by Farmer Jones / @thefarmerjones

It wasn’t all that long ago that we were asking Kevin Love to justify being traded for OJ Mayo.

That’s not a shot at OJ, who we’ve liked since we got to know him in high school, and who is a very good NBA player. It’s just funny to think that, three years ago, we were—okay, I was—asking Kevin, essentially, “Hey, earthbound chubster, remind us again what Minnesota was thinking when it traded this terrific all-around guard for your pale ass?”

Not in so many words, of course.

Again, that was a little more than three years ago. In the time since, Kevin Love has set a modern NBA record for consecutive double-doubles. He has averaged 20 and 15 for a season, and 26 and 13 for another. He has more than justified his inclusion on what was probably the best Olympic team since the Dream Team. He has made himself into a legitimate MVP candidate—not one you’d put much money on to pull the trophy away from LeBron, perhaps, but a hell of a lot closer to it than you (or we) ever thought he’d be.

We had him at No. 8 on our original list, but the hand injury that will cost him the first few weeks of the season inevitably knocked him down a few spots on a ranking of the players we expect to have the greatest impact on the 2012-13 NBA season. If that wildly insignificant slight serves to motivate Kevin, it won’t be the first time he has turned doubts into fuel. He’s not a competitive sociopath in the Michael or Kobe mode, but as his development from baby-fat reserve to franchise player makes clear, Kevin is driven as hell.

(He’s also really talented, which, in the greater Kevin Love Narrative, is the easy thing to overlook. Yes, he’s a hard worker, and yes, he hustles, and yes, as the son of a former NBA player he’s got a particularly high basketball IQ. But he’s also a terrific athlete, a title that you don’t have to jump over imported cars in TV commercials to earn. #blakeface)

So: Assuming that broken hand proves to be a minor setback, the real wild cards in Love’s 2012-13 season concern the people around him. How soon will Ricky Rubio get back on the court, and what kind of player will he be when he returns? How will the rest of the Wolves’ human blizzard of a roster gel and contribute? The only real certainty on this squad is that Kevin Love will put up 20-some points and pull down a dozen or more rebounds almost every night.

Those numbers more than justify the Draft-night trade that sent OJ Mayo to Memphis four years ago. And again, that’s nothing against OJ—those numbers justify trading just about anyone for Kevin Love.

Where should Kevin Love rank in the SLAMonline Top 50?

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2012
RankPlayerTeamPositionPos. Rank
50Greg MonroePistonsC8
49Tyreke EvansKingsPG14
48Brandon JenningsBucksPG13
47Stephen CurryWarriorsPG12
46Ricky RubioTWolvesPG11
45Al JeffersonJazzPF14
44Anthony DavisHornetsPF13
43Serge IbakaThunderPF12
42Al HorfordHawksC7
41Ty LawsonNuggetsPG10
40Danny GrangerPacersSF6
39Tim DuncanSpursPF11
38John WallWizardsPG9
37Monta EllisBucksSG8
36Zach RandolphGrizzliesPF10
35Roy HibbertPacersC6
34Tyson ChandlerKnicksC5
33Eric GordonHornetsSG7
32Kevin GarnettCelticsPF9
31Manu GinobiliSpursSG6
30Amar’e StoudemireKnicksPF8
29Marc GasolGrizzliesC4
28DeMarcus CousinsKingsC3
27Paul PierceCelticsSF5
26Andre IguodalaNuggetsSG5
25Rudy GayGrizzliesSF4
24Josh SmithHawksPF7
23Derrick RoseBullsPG8
22Joe JohnsonNetsSG4
21Steve NashLakersPG7
20James HardenThunderSG3
19Pau GasolLakersPF6
18Chris BoshHeatPF5
17Kyrie IrvingCavsPG6
16LaMarcus AldridgeBlazersPF4
15Tony ParkerSpursPG5
14Dirk NowitzkiMavsPF3
13Andrew BynumSixersC2
12Blake GriffinClippersPF2
11Kevin LoveTWolvesPF1

Notes
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’12-13 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Maurice Bobb, Rodger Bohn, Brendan Bowers, Franklyn Calle, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Adam Figman, Eldon Khorshidi, Eddie Maisonet III, Ryne Nelson, Ben Osborne, Allen Powell II, Sam Rubenstein, Jonathan Santiago, Abe Schwadron, Leo Sepkowitz, Dave Spahn, Ben Taylor, Tzvi Twersky, Peter Walsh, Tracy Weissenberg, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Dave Zirin.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.