The Washington Bullets will open their season against the Hawks in Atlanta tonight, and starting at point guard will be the man who might ultimately decide their fate -- 5-foot-3 rookie Tyrone Bogues.

"Darrell Walker just joined us and Frank {Johnson} isn't ready to start," said Bullets Coach Kevin Loughery, who quickly added that Bogues, the team's first-round draft choice out of Wake Forest, "has definitely shown us that he can play the game. He's earned it."

Starting is something Bogues said he "didn't expect. I just wanted to come in and contribute. Now, I want to take advantage of the situation and give the best I can. I'm ready. I'm looking forward to it."

So are the Bullets. They have scrambled to put together a team over the past few weeks, making their final moves yesterday, hours before the deadline to get down to 12 men. They signed forward Charles Jones, a defensive specialist who was a training camp holdout, and waived rookie guards David Henderson, Dale Blaney and Patrick Fairs.

"I feel much better about this team than I did last year," said center Moses Malone, who is starting his second season with the Bullets. "We've got more depth, more looks -- we should be a great team."

They will have to be great right from the start. The Bullets will play 10 playoff teams from last season in their first 13 games, with eight of the games on the road, including a trip to the West Coast. All this with a team that has five players who weren't on the roster a week ago.

Last week at this time, Bernard King was waiting by the telephone, not sure if he'd leave the New York Knicks and join the Bullets. Walker and Mark Alarie were practicing with the Denver Nuggets and Johnson and Jones were unsigned free agents. Their addition gives the Bullets a team that could finish a solid second place in the Atlantic Division, although it might take until the middle of the season before they make a move to get there.

"I would love to be in training camp with this group," Loughery said yesterday after the team's last practice at Fort Meade. "I'd be pretty excited. But we're playing Atlanta and Boston the next two nights and the games count -- they're keeping score now."

The Bullets will have to face at least the first week of their schedule without 7-foot-6 shot blocker Manute Bol, who will miss at least two games and possibly more because of a sprained left knee. "That really hurts us a lot because we were anticipating trapping a lot," said Loughery.

Last season, the Bullets' second unit of Bol, Jones, Michael Adams, John Williams and Darwin Cook made their presence felt as their defensive prowess kept the team in a number of games. They occasionally outperformed the starters.

That is not expected to happen this year. With King joining Moses Malone and Jeff Malone in the starting lineup, scoring shouldn't be a problem. However, keeping other teams from scoring might not be so easy.

Loughery said interior defense and rebounding are "a big concern, definitely our Achilles' heel." But unlike last season, when Loughery relied on the second unit to keep his team within range in the hope the two Malones could bail the Bullets out, Loughery has a new approach: Outscore the opposition.

That would be a novel concept in Washington. Last season, the Bullets averaged 106 points a game, which placed them 19th in the NBA, and finished next to last in field goal percentage and last in the 23-team league in assists.

But that was before the signing of King. While King is not expected to average 32 points, as he did in the 1984-85 season, he will be asked to contribute at least 20 a game. In addition, Moses Malone, whose field goal percentage has declined during each of the past six seasons, will be expected to maintain his production, as will Jeff Malone, who slumped badly at the end of last season.

Assuming that King and the two Malones each get a minimum of 18 shots per game, the next task for Loughery and assistants Bill Blair and Wes Unseld will be to work out a substitution pattern that will keep the other players happy -- particularly Terry Catledge and Williams.

It's entirely possible the Bullets will use Bol at center with Moses Malone at power forward during the end-of-the-game crunch, something both Catledge and Williams probably would dislike. Williams, easily the best front-court passer on the team and perhaps its best all-around player, needs to be on the court for at least 30 minutes a game to be effective.

Loughery sees no problem with that, or with Catledge, or with making sure that his three scorers are all happy. What he does worry about is the fact that getting everything to mesh will take time, something the Bullets don't have because of their schedule.

"It's the toughest in the league from what I understand," he said. "I feel we're better, especially on offense, but how long will it take to get it all together? That's what remains to be seen."