In a 2012 draft class loaded with question marks, New Orleans Hornets first overall pick Anthony Davis was said to be the lone certainty.
A freakish blend of size (6'10", 220 lbs), athleticism and some leftover talents from his days as a point guard, there was no ceiling for him in sight.
At worst, scouts said he'd be the next Marcus Camby (a 17-year veteran with a near double-double career average of 9.6 points and 9.8 rebounds in 963 career games). At best, they dubbed him the next Kevin Garnett (a first-ballot Hall of Famer and former league MVP and Defensive Player of the Year).
And somehow, those lofty expectations being placed on a 19-year-old didn't seem unreasonable. Not after leading the University of Kentucky to a national championship in his lone collegiate season—and certainly not after becoming the first player in NCAA tournament history to record 16 rebounds, six blocks, six points, five assists and three steals, which he did in the championship game (via Myron Medcalf of ESPN.com).
Frankly, those comparisons still seem realistic. His 20.7 player efficiency rating leads all rookies and ranks 16th in the entire league (via Basketball-Reference.com).
But the Hornets haven't made it easy to buy into a bright future for Davis—not with his limited activity, at least.
The rookie has played in just 45 of the Hornets' 59 games this season. Ankle, knee and shoulder injuries have all kept the big man out of action at various points this season.
Compiling an injury history like that over the first 70 percent of the season could have some players shouldering the dreaded "injury-prone" label. Davis is clearly not at that stage yet, not with so much of his missed time being chalked up to a cautious approach from the Hornets.
But has New Orleans been too cautious with its future face of the franchise? Ankle sprains and sore ligaments are unfortunate aspects of life in the NBA, and he certainly isn't the only one facing these ailments.
At some point, the Hornets will have to let their prized prospect learn about playing through pain. If he's going to be the key cog in rebuilding the Hornets/Pelicans back to where they stood before Chris Paul was a member of the Los Angeles Clippers, surely they'll need Davis to battle his way through a twisted ankle or shoulder soreness.
But that time is not now.
New Orleans is right for handling the rookie with an eye on caution over production.
The Hornets held no false pretenses about an unlikely playoff run this year—not with star shooting guard Eric Gordon's nagging knee injuries spilling over into the first half of the season.
The Western Conference is as deep as ever, and even a fully loaded Hornets lineup would have struggled making any serious playoff noise this season. Third-year point guard Greivis Vasquez is the senior member of the starting five at just 26 years old.
Player development has been the focus of Hornets coach Monty Williams throughout the season. He hasn't had any other choice. Six of his top seven rotation players are under the age of 25. Two of those players are rookies (Davis and Austin Rivers), and two others are playing in their third seasons (Vasquez and Al-Farouq Aminu).
This collection of youth only increases the importance of keeping Davis healthy for the long-term. The Hornets (20-39) might not be making a lot of noise in the Western Conference this season, but should be well-suited for some lengthy playoff trips in the coming seasons.
Vasquez has thrown his name into consideration for the league's Most Improved Player award (13.6 points and 9.4 assists per game). Ryan Anderson is one of the premier stretch forwards in the league (16.7 points per game, 39.7 three-point percentage). Gordon's just one season removed from back-to-back seasons with at least 20 points per game.
Davis could be the final piece to Williams' puzzle. He's got Josh Smith potential in terms of his defensive tenacity and versatility, and an instinctive feel for the game.
So, no, the Hornets aren't being too cautious with Davis.
If anything, they're putting themselves in the best possible position to maximize their investment in the young man.