Basketball analytics help Dallas win NBA title
Following the Dallas Mavericks’ NBA championship over the Miami Heat, there was plenty of praise passed around. Vocal owner Mark Cuban fronted the money and helped orchestrate the personnel moves. Coach Rick Carlisle made some masterful strategic decisions. And Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry made clutch shot after shot.
But few in the media or public are patting Roland Beech on the back for helping the Mavericks win the title. Who is Roland Beech, you ask? He’s the Mav’s Director of Basketball Analytics. Or more simply put, he’s the numbers nerd for Dallas.
Beech is the founder of the website 82games.com, which claims as its purpose “providing innovative statistical coverage and analysis of the NBA for team executives, coaches, fans, and the media.” With more than 4,000 pages of content posted per season, the website provides enough statistical analysis about NBA games, teams, and players to make even the most mathematically inclined fan’s head spin.
Avid basketball fans may think they’re being analytical by looking as deep as “+/-” statistics for players. But 82games.com examines things such as 5-man unit combinations and on-court performance, the production of 2-man pairs, possession efficiency by play type, and something called a Roland Rating, named obviously after Beech.
Such analytics have been extremely popular in baseball. Statistician Bill James is credited with coining the term sabermetrics, playing off the SABR acronym from the Society of American Baseball Research. The Boston Red Sox hired James in 2002, proving to be among the first Major League Baseball teams to truly embrace a deeper study of statistics. Two years later the Red Sox won their first World Series title since 1918, and followed up with another in 2007.
Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane earned acclaim for his use of sabermetrics in assembling a small payroll team capable of competing with the big market franchises when his strategies were featured in the book Moneyball.
But for whatever reason analytics that have begun to be researched and published in academic journals such as the International Journal of Sport Finance, which did an entire special issue in 2007 based on whether the principles detailed in Moneyball are applicable beyond baseball, haven’t been widely accepted by other sports.
But maybe now that the Mavericks have won the NBA championship two years after hiring Beech, a deeper understanding and greater value of statistical analytics will take hold in basketball much like it did in baseball 30 years ago.
“Roland was a key part to all this,” Cuban told ESPN.com. “I give a lot of credit to Coach Carlisle for putting Roland on the bench and interfacing with him, and making sure we understood exactly what was going on—knowing what lineups work, what the issues were in terms of play calls and training.”