HE was one of the most sought-after players in the 2011 PBA Rookie Draft, an original Smart Gilas product who showed a glimpse of his potential by averaging 15.38 points, 3.44 rebounds, 3.53 assists and 1.12 steals in his debut season as the No. 3 pick overall.
Chris Lutz hasn't really been the same since.
The steady decline in his performance over the next four seasons hasn't escaped the eye of Rajko Toroman, his former coach in the Gilas program. The Serbian coach nonetheless believes Lutz is still one of the best guards in the PBA given the talent and versatility of the San Miguel wingman on both ends of the floor.
“He hasn't reached his maximum potential, the last three conferences he has not been playing enough, he’s mostly sitting on the bench. You have to push him so he can reach his potential, he’s a great defender and a good offensive player, he has the size,” Toroman said.
Problem is, Lutz can't regain his form while sitting on the bench.
In the last Commissioner’s Cup, Lutz was seen more frequently in a television beer commercial than on the court. His playing time shrunk to an average of 4.3 minutes in San Miguel’s last six games owing to the team’s heavy lineup of quality off guards like Marcio Lassiter, Ryan Arana, Gary David, Alex Cabagnot and Ronald Tubid.
Toroman, who coached at San Miguel and Barako Bull briefly after his stint with Gilas, said it's not like the 6-3 Lutz has suddenly forgotten how to play. He simply lost his confidence, the veteran coach added.
“He’s a talented guy, aggressive and a good player. But it is his lack of confidence (that’s affecting his game) as there are a lot of players (playing) in front of him. He’s now facing the small number of minutes,” he said. “He’s role in the rotation has gone deeper and deeper (with San Miguel’s long line of talents).”
“He lost his confidence, that’s for sure. Whatever the reason is, I don’t know. I am no longer involved there (San Miguel). I don’t think he forgot to play basketball, it’s his playing time that’s lacking.
“If he’s coming from the bench and play only 3, 4 or 5 minutes, he’ll never reach his potential. Before he was playing much better, now he lost his confidence. He needs more minutes.
“They have to give him the needed time, he’s a good player,” he added.
Knowing Lutz more than most coaches, the 61-year old Serbian coach stressed that a proper motivational approach is required to bring the best out of the former Marshall Thundering Herd star.
Toroman revealed that Lutz tends to be stubborn during the game as the versatile wingman is sometimes a slow starter.
“Sometimes you have to give him some more minutes to get him back to his usual game. Even if there are times when you see he doesn’t deserve some minutes, you have to let him play a little bit more, let him get his confidence, that’s how you can get his groove on,” said the Olympian coach.
“He has some specific way of playing and getting his confidence, you have to understand him first for you to extract his great game. But I tell you, that will not always be the case. He tends to be nonchalant, that’s where he needs some pushing and trust (from the coach),” Toroman added.
Asked if Lutz’s role is a duplication of Lassiter, Toroman shook his head, insisting the two can co-exist just like they did with Gilas.
“No, they don’t play the same spot. I know, because I used to play them together at Gilas. They were my wrecking crew on the backcourt. They can play together,” he said.
“These two guys are dangerous playing together, actually I can see that these two guys are exactly what the team needs on the perimeter,” Toroman said. “Marcio is not a problem for Chris Lutz, they can co-exist on the floor.”
Informed of great interest by other PBA teams in Lutz, who was discovered and recruited by the Manny V. Pangilinan group to be part of the Gilas pool before he joined the 2011 draft, Toroman saw a glimmer of hope for his former ward.
“Why not? Sometimes the player moving to a different system will be beneficial. It will be good if he changes his team and have the chance to regain his confidence,” he said.
“If I am his adviser, I would tell him to explore that possibility. I think that (transfer) is better," Toroman added. 'Yeah, it’s better.”
Listen to the interview with Rajko Toroman: