Playing his first season for Golden State’s Development League affiliate Santa Cruz Warriors, sometimes second-year guard Travis Leslie gets overlooked. He’s shared the Santa Cruz backcourt infrequently with Kent Bazemore as a result of the rookie receiving multiple assignments and call-ups, and Jeremy Tyler – who played 42 games for Golden State in 2012 and has seen action in 20 contests already this season – has spent some time down south, too.
But watching the hyper-athletic Leslie play, it’s tough to imagine he won’t get his chance in The Association soon. He put on a show in the Development League All-Star game in Houston Saturday afternoon, scoring a team-high 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting and pulling down seven rebounds en route to winning game MVP honors. He did it all in just under 19 minutes, too, tying for his team’s low mark. While the numbers are nice, what will be remembered were Leslie’s handful of gravity-defying dunks that were delivered most every way imaginable. Of special note was a late first-half slam that he caught mid-air after a teammate bounced the ball off the floor and easy flushed with authority.
The 22 year-old Leslie was chosen with the 47th overall pick of the 2011 NBA draft by the Los Angeles Clippers. He saw action in 10 games with LAC but played mostly garbage minutes, and made as many appearances with the Bakersfield Jam after being assigned there by the team last March. He was solid but hardly spectacular in the Developmental League last season, and little was expected of him by the Clippers coming into this season. Leslie was cut on October 30th, a victim of LAC’s wealth of quality backcourt reserves, and was selected with 13th pick in the D-League draft by Santa Cruz three days later.
Playing with a new confidence and much-improved jumper in his second professional basketball go-round, Leslie has been one of the Developmental League’s best players this season. He was named league Player of the Month in both November and December, and despite some struggles in early January still averages 16.2 points per game on 50.7% shooting overall and 39.4% from beyond the arc. Maybe more impressive and certainly more relevant with respect to his NBA prospects, the 6’4” Leslie averages 7.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals in just 27.8 minutes per game.
Those last two numbers, while awesome, shouldn’t shock given Leslie’s rare natural gifts and reputation as a do-everything NCAA defender. Though slightly undersized for a shooting guard from a height perspective, he helps make up for it with a 6’10.5” wingspan and 40.5” vertical leap. Combined with his plus speed and lateral quickness, then, Leslie has the requisite profile of an impactful defender at the NBA level.
Unfortunately for Leslie, his potential role for Golden State – situational defensive stopper – is currently being played by Bazemore, a favorite of Warriors fans and coaching staff for his infectious bench demeanor and consistent work ethic. Most important, though, is Bazemore’s ability to play both guard spots in Mark Jackson’s system; despite his wealth of skills, Leslie just isn’t a capable point guard.
So due to circumstances outside his control, Leslie may not see time with Golden State in the near future (barring injury, of course). But, the assembly of league general managers and front office personnel sitting courtside in Houston this afternoon are surely intrigued after watching Leslie’s MVP performance. And combined with his overwhelming success for Santa Cruz this season, don’t surprised if it nets him a NBA roster spot sooner instead of later.