After starting the season on a solid 4-1 note, the San Miguel Beermen look like a legit contender for the All-Filipino Cup. Their setback against Alaska (which could have gone either way) nonwithstanding, the Beermen have played solid basketball on both sides of the court, as newly-installed head coach Leo Austria has found a nice balance between his team’s stars to share the ball.
For SMB fans, one of the bigger questions is whether or not this will translate to a breakout season for one of the team’s younger stars, namely Chris Lutz. Lutz seemed to disappear at times the past two years amidst the shuffle of coaches at the Petron – SMB franchise but now that Austria is at the helm, some are hoping that he can finally find an expanded role in SMB’s offense.
After exploding into his start after his stint at Gilas, Lutz’ numbers have been mediocre the past two seasons, although this isn’t entirely his fault. First, as mentioned above, he’s seen his role yanked left and right with each head coaching change. Second, the emergence of big-man Junemar Fajardo has reduced touches for all of SMB’s perimeter players. It’s only logical that with fewer opportunities to score or make plays, a player’s statline will suffer accordingly. Third, Lutz has also experienced some nagging injuries here and there, limiting his ability to produce at an elite level.
This has led to the “underwhelming” stats that he’s posted the past two years.
Looking at the table above, you’ll see that he’s pretty much averaged three rebounds and three assists the past three seasons (ironically, he wears the number 3 as well). His points per game suffered though, mainly due to a decline in his shooting numbers, as his overall FG% and FT% have dropped year-on-year the past two seasons.
You can argue that the dip in production may have also been due to a reduction in playing time. If you’ll take a look at the last column of the table above, you’ll see that Lutz played 9 less minutes on average the past two seasons than he did during his rookie year.
In the following table, I pro-rated his stats to show us Lutz’ per-30 minute production over the past 3 years. Even when you factor in minutes played, you’ll see that at least in terms of points per game, Lutz’ totals dropped.
With Junemar emerging as an even bigger force in the PBA, does that mean Lutz won’t be able to “fulfill” his potential as a “star”? Not necessarily.
The good news is that under Coach Austria, Lutz is averaging nearly 32 mpg now. Now, this might go down by season’s end depending on what type of import SMB brings in, but it’s an encouraging sign nonetheless.
Moreover, Lutz seems to be way more comfortable on the court now and is being more productive with his minutes, giving Austria more reason to leave the pitbull guard on the floor. He’s currently averaging 10.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg, and 2.6 apg, numbers close to his rookie year statline.
Looking at the underlying numbers, he’s taking just over nine shots per game while hitting 41.7% from the field, hinting that his usage is creeping back up to that of his first season. That latter figure could stand to improve too, as Chris is so far just 0/10 from 3-point area. As a career 29.2% 3-point shooter, he’s bound to hit a few sooner or later.
Lutz has also been very productive on his drives to the basket, finishing at a rate of 50.0%. He’s struggled so far using pick & rolls (just 0/4 with 1 turnover so far), but that’s bound to turn around as he becomes more familiar with Austria’s intricate half court sets.
For most fans, Lutz may never put up the numbers that MVPs like teammates Arwind Santos and Fajardo have put up the past two years. But that doesn’t mean he can’t put up quality, All-star numbers. Don’t be surprised if you hear his name mentioned with the Chans and Yaps as one of the premier swingmen in the PBA by season’s end.