The Washington Bullets, who gained league-wide respect with their defense and physical style of play the past two seasons, went for finesse and scoring in yesterday's National Basketball Association draft. They took the nation's third-leading scorer, Jeff Malone of Mississippi State, with the first of two first-round selections, and Michael Britt of the University of the District of Columbia with one of two second-round picks.

With their other first-round choice, in a prearranged deal, the Bullets drafted Randy Wittman of Indiana and traded him to the Atlanta Hawks for former Maryland star Tom McMillen and a second-round draft choice in 1984.

The Malone and McMillen moves were met with boos from a Capital Centre gathering of about 1,000 fans, but they quickly turned to cheers when, with the 32d pick overall (acquired in a trade with Detroit for Larry Wright three years ago), the Bullets chose Britt, the Firebirds' 6-foot-7 version of George (Ice Man) Gervin.

Britt averaged 23.6 points and 10.9 rebounds and shot 59 percent from the field last season in leading UDC to a 29-3 record.

The Bullets feel they got the one player they were after in Malone, a 6-4 guard who averaged 26.8 points a game last season, mostly with medium- to long-range jump shots. The acquisition of McMillen gives them an experienced big man to back up Rick Mahorn and Jeff Ruland.

They took 6-9 Guy Williams of Washington State with their remaining pick in the second round, even though he missed most of the season because of a torn ligament in his left knee.

"He is so talented that he is worth the gamble," said Ferry. "His style is style. He's like Magic Johnson. He can run, jump, pass and shoot. He's just a great, great talent. If he hadn't had the knee injury, there's no telling where he would have gone in the draft."

There weren't many surprises in the first round. The Houston Rockets took Virginia's Ralph Sampson to start things and the Indiana Pacers took Missouri center Steve Stipanovich.

The Rockets, picking third, took Louisville's Rodney McCray. Arizona State guard Byron Scott was the first of five undergraduate eligibles to go in the first round; the San Diego Clippers took him with the fourth pick.

The Chicago Bulls then chose Sidney Green of Nevada-Las Vegas. Golden State took center Russell Cross of Purdue, another undergraduate.

The Utah Jazz, with the seventh pick, took Thurl Bailey of Bladensburg High School and national champion North Carolina State.

Bailey's Wolfpack teammates, Sidney Lowe and Dereck Whittenburg, both from De Matha High School, also were drafted. Lowe was the first pick of the second round by Chicago, but was then traded to Indiana for Mitchell Wiggins of Florida State, a first-round pick. Phoenix drafted Whittenburg in the third round.

The Detroit Pistons, picking eighth, took Antoine Carr of Wichita State and the Dallas Mavericks took Dale Ellis of Tennessee.

That left Malone for the Bullets.

"We decided on Malone because he's an excellent perimeter shooter," said Coach Gene Shue. "We thought about another guard, Darrell Walker of Arkansas, but he doesn't have the shooting range of Malone.

"Malone isn't a great one-on-one player, but he runs patterns well and he plays good defense."

"Malone is a great, great shooter, and he has the range," said Ferry. "He's got picture-perfect form, too, and he's faced all the special defenses--the double teams and boxes-and-ones and everything--and he's beaten them."

Malone said he feels most comfortable in a set offense, "but I can create my own shots, too," he said. "I think I'm fundamentally sound on defense, too. I was matched against the other team's top scorer most of the time, so obviously my coach feels I can play defense, too.

"I'm good friends with Frank Johnson and he's always telling me how great it is to be a Bullet," Malone added. "I couldn't be happier with the way things have gone."

The only real surprises of the first round came when the Seattle SuperSonics took Missouri guard Jon Sundvold with the 16th pick and the Boston Celtics, with the 21st pick, obtained in the Dennis Johnson-Rick Robey trade Monday, took center Greg Kite, who averaged only six points at Brigham Young.

Besides Scott and Cross, the other undergraduates picked in the first round were guard Derek Harper of Illinois by Dallas with the 11th pick, guard Ennis Whatley of Alabama by Kansas City with the 13th pick and forward Clyde Drexler of Houston by Portland with the 14th pick. Kansas City immediately traded Whatley to Chicago for forward Mark Olberding.

The champion Philadelphia 76ers had the 17th pick in the first round, acquired from the New Jersey Nets for Darryl Dawkins, and took Leo Rautins of Syracuse.

Los Angeles didn't have a first-round pick, having sent it to the Bullets for Mitch Kupchak. The Bullets used that pick to take Wittman.

Among the Bullets' other selections were forward Darren Daye of UCLA and guard Bernard Perry of Howard.

The Bullets wanted to draft 7-foot Russian center Arvidas Sabonis, 18, in the eighth round, but the NBA wouldn't let them.

Other Washington-area players drafted were American University's Mark Nickens by Milwaukee in the fourth round and Gordon Austin by the 76ers in the eighth round.