The word on Elvin Hayes a year ago was that he played an unimaginative, mechanical game. Look for the turnaround jump shot and little more.

This season Hayes has added enthusiasm, imagination and confidence to his style, along with shots from almost anywhere on the floor.

"When I first came into the league," he said, "I had to be a scorer. Then a rebouder. Now I have put all of these things together. I am dictating what I do on the court . . . I have the ability to do whatever I want."

That attitude, a new Washington Bullet coach and offense and some changes in Hayes' supporting cast have helped make him one of the premier forwards in the NBA.

"I don't think there's anyone in the league doing any more for his team than Elvin's doing for us," said Bullet general manager Bob Ferry. "Except maybe Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar)."

"Just give me the E," said Pistol Pete Maravich, the NBA's leading scorer. "Nobody can handle him."

For most of his first eight years in the league, Hayes was limited to basically one shot, the turnaround jumper from the left side of the basket.

"Defenders were like homing pigeons," Hayes recalled. "They'd go right downcourt and wait for me to set up there."

On sheer ability hayes still poured in points. Going into this season he had a career scoring average of 24.4, despite an alltime low of 19.8 last season.

Now, at coach Dick Motta's insistance, Hayes is playing the entire floor. He is not stationary and the only predictable part to his game is that he will score.

Hayes now drives to his left or right, shoots short hooks, goes to the corners for jumpers and shoots from the top of the key; he uses the basketball court like it was his own personal playground. And the Bullets are winning.

Washington is in first place in the Central Division, 12 games above .500 and has won 23 of its last 30 games. The mumur heard around the NBA nnow is that the Bullets are the team to beat.

Hayes is averaging 23.7 points a game, seventh best in the league and shooting 51 per cent from the field. He is also fifth in the league in rebounding, third in blocked shots and second in minutes played.

His scoring average is the best it has been in his five seasons as a Bullet and his shooting percentage is by far his best ever.

His scoring average is the best it has been in his five seasons as a Bullet and his shooting percentage is by far his best ever.

Hayes has managed to do all of this while being double and triple-teamed much of the time and with teams using zone defenses collapsing around him.

"When you see guys double and triple-team you night after night, you stop and ask yourself, why?" Hayes said after a 40-point game aginst the Buffalo Braves Sunday. "It's because they really respect you and that is what builds your confidence. I am confident now. I am in control out on the floor.

"I'm moving more and I'm shooting all sorts of shots. I work much harder to get open than I did before. I'm moving so much now that guys are scared of e. They don't want to have to play me. When you see that, your confidence soars because you have instilled that respect in them. I never felt that respect before. I do now."

Ferry says he can see more intensity in Hayes than he did in the past.

Former Bullets coach K. C. Jones, who tutored Hayes the three previous seasons and who is now an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Buchks, said he can see Hayes is happier now than he was.

"He is getting the getting the ball more, and when he gets it, his whole gae perks up, said Jones. "He runs and scores and gets rebounds and everything."

Major changes in the Bullet's personnel have been an important factor in Hayes' vastly improved play this season.

Last season Hayes played most of the time with Phil Chenier, Leionard Robinson, Dave Bing and Wes Unselfd. All except Unself are offense-oriented and like to score.

Often Hayes would run adn cut, but wouldn't always get teh ball.

Now Bing and Robinson have been replaced by Tom Henderson and Kevin Grevery. Their backups are Larry Wright and Leonard Gray. None of them are premiere scores, as a result, Hayes and Chenier get most of the shots.

The Bullets are taking an average of 88 shots a game; and Hayes and Chenier are averaging 36.

"E runs better than any forward I ever played with," Henderson said. "He's a thoroghbred. You've got to reward a guy like that by getting him the ball."

Others in the NBA pray Hayes won't get it.

"Once he's in position, there's not too much you can do," said Boston's Sidney Wicks.

"I really don't know how to stop Elvin once he gets going," Havlicek observed. "He can score so many different ways.I've never seen anybody completely stop him over an extended period of time."

Detroit's Bob Lanier says he doesn't want any part of Hayes. "He runs too much."

All of that running gets Hayes many easy baskets and his driving sends him to the foul line a lot more.

Last year, for instance, Hayes went to the foul line 457 times in 80 games and made 287. In 60 games this season, he has already gone to the line 450 times and made 307.

"The only way to stop Elvin is the same way to stop Kareem," the Lakers' Lucius Allen said. "You have to keep the ball away from them. Don't let them touch it. If they get their hands on it, they will score."

With Hayes moving the way he is now though, it is next to impossible to keep the ball away from him. One of the best at getting the ball to him is Bob Weiss.

In his much-traveled NBA career, Weiss has played with two of the greatest scorers in the game in Wilt Chamberlain and Bob McAdoo. Hayes is in that category, Weiss says.

"I don't think E is capable of scoring 50 points a game like Wilt did," Weiss said. "I don't think anybody is. He's not as versatile a scorer as McAdoo.He doesn't have as big a variety of shots. He's not as mobile - but I think Elvin gets just about as much out of the things he has as he can. He's rebounding. He gets assists when he needs them. He's a good shot-blocker and he intimidates people.

"A lot of times he doesn't block the shot, but people miss an easy one because they think he's around.

"He's a very valuable asset. It's hard to compare him to Wilt and Bob. He probably wouldn't score as much as they would, but when those guys were scoring a lot their teams weren't winning. How many a guy could score isn't really important.It's how many he can score and still help his team and I think Elvin is right at the peak. I think he is doing all he can do."

Hayes is genuinely excited about this Bullet team and says it is by far the best one he has ever played on.

"This is our most flexible team," he said not too long ago. "Everybody is doing his job and we have so many combinations we can go to."

He hten paused, thought for a second then smiled. "But when we get in real trouble, they can always come to me."