Pabail Sidhu’s first job out of college was a middle schooler’s dream: testing Xbox video games for Microsoft.
A basketball junkie, Sidhu talked his way into focusing on “NBA 2K.” His days were spent troubleshooting the game’s glitches and making sure everything from rules to players to arenas were up to date.
But after little more than a year with Microsoft, Sidhu got tired of playing video games for a living. His goal had long been to become an NBA general manager. The problem: Sidhu, who didn’t play competitively beyond junior varsity, wasn’t necessarily the typical candidate for a front-office gig.
Little more than a decade removed from quitting Microsoft to pursue a career in basketball, Sidhu, 37, is one of the most important members of the Warriors’ organization who still maintains his anonymity. Since the Pistons hired away Sammy Gelfand last summer, Sidhu has been a one-man analytics department, overseeing long-term projects and daily reports.
His penchant for finding statistical trends is a key part of head coach Steve Kerr’s decision-making process. Last month, when Golden State’s passing numbers were lagging, Sidhu provided Kerr detailed run-downs of how different play types and lineup combinations affected the team’s ball movement.
“I look at our game reports every morning from Pabail,” said Kerr, who has been known to shoot Sidhu a late-night email or text seeking the perfect stat to mention during the Warriors’ morning meeting. “They’re absolutely helpful and necessary, but it’s always a balance. It’s a balance between information and what you see with your two eyes.”
Sidhu understands this better than the average stats wiz. As he put it, “I’m a basketball guy that does numbers, not a numbers guy that does basketball. When I see trends, a lot of times it’s from watching the game or talking to someone.”
As a kid growing up in Everett, Wash., Sidhu was a diehard Seattle SuperSonics fan. While watching games, he mimicked each play Kevin Calabro — the longtime voice of the Sonics — described, attempting Shawn Kemp’s tomahawk dunk and Detlef Schrempf’s jump shot on the 8-foot hoop in his family play room.
Sidhu’s parents — immigrants from Punjab, India — supported his passion for basketball, but insisted that he pursue a more practical career than working for an NBA team. Eager to please his folks, he majored in business at the University of Washington, landing his position with Microsoft shortly after graduation.
“It wasn’t bad, but it had a shelf life,” Sidhu said of paying the bills by testing Xbox video games. “I did that for about a year and a half, and I was done mentally before that year and a half. That’s just not what I wanted to do.”
While at Washington, Sidhu had met Sonics GM Rick Sund through a mutual acquaintance and convinced Sund to let Sidhu shadow him as part of an independent-study program. Between preparing for the NBA draft, scouting players and making personnel moves, Sund periodically invited Sidhu into his office, answering any question Sidhu had about life in the NBA.
One day at a training-camp practice, Sund pointed toward the Sonics’ statistical consultant, Dean Oliver, and said, “You should be doing that.” Several years later, while working at Microsoft, Sidhu took detailed notes on Oliver’s “Basketball on Paper” — considered one of the premier books on basketball analytics.
After working briefly in a consulting role with player agents, Sidhu landed an interview with Washington athletic director Scott Woodward, who had become obsessed with “Moneyball” — the Michael Lewis book about the Oakland A’s analytics-based approach to roster-building. Woodward enlisted Sidhu for a freelance project analyzing the state of the men’s basketball program.
Two weeks later, Sidhu dropped off a 50-page report, complete with charts and graphs on everything from recruiting to graduation rates to revenue. Huskies head coach Lorenzo Romar was so impressed that he created a position for Sidhu called “director of basketball strategies” that was the first of its kind at the college level.
Because NCAA rules prohibited him from being on the bench with a laptop, Sidhu sat at the scorer’s table during games and relayed information to Romar’s staff at timeouts about different trends he noticed. That is, until several years into Sidhu’s Huskies tenure when the NCAA — responding to complaints from opposing coaches that Sidhu was giving Washington an unfair advantage — banned him from feeding Romar in-game data.
The job began to lose its intrigue to Sidhu, who in June 2017 left the Huskies to help Gelfand bolster the Warriors’ analytics department. Assistant general manager Kirk Lacob had been tracking Sidhu’s career for a couple of years and saw him as the ideal person to help expand the department’s infrastructure.
“Now with Sammy gone, Pabail has kind of overseen the future development of our department, as well as the front-office aspects, as well as the day-to-day coaching aspects,” Lacob said. “It’s a lot on someone’s plate, and he’s handled it really, really well.”
Sidhu no longer worries about whether his parents approve of his career choice. They watch every Warriors game, calling him afterward to ask about play calls and lineup combinations.
“My dad now thinks he’s an analytics guy,” Sidhu said. “It’s pretty cool.”