Pau Gasol's fall from grace has been a steady one.
The towering power forward hasn't suddenly removed himself from atop the NBA's hierarchy; he hasn't hit rock bottom as the result of a free-fall.
Instead, Gasol's demise has been a gradual process. As the Los Angeles Times notes, his struggles date back to the 2010-11 postseason, when Phil Jackson could be found pounding his chest "to try to inspire him."
More troubling, than that, however, is that Gasol's downfall dates even further back than there. His offensive production over the past three seasons has noticeably declined and subsequently culminated in him nearly falling out of favor with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Some would use such a reality to further the "Trade Pau" causes that are currently littering the web. Others would use it prove that, at 32, Gasol is officially washed up.
Me, though? I use it to do neither, because the Pau Gasol we have seen over the past two-plus seasons is not an accurate indication of who the real Pau Gasol is.
The Gasol we know, the one that was named to four All-Star teams, is a versatile big man who can thrash defenses in the post, dominate off pick-and-rolls and even be called upon to hit an outside jumpshot.
Somewhere along the lines of his Hollywood career, though, the latter became Gasol's actual calling card, not a compliment to his game.
When Gasol first arrived in Tinseltown, no more than 30.2 percent of his shot attempts were coming outside of nine feet. Since 2009-10, however—when 26.9 percent of his shots came from outside nine feet—the percentage has risen each and every season. And now, a startling 53.7 percent of his field-goal attempts are coming from the outside.
Is that a problem?
If Gasol was scoring more as a result, then no. But he's not. He's scoring less. Much less.
Currently, Gasol is averaging 13.1 points on 42.3 percent shooting—both career lows. He's also attempting a career-low 12.1 shots per game.
And that's telling.
As the percentage of outside looks Gasol takes has increased, his offensive output has decreased. That's not a fluke, nor is it a coincidence, but rather, it's the root of the issue.
Not all of this can be placed on Mike D'Antoni's one-in, four-out system either. It hasn't helped Gasol's cause by any means, but the forward was jacking up a higher percentage of outside shots before he and his jump shot-happy system came along.
And the only way for this to change, for any progress to be achieved, is to get Gasol—and the rest of the Lakers, for that matter—back to playing to his strengths. I'm talking about additional post-ups, utilizing him off more pick-and-rolls; I'm talking about playing him within nine feet of the basket more.
Easier said than done? Of course, but since the 2006-07 crusade, Gasol has connected on 56 percent of shot attempts that came within nine feet of the hoop. How do you ignore that?
You can't. Not if you're the Lakers, not if Gasol is currently shooting 30.3 percent from outside of that range and especially not if his output isn't even broaching his career mark of 18.6 points on 51.9 percent shooting.
Los Angeles still needs Gasol; the trade rumors should prove that. If the Lakers weren't struggling, his name would have hit the rumor mill once again, but they are struggling because Gasol is struggling. He has been for nearly three years.
And that holds true this season more than ever.
You see, it's not just Gasol's stats that have suffered; it's his confidence.
We look at his decline in shots taken per game and we see a less aggressive athlete than we're used to seeing. Why do you think that is? Why do think Gasol is taking a step back on the end of the floor he is most known for?
Because he can't be effective the way he's being used, the way he has been used.
Gasol was able to turn a dicey 2010-11 campaign into an All-Star appearance, but his reputation isn't enough to carry him that far anymore; his reputation has changed.
No longer is Gasol a post presence with a competent touch on the perimeter. No longer is he a versatile scoring threat. Instead, he's become a perimeter fixture; he's been reduced to assuming the part of an acting stretch forward when his historical strengths suggest otherwise.
You know the Gasol I'm referring to. The one who came to the Lakers and averaged 18.6 points per game in his first two full seasons. The same one who was allowed to play to his strengths. The same one who took 71 percent of his shots inside of nine feet.
The same one who Kobe Bryant and the Lakers won two consecutive championships with.
Yeah, that Gasol.
That's the player the Lakers need, the one they've always needed.
But it's also the one Gasol no longer is.
As well as the one both he and the Lakers must figure out how he can become again.
Lest this salvageable descent from the top, become a permanent reality.
All stats in this article are accurate as of November 27th, 2012.