Kevin Durant has fired back.
And rather than taking sides with the television talking head who has had his back, Durant chose to ride with his teammate, defending Russell Westbrook from what has become daily criticism by ESPN First Take’s Skip Bayless.
“That guy doesn’t know a thing about basketball,” Durant said of Bayless before the Thunder faced Memphis on Monday night.
Bayless, a longtime sports journalist who hails from Oklahoma City, refers to himself as a Thunder fan but habitually blasts Westbrook for being a shoot-first point guard and taking more shots than Durant, the reigning two-time scoring champ.
Going into Monday’s game, Westbrook was within three shots of Durant’s number of attempts this season.
But the Thunder is 20-4 when Westbrook takes more shots than Durant, and Oklahoma City has won by an average margin of 12.4 points in those victories.
“We’re worse when I take more shots,” Durant said. “Like I said, that guy doesn’t know a thing. I don’t think he watches us. I think he just looks at the stats. And traditionally, a point guard is not supposed to take more shots than everybody else on the team. But we’re better when he does do that and he’s aggressive. And I’m better when I’m out there facilitating, rebounding, defending and being more efficient on my shots with less shots.”
Both Durant and Westbrook are in the middle of the most efficient seasons of their careers. Durant is shooting a career-high 50.4 percent, while Westbrook has connected on a career-high 47.7 percent of his shots. Durant’s 27.7-point average ranks second behind Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, while Westbrook’s 24.5-point average is fifth behind Bryant, Durant, Minnesota forward Kevin Love and Miami forward LeBron James.
“Skip Bayless, he’s just a funny character, man,” Durant said.
In early December, Durant also took exception to criticism from one of the debate-style show’s panelist, former NFL player Hugh Douglas. Douglas ripped James for an end zone celebration James performed during a flag football game with Durant. Durant posted a series of messages calling out Douglas and questioning his expertise. It prompted another of the show’s prominent panelist, Stephen A. Smith, to invite Durant to the “debate desk” to face any of his desired panelists any time he wanted.
Durant told Smith on Twitter then, and reiterated on Monday, that he wouldn’t be opposed to accepting the show’s invitation.
“No doubt,” Durant said. “I’ll stick up for all my guys, especially against a guy that I have never seen at an NBA game before. It just starts to get sickening when you hear somebody talk about your teammate like that almost every day. So I’ll stick up for him every single day.”
With Bayless blasting Westbrook with heavy criticism dating to last year’s playoffs, Durant admitted that he was waiting for someone to ask his opinion about the sports commentator.
“Russell’s having a phenomenal season,” Durant said. “I get upset when people kind of overlook that because of me needing more shots or stuff like that. He’s having the best point guard in the league type of year. We’re winning games and the other stuff doesn’t matter.”
Durant added that the non-stop criticism actually has pulled the entire team closer together.
“Because people from the outside don’t really have a (feel) on what goes on in the locker room or how we go about every single day,” Durant said. “Guys focus on the guys here in the locker room and the coaches and trainers and everybody here in this organization. All we focus on is each other and we can’t worry about what outside people say because what I’ve learned is people are going to like you and people are going to hate you.”
Westbrook, meanwhile, took the criticism in stride. He said he doesn’t watch ESPN First Take but said he has definitely heard the backlash.
“I don’t really have no thoughts,” Westbrook said when asked about Bayless. “That’s his job. He’s supposed to do that. He finds somebody that he wants to talk about and that’s what he does. He (doesn’t) play so he don’t know. That’s how I look at it. I really don’t care. Nobody says that honestly. But when it comes to him, he doesn’t play. He hasn’t played in the NBA. So he wouldn’t know what’s going on at all.
“I just let my play speak for itself, honestly. As a team we’re doing great. We’re (nearly) tied for the best record in the league. So I’ll just take the good with the bad and I guess just go with it. I don’t really mind it.”
Westbrook went on to say that he has never talked with Durant about shot attempts.
“That’s not an issue on our team,” Westbrook said. “That’s an issue in the media, but it’s not an issue on our team. So if it’s not an issue on our team I can care less.”