Kings Q&A: Roland Beech
From the founding of an NBA statistics website to being part of a championship coaching staff in Dallas, Roland Beech has had quite the journey from a basketball fan to an integral part of the Sacramento Kings.
We recently spoke with Roland about his beginnings in basketball, his experiences with the Mavericks, and his future moving forward with the Kings.
On breaking into a basketball career and founding his stats website: 82games.com
“I was a big basketball fan as a kid. From a strategic standpoint, I like any game where there’s a lot of people moving at the same time, so games like football, basketball, and hockey. I’ve always loved sports; so working in sports was appealing. Although, as for a lot of people, it’s like ‘How do I actually get in there? How do I make this leap?’ So in the early 2000s, it was clear that there was a lot of play-by-play data that you could do stuff with [in basketball], and I thought, ‘Hey, let’s start a site and do it.’”
On being the first ‘stats coach’ with the Dallas Mavericks and the acceptance of analytics in basketball
“I was definitely a kind of novel guy. They didn’t necessarily know what to make of me. I had been consulting for a number of years and I went to Mark Cuban and said, ‘Hey this isn’t really working for me, consulting from California, I need to be there [in Dallas].’ He agreed, so I came out, interviewed with Rick [Carlisle] and Donnie [Nelson], and they said ‘Yeah, sure, let’s give it a go’ I was just suddenly in all of the coach’s meetings, I was in all of the locker room stuff, I was on the practice court during practices, I was behind the bench; I was in. To this day I don’t know if there’s any other guy with a more stats background who’s had that luxury of suddenly being in the thick of it all.”
“I’m a pretty diplomatic guy. I don’t come charging in there saying ‘You guys don’t know anything.’ I believe the exact opposite. I believe these guys have tremendous wisdom. Like George [Karl], I don’t pretend to know 10 percent of what George knows. I just have this kind of savvy that’s combining that with all of this basketball experience. Being on the frontlines of basketball for six years, I don’t even really see myself as a stats guy anymore. I’m more of a basketball guy who can talk about the stats and do all that.”
On in-game interactions with Rick Carlisle and other Dallas coaches
“It was less in-game as much as it was leading into games and post-games. That’s the thing, you play this game in a two-and-a-half hour block, and then you have all this time on both sides of it where you’re just constantly working. The thing people don’t really realize with coaches is how many hours most of the coaches are putting in. You go straight from the game to the plane and [the coaches] are already going through the game on the plane to make video clips to show the next morning and they’re already, at the same time, scouting the next opponent.”
On interactions with Mavericks players
“I have a story, actually, about my first encounter with Dirk [Nowitzki]. It was my first day of training camp and Rick [Carlisle] wasn’t really sure what I was capable of. So there’s this shooting drill with six baskets and [Rick’s] like, ‘You go count the baskets on this end’ and the guys I got were Dirk, Jet [Jason Terry] and someone else. So they’re doing their shooting and I’m counting and I remember our equipment guy distracted me and said something to me so I talked to him for a second. I look back and I’ve missed, clearly, a couple of shots. I had 17 and they’re like ‘No it’s 19!’ but I keep going and I’m always two behind them because I didn’t adjust, I just kept with my count. At the end, Rick goes around the groups and asks, ‘Okay, what’s your score?’ and Dirk’s group lost by one basket. So my miscounting actually cost them. The penalty was, I think, two up-and-backs, so Dirk, Jet, and the other guy are just growling constantly about doing this. So I’m standing right around half-court, Dirk gets to half-court and he turns and says ‘We have a stats guy who can’t count’ and he goes down and comes back and then says it again and it keeps getting louder and louder. So that was my first Dirk moment.”
“Over the years, it became easier to talk to the players once you get to know them. Each player has his different interests. I think they’re very welcoming to anything that could make them better or the team better. You just have to keep it to a manageable amount. The other factor is the coaches always want to be the constant messaging; they don’t want too many voices. So you tend feed it to the people who are viewed as the main contact points.”
On transition to the Kings and his role with the team
“I’m hoping it’s very much like Dallas where I’m heavily involved on the coaching side. I am going to be traveling with the team this year, sitting behind the bench again, all the kind of stuff I’ve done in Dallas. At the same time, I’m there on the front office side, and that tends to be heavier, of course, at draft time, pre-trade deadline and free agency.”
“So my initial step is to really start building relationships with people and it’s going good so far. George [Karl] and I are having good conversations and I want to get to know every individual coach. Nancy [Lieberman], I think, is going to be a real asset for this team. I know her from Dallas and she’s got her own special skills so I think it’s a good coaching staff all around.”
On Kings players he’s looking forward to working with
“Obviously DeMarcus Cousins is a franchise player, an MVP-caliber guy no doubt. So it’s exciting to have someone like that on the team. Ben [McLemore] is a really young guy and in Dallas, we didn’t really have any sort of player development since we were a pretty strong team so we were always trying to win and play the veterans more so than developing the young guys. So it’s nice to have a guy like Ben who’s already had two years of developing but is still so young.”
“I think [Rajon Rondo] can do very well here. I always preach that fit matters so much, which differs from people who obsess about the stats. You can rate guys, but so much is about how they fit with different players and coaching schemes. The story I’ve told other people about is at the end of last season in pregame, [Rondo] was actually going one-on-one with Dwight Powell, trying to drive on him and finish and Dwight’s like 6-foot-10, a big guy, so I really like that. So many players, the pregame warm-up to them is throwaway, it’s more of a mental thing for them to get in the right state of mind. But Rajon was really looking to improve his game, even in that kind of time. [Rondo] has great court vision, he throws some of the more amazing passes that you’ll see in this league. He has a different set up for him here so I think it could be completely different for him and I think he’s obviously very excited to be here.”
On what he’s learned since working in the NBA
“There’s lots of things I track and it’s always a question of how do you make something actionable. It’s one thing to know something, but how do you actually use it to change a player's way of playing and that’s the challenge. It’s very much a communication game. You have to figure out how to communicate with people. A lot of people are different. Some people like visual stuff, some people can handle a little table of data, some people just want to be spoken to so aside from all the data points I can talk about, the real challenge is how do you speak to people in a way that’s going to help.”
“So much of the work that’s being done, there’s a lot of stats and data flying around but, to me, I look at a lot of it and say there’s no way you’re ever going to really use this or have it be helpful. So I call myself a bit of a minimalist, I don’t actually overload people with stuff, I just try to pick the stuff that really matters and hope that it gets across.”
For more on Roland Beech, you can listen to his recent interview with KHTK Sports 1140 below!