greek forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who legend Shaquille O’Neal has taken to call ‘Superman’ according to Complex, they’re proving to be quite the accomplished team which could cause an upset early in the playoffs this season.
While the European stars of the Rockets, Raptors, and Celtics appear to be the most likely to be a part of the team that could finally topple the Warriors, it would be foolish to count out the tricky 76ers and Bucks at this stage.