Roland Beech knows he has detractors who remind him basketball is about more than a calculator.
“There’s still certain people like Chuck (Charles Barkley) who make jokes about it, but I have no problem with that,” said Beech, the Kings’ vice president of basketball strategy and data science. “There’s a lot of bad statistical work truthfully that has brought that upon the analytics world, but I think most people are very receptive to it. They think it’s going to help them, whether it’s a player or a coach. You just have to talk to them the way they like to receive the information.”
The Kings hired Beech in August to work in a variety of areas, including the transmission of information to the coaching staff and front office.
“We get game-to-game reports from him, weekly reports on subjects we might bring to him and sometimes things he brings to us,” coach George Karl said. “It’s a good relationship. It’s fun, how the numbers match up with our heads and how our heads match up with the numbers and the eye. And if the eyes and the heads and the numbers match, it’s a good thing.”
Beech always has been interested in sports and numbers. While majoring in English at Cal, he followed horse racing at Golden Gate Fields.
“Horse racing is very analytical,” Beech said. “It’s got tons of numbers on the horses’ past races and the trainers and the jockeys and everything. So you can make it as heavy number crunching as you like. Some people even track the track bias, how the track itself is changing from day to day and moment to moment. It’s a very complicated analysis game if you want it to be.”
Beech’s beginnings in basketball statistical analysis date to 2002-03, when he built the website 82games.com. With NBA box scores available to the public, Beech wanted to learn about the game and how it was played.
The website intrigued Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.
“Mark Cuban found it within two weeks,” Beech said. “He was one of the first hundred or so people to find the site. So he loved it and we got to talking. And a few years later, I started consulting with the team, and after a few years of that, I came into Dallas full time as part of the whole staff. It was how I got in for sure.”
Beech became involved in the Mavericks’ operations in multiple ways. But his stint didn’t start smoothly. Some wondered what to do with the stat guy.
“I remember my very first coach’s meeting,” Beech said. “(Coach) Rick (Carlisle) had all the coaches there, and they’re talking away, I’m not really saying much of anything. And they’re talking along and then they start talking about specific players and what’s their career three-point percentage? And suddenly every single person turns their head and looks right at me. … It was clear at that moment that I’d be the kid who memorized the back of basketball cards, that I’d be some walking encyclopedia.”
That perception amused Beech because he said he doesn’t have a great memory. But his role evolved into working with players, coaches and the front office.
“By the end, the biggest compliment Rick gave me was ‘You’re not the stats guy anymore,’ ” Beech said. “ ‘You’re a basketball guy who knows the stats, but you’re way more than that.’ ”
Carlisle said Beech contributed more than numbers.
“He helped with everything, everything from direct, oncourt basketball probability to trends, what’s happened with probabilities based on things that have happened,” Carlisle said. “To the draft, college players. He’s got a very wide-ranging diverse set of information, which really helped us.”
Beech figures to play a role in the Kings’ offseason additions via the draft or free agency. He said his analysis will be more than just a numbers game.
“I don’t see the numbers as any kind of absolute thing,” Beech said. “I very much believe in fit, how a guy fits in a certain situation. There are so many variables. The coaching, the coaching game plan, a guy’s role, his teammates, his emotional state. I mean, these guys are human beings and I expect them to act like that. I don’t expect them to act like robots or be perfect all the time.”