Staff Profile: Charles Klask
Ex-Orlando aide adds statistical wrinkle to Frank’s staff
When news of Charles Klask’s hiring to Lawrence Frank’s coaching staff broke over the summer, he invariably was identified as a numbers cruncher. Frank wants to nip that talk in the bud.
“He’s a basketball coach first, statistical guy second,” Frank said. “Very, very bright.”
Klask, who grew up in Livonia and got his degree from Michigan State, didn’t get into coaching to become a stats expert. It evolved during his decade in Orlando, added to his duties when Stan Van Gundy landed there as head coach and wanted someone who could feed him statistical information as part of the game-planning process. Not just regurgitate the numbers produced by conventional box scores, but pore over them for a kernel of information that might help win a game or, better yet, find numbers box scores can’t offer to fill in the blanks.
Klask shudders at references to his status as a “statistical guru.”
“I’d like to look up the definition of guru and see what it really means,” he smiles. “You think of guru, you think of Mr. Miyagi (of “Karate Kid” fame). That’s a guru – somebody quoted for your craft. Arnie (Kander, noted Pistons strength coach), that’s a guru. My stuff was numbers Stan wanted that I provided for Stan. It involved some analysis, but it’s not like we were making algorithms and regression analysis to see predictive models on what a player is going to do against certain opponents.
“Stan was very good with numbers and he just wanted somebody who could help him with that kind of stuff. A lot of the stuff was numbers that currently exist and then things he had his coaches chart or look at that you can’t grade from a box score. That was part of Lawrence’s idea here. We’re going to chart a lot of stuff from the games. We don’t want to lose it on paper. We’re going to put it into a database and we’re going to try to do the same thing for some of our opponents and just get into a more data-driven decision model off the stuff that we chart.”
The opportunity to work for the Pistons appealed to Klask for at least three reasons: it was home, where Klask still has family; it was an opportunity to grow as a coach, with Klask working with players and sitting on the bench, which wasn’t part of his work detail in Orlando; and it offered the chance to work for Frank, with whom he struck up a relationship in recent years.
It began three years ago, when Frank spoke at a coaches clinic in Orlando and needed a ride to the airport. Klask obliged and they spent more than an hour talking basketball.
“Now that I work for him, I call it our first official interview,” Klask said.
After Frank was fired 16 games into the 2009-10 season in New Jersey, he put the rest of the season to good use, picking the brains of peers across the league and all levels of basketball. One stop was Orlando.
“Stan really, really admires Lawrence,” Klask said. “We had a five-day home stretch and he came to meet with Stan. Stan gave him all access – practice time, coaches meetings, postgame. There would be times Stan would have to do things when Lawrence couldn’t be in the room, watching film or whatever, so Lawrence would pop his head into other offices. He’d come and ask me questions. His curiosity for learning is through the roof. So that was another bond, another interview. It just grew from there. I’d shoot him a text here, he’d shoot me a text there.”
Given Klask’s appreciation for statistical evidence, the one-in-a-million odds that accompanied a night in late July might have sealed Klask’s delivery to Detroit. In town to visit his mother, Klask was driving along Interstate 75 at exit 81 – the Lapeer Road exit that steers Pistons fans to The Palace – when he saw the breaking news that Joe Dumars had made the decision to hire Frank as Pistons coach.
The next week, Frank called Klask, and the wheels were set in motion. The fact Frank was willing to put Klask on the bench in more of a coaching capacity was all Van Gundy and Magic GM Otis Smith needed to hear to allow Klask to leave Orlando.
Klask will work with Roy Rogers, who will be chiefly responsible for working with Pistons big men. He also will be responsible for charting during games and reducing to digestible bites the vast amounts of information that other staff members will be tasked to chart.
“He knows, exactly, statistically the best shots on the floor for our guys to shoot from,” Frank said. “He also knows the worst. He knows the best and worst for our opponents. He can pull out why, statistically, it’s the right thing to do to go two-for-one, why it’s the right thing to do to foul up three. He’ll pull out nuggets statistically. Player combinations, he’ll have the best two-man lineup, three-man lineup, four-man lineup, five-man lineup, so you see different combinations.”
Among the advanced statistics Klask says he tracks are player efficiency rating and adjusted plus-minus. But both, he volunteers, must be viewed in context.
PER is “one of the biggest numbers I look at. The good thing about it is that even if you agree or disagree, it’s kind of like the accepted norm where we can all meet. A lot of it is good. It’s different for every team and different for every coach and there’s a lot of variables that go behind it, but it’s a good starting point.
“Adjusted plus-minus is a great concept, but I would say you have to tailor it to the things you like, with other variables being road game, back-to-back, strength of opponent – a bunch of different things. There is a lot of noise to that because you don’t always get guys who play comparable minutes with each lineup. It’s not perfect, but I really like the concept.”
They aren’t the things, necessarily, that drew Klask to coaching. That happened while he was attending Wayne State, when he took a class under Delano Tucker and heard him urge students to take classes that intrigued them, even if they didn’t necessarily see how it would lead to a future. Klask – who played at Livonia Stevenson but says “I wasn’t very good; I just always loved the game” – subsequently took a coaching class, which required him to actively coach. Volunteering at Stevenson, he got hooked the first day.
“I knew right away – this is what I want to dedicate my life to.”
What are the odds that he’d wind up coaching for the NBA team in his back yard?