With injuries to Marcus Smart and their other stars, there have been few reasons to tune into the 2023-24 Memphis Grizzlies. However, for the faithful readers of Ivy Hoops Online, the Grizzlies have been must-watch hoops for the last week.
That shift is because the Grizzlies, wracked with injuries, signed former Princeton star Tosan Evbuomwan to a 10-day contract in order to help fill their roster.
In three games, the mononymous Tosan has had a low-usage offensive role, but he’s logged ample minutes, averaging 22 a game for the woeful Grizz. He’s scored just 10 points on 4-for-13 shooting (2-for-7 from three-point range) while adding 14 rebounds. It also took the New York Knicks’ public address announcer four tries to pronounce Evbuomwan correctly, a true sign of a rookie.
Despite unspectacular numbers, there’s plenty to like about Tosan’s game and reason to think he could stick around for a second 10-day contract or even more NBA time in the months and years to come. Having watched his second and third games against the Celtics and Knicks, here’s my
Quakeaways takeaways on Tosan’s game:
Eye for the ball
On Sunday in Celtics-Grizzlies, the leading rebounder was neither Kristaps Porzingis nor Al Horford. It was Tosan. In 29 minutes off the bench, the rookie nabbed 12 rebounds with seven of them on offense, a big reason why the Grizzlies stuck around for 1.5 quarters while supremely overmatched.
With Memphis bricking 3-pointers, Evbuomwan had his eye on the long rebound, often running in from the corner in timely fashion. These are the type of plays that earn a guy a second look, the hustle plays and finding ways to impact the game when you’re the fourth or fifth option.
He was less of a factor rebounding against the Knicks and Warriors, perhaps due to his skinny frame and the Knicks’ propensity to hit the boards hard. Still, more of Sunday’s effort and he can continue to turn heads.
Finding an offensive role
Tosan has a decent ways to go on offense, but he also isn’t being asked to do all that much, either. On most possessions, he would immediately space out to the corner, shifting around the perimeter as Memphis’ ballhandlers poked and prodded at opposing defenses, and he has just a 9.1 percent usage rate thus far.
After shooting 25.8 percent from beyond the arc at Princeton, he’s been decently proficient on low volume in the G-League, shooting 39.4 percent on 2.5 treys per game. Though he’s made just two of seven thus far in the NBA, he hasn’t hesitated to shoot from distance, displaying confidence when he gets the ball.
That confidence, though, hasn’t helped him finishing at the rim. He made both his shots in the paint against the Knicks, but he was 0-for-4 in Boston, consistently struggling to get his shot to fall over larger defenders like Luke Kornet.
One thing to note: Playing in the Grizzlies’ system for the first time, Tosan didn’t always find the right spot on the court, cutting into the same area as a fellow Grizzly, but Memphis was primarily playing fellow G-League players who hadn’t gotten minutes together before.
Even with Tosan handing Penn loss after loss in recent years, I can’t say I thought I’d see him guarding All-NBA players like Jayson Tatum followed by 38-year-old Taj Gibson just two nights later. For the defensively challenged Grizzlies, Tosan held his own.
Unsurprisingly, Tatum was able to finish over him at times. And the former Tigers star has yet to record a steal or block in three games. Furthermore, the Grizzlies have a 121 defensive rating with him in the game, which isn’t pretty.
However, he wasn’t attacked too often. Jaren Jackson Jr., Xavier Tillman Sr. and Smart were out for his three games, so the Grizzlies were without a defensive anchor and Tosan played most of his minutes with either 5-foot-9 Jacob Gilyard or 6-foot-1 Scotty Pippen Jr. out there for defense to exploit.
On Sunday in Boston, he was given the primary assignment of Boston’s centers, be it the 7-foot-3 Porzingis or the 7-foot-2 Luke Kornet. That brought him into the post, which could explain some of his elevated rebounding numbers. Still, he looked fine guarding up and switched well, even stymying Tatum once in the high post.
Tosan’s defensive role is to be determined as he’s yet to play on a team with a cohesive defensive identity or with enough plus defensive players to stand out and get attacked on defense. Still, he didn’t look like a liability on a team with a few too many of them.
Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins, a Penn alum, showed confidence in Tosan to give him 20+ minutes in back-to-back games, though that’s partially by necessity with 13 guys out Sunday and only four players returning in time for Tuesday in New York. For a player on a 10-day contract, this is the opportunity players dream about, unfettered access to minutes and few options to get pulled, and Evbuomwan hasn’t faltered.
It remains to be seen if Tosan get more than the two remaining games on his 10-day deal; However, even if Memphis does not bring him back, he’s shown the hustle and role player skills to get a second look somewhere. It pains me to say this as a Quaker, but Tosan has what it takes to extend this NBA stay.