ORLANDO, Fla. -- Raymond Felton hasn't exactly embraced the big city lifestyle yet -- his favorite lunch stop is still the Waffle House -- but he has fallen in love with his New York Knicks.
He may have grown up in the small town of Marion, S.C., played his college ball in Chapel Hill, N.C, then spent the first five years of his NBA career in small-market Charlotte, but there is no going back now.
After two months on the job, Felton is ready to turn his two-year contract into 12.
"I think now, I've found my home. I've found it. I'd love to spend the rest of my career in New York,'' Felton told FanHouse Wednesday after a light workout. "When this contract ends, hopefully we'll work out another one.''
While all the attention and most of the accolades for the rise of the Knicks have fallen on center Amar'e Stoudemire, it is the other free agent addition -- the mostly overlooked one -- who has been almost as key and a much bigger surprise.
Coming to New York to play for coach Mike D'Antoni has transformed Felton from an average-at-best point guard into one of the best in the league, a potential All-Star and a leader on one of the league's most pleasant surprises.
"I always felt I was among the best (point guards), but now I'm getting the chance to show in different ways, from assists to defending, on the big stage, getting the exposure, showing everyone what I'm capable of,'' Felton said. "Did I know it would happen like this? No. Did I hope it would? Yes. It's been great so far, and I'm having a lot of fun.''
Going from Charlotte and the disciplined style of coach Larry Brown to New York and the free-wheeling D'Antoni has been like taking off the shackles for Felton, allowing him to utilize his skills to the fullest.
He has gone from career averages of 13.3 points and 6.4 assists in Charlotte to 18.2 points and nine assists in New York, making him a strong candidate for the league's Most Improved Player Award.
After a slow first few weeks, he and Stoudemire have meshed wonderfully, blending like banana pudding and galvanizing an otherwise young and promising team. The Knicks (18-13) go into Thursday night's game against the Magic (20-12) riding their best start in 10 years.
They are 15-5 in their last 20. Not since that 2000-01 season have they been five games above .500 this late in the year. A year ago, they were 12-19 after 31 games.
"We have a chance to be really good, a young team just getting better,'' he said. "By the end of the season, we're going to be one of those teams in the playoffs that nobody wants to play.''
Felton, originally the No. 5 pick of the 2005 draft, has played better for New York than most anyone imagined he would. He ranks among the league leaders in assists (fifth, 9.0), steals (seventh, 1.94), free throw percentage (ninth, .884) and minutes per game (fifth, 39.0).
He already has 12 games of 20 points or more for the Knicks, three more than he had all of last season. He has 15 double-doubles, tied with Steve Nash and Deron Williams for the league lead among guards. His nine games of 20 points and 10 assists is second in the NBA.
"I'm a little biased. I watch him night in and night out, but he's playing as well as anyone (guards) out there right now,'' said D'Antoni. "That's not a surprise to us. We knew what we were getting.''
One reason Felton signed his two-year, $15 million contract -- passing up more years and more guaranteed money in Charlotte -- was D'Antoni, who has known him for many years. Felton was coached in AAU basketball by D'Antoni's brother, now an assistant with the Knicks.
"We already knew what type of leader, a winner, he was, and the toughness he had,'' D'Antoni said. "And the chemistry with Amar'e, that you never know until he gets here. It just clicked. New York City can be daunting at times, but I figured that he would rise to the occasion.''
Both Felton and Stoudemire talk about how fortunate they are to have each other. Stoudemire thrived for years in Phoenix with Steve Nash as his point guard. And after he signed his five-year, $117 million contract, he endorsed the idea of getting Felton.
"He hasn't surprised me at all. I played with and against him in high school. I knew the type of player he was,'' Stoudemire said. "When I heard they were talking to him, I said, 'Perfect. He would be great for us.' This system gives him a chance to play his game in the open court.''
Felton and Stoudemire look a lot like Nash and Stoudemire once did in Phoenix, running and re-running that high pick-and-roll, letting everything else in the offense stem from those two.
Felton had 20 points, 12 assists and five steals in the Christmas Day win over Chicago. He had 26 points and 14 assists in a loss to Boston. He had 19 points and a season-high 17 assists in a victory over Denver. Those are the kind of nights he rarely ever had in Charlotte.
"I'm not going to say anything bad about Charlotte, but it was a different type of offense. This kind of fits me a little better. And winning makes everything good,'' he said. "I knew what I was getting into here, and I liked what I saw. It's been more fun than I even thought.''
The Knicks had one stretch earlier this season when they won 13 of 14 games, their best 14-game span since the 1994-95 season. Felton and Stoudemire had caused a stir at Madison Square Garden and ignited a fan reaction that hasn't been felt in several years.
"New York is the greatest place to play,'' Felton said. "I love the city. I'm still a country boy, so I'm still getting used to the city life, but I love being there, playing for this team.''