As much as Houston Rockets guard James Harden has been scoring with his new team, the 23-year-old star must take better care of the basketball if the Rockets are ultimately going to succeed in 2012-13.
Harden is averaging just over four turnovers for the 6-7 Houston squad, who just snapped a three-game losing streak by dismantling the New York Knicks at home 131-103 on Friday.
Part of the turnover problem can be attributed to Harden having the ball in his hands much more frequently than he did in his days with the Oklahoma City Thunder, but part of the blame also has to go to him.
With his attacking, aggressive style, Harden has gotten to the free-throw line frequently and has done much of his scoring damage from the stripe. However, his reckless abandon to the bucket often results in him losing the handle and costing his team valuable possessions, stagnating the offense.
As one of the smartest players in the NBA, Harden should rely on his point guard skills that he harnessed in college at Arizona State and occasionally displayed with the Thunder. Now that he is a pure two-guard with Jeremy Lin running the point, Harden has to get a better feel for hanging on to the ball.
Much of the Rockets' success to date has depended on Harden's scoring. When Houston wins, Harden averages over 30 points per game, and when they lose, he averages under 20 and shoots .336 percent from the floor.
One constant, though, is the turnovers. Those don't fluctuate, and that's a concerning trend early on, especially since the Rockets as a team average a league-worst 17 turnovers per game in the early going.
Sloppy play won't get it done in the stacked Western Conference. Between the Spurs, Thunder, Grizzlies and so many other teams, Houston is a younger team that will need to play smarter to make a playoff push.
It starts with the best player on the floor, and that player has been Harden thus far. In the Knicks game, Harden shot well and connected on all of his whopping 16 free-throw attempts.
But what was also extremely important is that he had nine assists to just three turnovers. That is the kind of effort the Rockets need to win more consistently. New York has been one of the NBA's best teams in the early going, and Harden has plenty of supporting talent around him, meaning he shouldn't have to shoulder such a heavy burden.
At this early juncture of the season, it's still a feeling-out process for everyone, particularly in Harden's case because he didn't play for Houston until his electric, 44-point opening night.
One thing is certain though: Better ball security by Harden will likely rub off on the rest of the team. It doesn't hurt that he has experience winning with Oklahoma City, which didn't exactly have a roster full of seasoned veterans.
That should translate to accelerated discipline for the youthful but talented Rockets, and more consistent winning sooner rather than later under Harden's steady leadership.