Travis “T-Bird” Leslie Can Do More Than Just Fly

Photo: David Calvert/NBAE via Getty ImagesPhoto: David Calvert/NBAE via Getty Images

The Jazz has signed guard Travis Leslie of the NBA Development League’s Santa Cruz Warriors to a 10-day contract.

A 2013 NBA D-League All-Star selection, the 6-4, 205-pound guard averaged 16.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists while shooting .511 from the field through 28 games (24 starts) for Santa Cruz this season. Leslie was also named the D-League All-Star Game’s MVP after finishing with 19 points and seven rebounds for the Prospect team during the February 14 event as part of NBA All-Star Weekend in Houston.

Originally selected by the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round (47th overall) of the 2011 NBA Draft, Leslie appeared in 10 games as a reserve for the Clippers during the 2011-12 season, averaging 1.4 points in 4.5 minutes of play. Leslie was also twice assigned to the Clippers’ D-League affiliate, the Bakersfield Jam, where he appeared in 10 games (three starts) and averaged 10.2 points and 3.2 rebounds in 20.4 minutes. Leslie attended 2012-13 training camp with the Clippers, but was waived prior to the start of the season.

Atlanta, Georgia, circa 2008 – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is holding their high school AJC Slam Dunk Contest, sponsored by, with the help of Will Ferrell and André Benjamin, a.k.a. André 3000, and two of it’s participants are current Jazzmen Derrick Favors and Travis Leslie. “10 athletes. 10 dunks. 1 winner.”

It would be close, come right down to the wire. But in the end, only one winner would indeed remain.

If you’ve ever seen Alec Burks up close, one of the first things that will strike you about him is his outlandish length and reach for his 6’6″ frame. And we’ve all been witness at this point to his ridiculous hops. But you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Just wait ’til you get a load of Travis “T-Bird” Leslie.

Burks stands 6’6″, has a wingspan of 6’10″ and a standing reach of 8’7.5″. Leslie, standing two inches shorter at 6’4″, has a wingspan of 6’10.5″ with a standing reach a mere half-inch less at 8’7″.  According to Draft Express, Burks’ ridiculous hops top out at 29.0 on a no-step leap with a max vertical of 36.0.

But “T-Bird” truly flies, posting a no-step vertical only three inches shy of Burks’ max vert, at 33.0, and a gravity-defying max vert of 40.5. So what does Leslie do with this otherworldly athleticism besides unleash it on the unwary any given chance?

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.

Photo: David Calvert

Photo: David Calvert

Aside from leading the D-League in PER (Player Efficiency Rating) among shooting guards and pulling down a more-than-respectable amount of boards, Leslie also has a reputation for something he shares with the emptied roster spot vacated with the waiving of Raja Bell: Defensive stopper.

Defensively, Leslie has all the tools to be successful on the NBA level, even if he is undersized. He shows active hands and solid lateral quickness, making him quite a pest in the college game. At this juncture, he needs to gain experience guarding the perimeter full time, as he still spends some time defending power forwards depending on who UGA is matching up with. With additional coaching, Leslie should become a very solid individual and team defender, only adding to his merits as a terrific rebounder for his size on both ends of the court.

So we find Leslie to be an athlete of the utmost elite levels, an excellent rebounder for a guard, and a willing and capable defender. But can he shoot? His mechanics have evolved steadily since high school, and seem sound enough, giving Jeff Hornacek plenty to work with. Leslie shot a solid .365 from three for the Santa Cruz Warriors before being called up from the D-League this season, and has comfortable range pulling up off of the dribble to about 17 feet out. However, he needs some polish to be an effective spot-up shooter at this point.  One thing is for sure: the Jazz know how to find talent in obscure places and Leslie fits that bill.  He’s young, talented and eager to make a name for himself in the basketball world.

Travis Leslie is yet another nice gem in the rough found by the Jazz’s always-working scouting department.  Touted as the #1 prospect in the D-League, the Jazz didn’t want to miss their chance on him. With the books emptying out this summer, you have to think he has as good a shot at next season’s rotation as anyone else not a lottery pick on the Jazz, provided he shows the staff and brass something they like in the next ten days.

If nothing else, maybe we’ll get treated to a little something like this between-the-legs flying death-hammer that narrowly beat out Derrick Favors in an Atlanta dunk contest some five years ago.

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