The dictionary defines a sleeper as "someone or something unpromising or unnoticed that suddenly attains prominence or value."
Teams that reach the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four tend to have few players who go "unnoticed". However, most teams still have a pecking order of sorts, a pyramid where the stars are expected to carry more weight and others to provide support. Sometimes, those players in support roles come through when needed most to lead their teams to glory.
A shortlist of players who could be included in that category from previous Final Fours might have Fabien Causeur in 2018, Andres Nocioni in 2015, Tyrese Rice in 2014, Acie Law in 2013, Nick Calathes in 2011, Dejan Tomasevic in 2007, Aleksey Savrasenko in 2006, Nestoras Kommatos in 2005, David Blu in 2004 or Lazaros Papadopoulos in 2002. A few were young players just making a name for themselves, some were veterans stepping up when it mattered most, and others were secondary players who shined bright in the spotlight.
FC Barcelona, CSKA Moscow, Anadolu Efes Istanbul and AX Armani Exchange Milan each have players who could fit into some of those categories and become Final Four sleepers. Let's examine them.
The regular-season standings leader this season has players that meet each of those aforementioned descriptions. Take Pau Gasol, for instance. The future Hall of Famer is one of the greatest players of his generation. However, since he made his return to action with his boyhood club, Gasol has not been consistent. On the one hand, Gasol did not see any playing time in Game 2 of the playoffs. But then he shined with 7 points and 4 blocks over 17 minutes as one of the stars of Game 5. Two more potential Barcelona sleepers might be 20-year-old point guard Leandro Bolmaro and forward Rolands Smits. Bolmaro's playing time has grown all season and head coach Sarunas Jasikevicius will not hesitate to roll with his boundless potential if the situation is right. Smits's outside shooting and mismatch skills are also the stuff that can win games – even on such a big stage.
The in-form CSKA that swept Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul in the playoffs is a well-balanced squad that has had 13 different starters this season. Veteran guard Janis Strelnieks made two of his three starts this season in the playoffs and comes to his first Final Four without much pressure. A career 42.5% three-point shooter – and 43.5% this season – Strelnieks is exactly the type of player who could break open a game while the opponents are focused on CSKA’s other stars. Mid-season addition Michael Eric is a former 7DAYS EuroCup champion, so playing with championship pressure is not new to him. Best known for his defense and rebounding, Eric totaled 35 points on 17-of-23 shooting in Rounds 33 and 34. Opposing centers had better be prepared.
ANADOLU EFES ISTANBUL
When teams prepare for Efes, the attention goes immediately to the team's dynamic backcourt with Vasilije Micic, Shane Larkin, Rodrigue Beaubois and Kruno Simon. Those four are the team's top scorers, but center Sertac Sanli has made the most of it when teams overlook him. He has scored in double figures in half of his last 20 appearances and when the big man gets going, he is hard to stop – especially because bringing extra defenders to him could mean leaving one of Efes's star guards open. Chris Singleton was Efes's sleeper in Game 5 of its playoff series against Real Madrid. After averaging 5.7 points in his first 38 appearances this season, Singleton went off for a career-high 26 points. The savvy veteran is at his best in big games and he has all the skills to make the difference in Cologne.
AX ARMANI EXCHANGE MILAN
Most of the players on this list are here for their offensive potential. Milan has a potential sleeper through his defense. Jeremy Evans was added to the mix late in the season for his rebounding and shot-blocking, although his hops also make him a threat to score via alley-oops and on the offensive glass. At age 33, Evans also has the experience needed to shine at a Final Four. When it comes to experience, Vlado Micov is among head coach Ettore Messina's choices. The 36-year-old arrives at his third Final Four as a double-digit scorer in each of his last four EuroLeague campaigns. Micov knocked down 43.2% of his three-pointers this season, in which he played the fewest minutes since his debut EuroLeague season in 2009-10. If he is needed, would anyone be surprised to see Micov at his best in Cologne?