LeBron breaks through at the stripe by breaking a rule
It's early, but LeBron James looks very good at the line. He's got a relaxed, fluid and free arm motion, which is working well with his somewhat more open stance. But he's also following his shot, stepping over the line with his right foot before the ball reaches the basket. It's like he's daring the refs to whistle him for this rather obvious violation of the rules.
According to Ronnie Nunn, the former ref who oversaw the development of officials until being laid off this past fall, it’s a violation even if that step doesn’t hit the ground before the ball reaches the rim. (Nunn made that point on one of his “Making the Call” shows on NBA TV.) So the new LeBron is always (at least on the free-throw attempts I’ve seen this season) in violation, even though it’s often a close call as to whether his right foot has landed before the ball reaches the rim. He's definitely stepping before the ball arrives at the basket.
Can LeBron keep his new delivery while discarding the step-over? I think so. With LeBron, it looks more like an affirmative confidence-building measure — he's following the shot right into the basket, and he’s also guarding against his old habit of leaning back on his release. It’s not like Reggie Evans trying to get a head start on rebounding his own miss. Nor does it seem to be an involuntary reflex, as with Shaq at various stages of his career when, by design, his weight and release point were well-forward and there was a lot of acceleration in his stroke. Refs allowed Shaq to get away with this when the Lakers needed it most (against Sacramento in the 2002 Western Conference Finals). But in the 2008 playoffs when Shaq was a Sun facing the Spurs, the refs didn’t allow it. All of a sudden Shaq was losing points on the violation and trying to break a habit while simultaneously sinking a shot in a pressurized environment. Perhaps that explains why Shaq shot .500 (32 for 64) in the playoffs after shooting .595 (309 for 519) in the regular season. It certainly didn't help.
That’s the risk LeBron takes. He doesn’t want to arrive in the 2012 playoffs — or worse, the Finals — comfortable and confident with his deeply ingrained step-over stroke, and all of a sudden the refs decide to enforce this rule.