The Atlanta Hawks built one of the best teams in the NBA, and nobody saw it coming

Al horford hawksKevin C. Cox/GettyAl Horford has been a big part of the Hawks’ success this season.

The Atlanta Hawks have had a firm hold on the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed for most of the season.

At 60-20, the Hawks have had one of the most successful seasons in franchise history, just one year removed from going 38-44 and finishing as the eighth seed in the East.

Nobody saw the Hawks’ success coming. At the start of the season, the Hawks were surrounded in controversy after racist comments from GM Danny Ferry were leaked. Ferry took an indefinite leave of absence, leaving head coach Mike Budenholzer to head of basketball operations, but Ferry’s work in building the roster was complete and surprisingly successful.

On Sunday Budenholzer gave Ferry all the credit for the roster:

“Anyone who has followed the Hawks for the last two or three years knows that Danny Ferry is the executive who is most responsible for the makeup of our team. Danny is responsible for me being here. Our team is in a good place. I’m very grateful to work with such good players and with such a great staff.”

The Hawks’ roster has been a few years in the making, but Budenholzer, a former San Antonio Spurs assistant coach, installed the same type of pass-happy spread offence that helped the Spurs win the 2014 Finals, and the Hawks have had great success.

The focal point of the Hawks success has been several under-the-radar free agent signings made in the last two years.

In 2013, the Hawks (almost reluctantly) matched a four-year, $US32 million deal for Jeff Teague, keeping him with the team after drafting him 19th in 2009. Teague has excelled this year, posting 16 points and seven assists per game on 46% shooting on what now looks like a very team-friendly contract.

That same summer the Hawks also re-signed Kyle Korver, who has blossomed from a good three-point shooter into a historically great three-point shooter. They also nabbed DeMarre Carroll for just two years, $US5 million, turning him into one of the NBA’s best “3-and-D” players in the process.

Perhaps Ferry’s best move, though, was signing power forward Paul Millsap for two years, $US20 million. Millsap is one of the NBA’s most versatile big men and leads the Hawks in scoring this season.

The Hawks have also drafted well. Though Ferry didn’t draft big man Al Horford, he has kept Horford around, despite injury concerns, and Horford has become an integral part of the Hawks’ core. Ferry also made a smart choice in drafting backup point guard Dennis Schroeder, who has backed up Teague while maintaining the Hawks’ efficiency on both ends of the floor.

In lieu of building a team with a go-to superstar, Ferry helped the Hawks build a well-rounded team with pieces that fit together. There isn’t one big-name player on the Hawks, but they sent four players — Teague, Millsap, Korver, and Horford — to the All-Star Game this year, showing their depth and all-around talent.

Whether the Hawks’ regular season success will translate into playoff success is still unknown, but in a weak East, the Hawks certainly seem capable of getting to the Finals, a huge credit to Ferry’s foresight in building a team of two-way, versatile players.

Though Ferry’s fall-from-grace was an ugly turn, the Hawks’ success could earn him Executive of the Year this season for building a contender out of nowhere.

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