The opening portion of the WNBA season didn’t go how the Indiana Fever hoped it would. The team reached the Olympic break with a 4-16 record and dealt with numerous injuries as well as a big roster move. It was a strange 20 game stretch for the red and blue.
But things are looking up for the Fever. They won three games in a row prior to the break and have seen improved play from many key players — they currently have the second-longest winning streak in the WNBA. The team is finding their way.
One other bright spot for the Fever from the first part of the season has been the play of rookie center Bernadett Hatar. Hatar, 26, spent her entire professional career prior to this season in Hungary, where she established herself as a unique talent and helped lead her squad to the EuroLeague finals in 2018.
Now she’s in the WNBA, where she’s able to show off her skills against most of the best players on the planet. And beyond her skills, Hatar has something that nobody else in the league has: height. Only four players in the WNBA are taller than 6’6, according to basketball reference, and Hatar is one of them — at 6’10, she is the tallest player in the league this season.
“Her size and her length always helps us,” Indiana guard Tiffany Mitchell said of Hatar after the Fever lost to the Sun earlier this month. “I think [her height] gave them some problems defensively.”
Seemingly every game, Hatar does something unique. In her first WNBA appearance, she scored twice over four-time All-Star DeWanna Bonner. In her second game, she scored 12 points while adding two rebounds and two blocks. Most recently, Hatar had eight points, five rebounds, and two steals in a win over the Connecticut Sun. Her skill and size surprises opponents, and it allows the 6’10 center to have special performances frequently.
In the aforementioned win over Connecticut, Hatar helped slow down MVP candidate Jonquel Jones, who finished with 16 points despite averaging 21 points per game this season. Jones shot 29.4% from the field that day, and Hatar’s defense was a huge reason why. Her presence in the paint makes scoring very difficult for opposing teams.
“It’s a combination of her height and her feet. She’s got good feet so she can make up for some mistakes with her feet,” Sun head coach Curt Miller said of Hatar. “And then her length around the rim is at times bothering us,” he added.
“She’s got a bright future… her length can be a factor, and she can make some shots. She’s underrated facing the basket and she made some shots early. She’s a nice young post player.”
Like Miller mentioned, Hatar’s post impact has been huge for the Fever. She forces misses often with length on defense. Her foot speed slows opposing pick-and-rolls. The Fever grab more offensive rebounds per minute when she is in the game. Hatar affects many simple, little things that have a large impact over the course of a full game.
Hatar was late to joining the Fever this season due to prior overseas commitments. She missed Indiana’s first two games as a result. But when she did join the team, she fit in right away — guard Kelsey Mitchell credited Hatar for getting to know her teammates and always being jovial. With those qualities, the Hungarian center clicked with her new team seamlessly.
The quick meshing that took place off the court translated to actual games very quickly. When assessing how she would match with her new team on the hardwood, Hatar had a few thoughts. “I think in pick-and-rolls I can help a lot,” she said. The Fever won their first game this season in Hatar’s third appearance, so her presence and pick-and-roll aide improved the team right away.
“She’s a great team player, she does a lot of the little things well. Pretty good passer, has a nice shooting touch as you saw. Likes to defend, and is a pretty good defender,” Fever head coach Marianne Stanley said of Hatar early in the season. “She’s a smart player, she’s an experienced player.”
Hatar’s size is her most obvious trait on the court. As already mentioned, there are many stats and thoughts from other players that back that sentiment up. But as Curt Miller noted, it’s Hatar’s speed that really separates her from other giants.
Many taller players are slower, or more laborious, in their movements. Not Hatar. She sprints up and down the floor and can keep up with anybody, which creates advantages for the Fever. Her first ever WNBA points came as a result of her running ahead of the defense:
“Betti surprises people because she’s unbelievably really fast,” Kelsey Mitchell said of Hatar. “And because she’s fast, she keeps [post players] on their toes offensively.”
Despite her built-in advantages, Hatar has her faults. Her timing is off frequently on set plays — it’s clear in those moments that she joined the team late this season. Injuries have kept her from perfectly gelling with the team, and she is currently in Europe rehabbing. She has sloppy footwork at times.
But, for what it’s worth, Hatar is her own biggest critic. “Today, my rebounds weren’t good. So I have to work on that,” she said after her second-ever appearance.
Still, the rookie is already giving Indiana many advantages and helping them win games. The 4-16 Fever are 2-5 when Hatar plays — her impact is obvious.
“I think you saw several times today when her presence in the lane alone altered shots. Betti, at 6’10, doesn’t have to block shots to be effective,” Stanley said of Hatar. “She altered some shots in there and made it difficult for Atlanta to score around the rim.”
Hatar has a height advantage that no other player in the league has. Even though she has some things to learn about the WNBA game and some unpolished overall skills, her speed and height combine to make her one of the more special bigs in the league. Each game she plays in, there is obvious talent growth. With more time, and better health, Hatar’s unmatched combination of size and quickness could make her one of the most impressive centers in the WNBA.